Sometimes, it’s a struggle squeezing enough veggies into the day, let alone worrying about the best way to eat them.
With ‘raw before four’ diets and self-proclaimed nutritionists having their say, the debate about the nutritional value of raw vs. cooked vegetables has been rampant and, understandably, left many of us confused.
First, let us help put your mind to rest.
Although some veggies may lose a little of their nutritional content when cooked, it’s not enough to worry about.
In actual fact, cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food, such as cellulose fiber and raw meat, that our small teeth, weak jaws and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. Cooking certain veggies in certain ways can actually help our bodies absorb the nutrients in foods better.
So let us ask first – are we getting enough veggies in our diets in the first place?
Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables not only helps ward off a range of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but there is emerging evidence it is also important for our mental health by increasing ‘good’ bacteria in our gut. These bacteria produce chemical messengers that travel to the brain and influence our emotions and reactions to stressful situations.
Variety is also key when it comes to eating our veg to ensure we cover a good range of vitamins and nutrients consistently. This is why, at Munch Crunch Organics, we offer a Fixed Box Model, so that you can enjoy some variety when it comes to you both your cooking and your health.
Does cooking affect the nutrients in vegetables?
So, to address the question you really want to know. Does cooking really dampen the nutritional benefits veggies bring?
Cooking vegetables changes their structure and composition, which can bring both benefits and drawbacks when it comes to their nutritional content.
Take vitamin C, for example. Found in vegetables like broccoli and capsicums, its sensitivity to light, heat, and air means its vitamins content in food reduces during cooking. Vitamin C declined by 10% in tomatoes cooked for two minutes, and 29% in tomatoes that were cooked for half an hour at 88°C.
Likewise, B vitamins are similarly heat sensitive.
On the other hand, cooking vegetables can actually enhance certain nutrients that are otherwise difficult for your body to process in a raw form — such as beta-carotene (which is good for the skin), lutein (which is beneficial for vision), calcium (which is essential for bone health) and lycopene (which helps protect your heart and fights against cancer).
Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw.
Which is the healthiest way to heat your veggies?
Once you’ve decided the kids are unlikely to eat raw carrots with their dinner, does it matter if you boil them, steam them, or roast them?
We probably needn’t say it, but we’ll say it anyway – deep frying your veggies isn’t going to make them any better for you. Fried foods of any type are sources of free radicals, caused by oil being continuously oxidised when it is heated at high temperatures. These radicals, which are highly reactive because they have at least one unpaired electron, can injure cells in the body.
Compared to boiling, which leaches out more of the goodness when you really turn up the heat, steaming retains slightly more nutritional value.
Microwaving is an effective way of heating your food, due to shorter cooking times and reduced exposure to heat. It does not affect water soluble vitamins like vitamin C as directly, preserving them better too.
The Bottom Line
The best take-away from this information? You should be eating your veggies no matter how they’re prepared (just don’t go turn on the fryer).
To get the most nutritional value, you should include a wide variety of cooked and raw veg in your meals and snacks. Eating a ‘rainbow‘ of different coloured veg and fruit is a great way to make meals healthier, and they look more appealing on the plate.
- Stir-fry lots of different veggies lightly
- Add salad veggies to your lunchtime roll
- Blend raw veggies with subtle flavours like spinach, zucchini or beetroot into your usual smoothie
- Ribbon vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and zucchini in place of pasta or noodles
- Make vegetable soups and sauces from scratch – you’ll be amazed at how much you can cram in!
- Keep chopped veggies and dips on hand for when hunger strikes