Everyone knows we need our veggies for good nutrition, but the thought that many of us may have is whether or not we should cook them before eating them for the maximum nutritional punch. Are they always better eaten raw? Or should we cook all of our veggies?

The answer is that some vegetables are better eaten raw, while some are better eaten cooked. According to Scientific American, “a January 2008 report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry said that boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, than frying, though boiling was deemed the best.”  Other vegetables better eaten cooked are carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers.

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However, boiling can still sometimes diminish some nutrients, like Vitamin C. Frying and microwaving will also cut down on the vitamins and minerals in your food. Everyday Health says that alternative cooking methods that add flavor without sacrificing nutritional value are roasting, steaming, and grilling.

So, let’s break it down to the basics. When considering some very common plant foods many of us consume daily, which ones should you eat how? Read on to learn!

1. Tomatoes

Scientific American says that cooking tomatoes actually increases their lycopene levels. The reason as given by Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University, is “the heat breaks down the plants’ thick cell walls and aids the body’s uptake of some nutrients that are bound to those cell walls.” So, the verdict is: cook these. Consider light cooking methods like steaming and roasting.

2. Cruciferous vegetables

These vegetables include arugula, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, collard greens, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, radishes, rutabaga, and watercress and should be lightly cooked as well. Ecosalon also says that cruciferous vegetables are better eaten cooked as they contain chemicals that block the production of thyroid hormone in the body. The website also says to cook or lightly steam green leafy vegetables to reduce oxalic acid which blocks iron and calcium absorption.

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3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a very delicate food, and hence too much heat can destroy the nutrients they contain. The amount of time they spend on heat can greatly affect their nutritional value. Culinary Arts says that the biggest mistake people make before cooking mushrooms is washing them. Their texture is very spongy and they tend to absorb water which affects their texture and impairs flavor. It’s recommended that you use a dry kitchen towel or a mushroom cleaning brush to clean them. Clean them well, and then keep mushrooms as uncooked as possible to maintain the max nutrient power.

4. Carrots

Scientific American lists carrots as vegetables that should be either boiled or steamed to supply and preserve more antioxidants such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, but boiling is the best method to cook carrots. “A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002 showed that cooking carrots increases their level of beta-carotene.” The human body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A. So, let’s cook these orange delights for an antioxidant punch!

5. Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes

She Knows says to cook sweet potatoes whole as most of the nutrients they carry is in their skins, while Potatoes Goodness Unearthed says the same about regular potatoes. The latter website says to steam the potatoes instead of boiling, as water will leach vitamins out. So, steam or bake your potatoes, but only as much as you need to get them soft.

And When Should You Always Go Raw?

Most sources list sweet red peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, and kiwi as foods you should always stick to in their raw form. Wash them well, and enjoy these foods in their fully fresh state to get the most from the nutrients each offers!

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To learn even more about the best cooking methods to adopt, Rodale News has a great list of the best and worst methods to follow.

Image Source: Hrushi3030 / Wikimedia Commons

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