Food is fuel. To maximize our health and improve our livelihoods, our goals when eating should be to get something out of our meals: nourishment, sustenance and health, be it physical or even mental.

We don’t believe empty calories serve a purpose here (save for the occasional cheat meal that actually can be so rewarding it releases endorphins), and it goes doubly for foods we sometimes force ourselves to eat just for their health benefits. Why do we eat vegetables? To some of us, vegetables are delicious and really round out a meal; to many more, they’re an unappetizing chore we have to get through to make sure we’re getting the nutrients we need.

So imagine how upset you’d be to find that the way you cook your vegetables is actually robbing them of their nutritional content?

Thankfully, research has been done on this very subject, and you don’t have to waste any more time wondering which method of cooking is best, or which you should avoid. There are two major things to consider in the nutrient content of a food: 1) What cooking does to the nutrients themselves, and 2), how bioavailable those nutrients are given the state of the food.

This week, we want our running blog to examine the effects of cooking (or not) on food’s nutrient contents, and show you which methods are good and which you should avoid.

WORST

Boiling. It seems so easy. You fill up a pot of water, get it rolling and chuck your veggies in. The water turns green, your vegetables get soft and edible and presto: You’ve got broccoli, or cauliflower, of whatever vegetable you just don’t have time to cook any other way. The problem: Boiling water leeches out a significant amount of the nutrients in vegetables (broccoli in particular), and away those nutrients go in evaporation — check the residue left behind in the strainer and the pot itself. If you are eating boiled vegetables for the health benefit, you’re sort of defeating the purpose.

Boiling your broccoli? You made a huge mistake.

Boiling your broccoli? You made a huge mistake.

Pressure-cooking. Starting to develop a trend here, aren’t we? It seems using water is generally not the way to go when cooking vegetables; in fact, research shows it’s one of the worst. One study: “Pressure-cooking and boiling lead to the greatest losses … In short, water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables.” (Source)

Raw. Well, kind of. It’s true, you preserve exactly what a vegetable is if you don’t cook it at all (though, have you smelled raw cauliflower? Phleghhh). The problem is that what many vegetables are is very indigestible cell walls made of fiber, meaning that those nutrients we’re working so hard to preserve actually aren’t bioavailable to us in the first place. Another Italian study found that cooking vegetables — not boiling — is beneficial, and actually increased nutrient content: “An overall increase of TEAC, FRAP, and TRAP values was observed in all cooked vegetables, probably because of matrix softening and increased extractability of compounds, which could be partially converted into more antioxidant chemical species. Our findings defy the notion that processed vegetables offer lower nutritional quality and also suggest that for each vegetable a cooking method would be preferred to preserve the nutritional and physicochemical qualities.” (Source)

BEST

Microwaving.  Yep, you read it right. Many have tried to argue for years that microwaving vegetables is “unnatural” and “kills” the food’s nutrients; ignore the naturalists and acknowledge that pretty much all food is dead (or dying) when you eat it. The key is not to microwave in water, as it will essentially have the same effect as boiling. It’s the water-soluble vitamins in vegetables that present the problem when cooking with water. Again, they simply get leeched out of the vegetable, defeating the purpose of eating one in the first place. One study went in-depth on the different methods of cooking and how they related to the loss or prevention of antioxidant content; its findings were this:

According to the method of analysis chosen, griddling, microwave cooking, and baking alternately produce the lowest losses, while pressure-cooking and boiling lead to the greatest losses; frying occupies an intermediate position.

Griddling. As seen just above, the griddle rocks for preserving nutrition content in vegetables, and it also happens to be one of the tastiest ways you can cook them. Toss some peppers, onions, squash, asparagus, cauliflower and grape tomatoes in some olive oil (or not – some prefer to let the veggies’ own oil do the work), season and throw on the griddle. More appealing texture than boiled or steamed veggies, and of course, much more in the way of nutritional value.

Griddled vegetables taste great and are one of the healthiest ways you can eat them. They  also look awesome.

Griddled vegetables taste great and are one of the healthiest ways you can eat them. They also look awesome.

Baking. Another easy one to pull off; you can wrap a bunch of veggies in foil or cover them on a pan, toss them in the oven and let it do all the work. Again, don’t use any water, as it will evaporate those vitamins and antioxidants out of the vegetables. An easy dish that’s high in cancer-fighting nutrients, fiber and vitamins is a cruciferous veggie medley: broccoli and cauliflower (you can add baby carrots if you like, but not too many — they’re high in natural sugar) seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, covered with foil and baked low and slow. (One note about garlic — it is the one vegetable that loses its antioxidant properties the most in all forms of cooking, except microwaving.)