You’re trying to get healthier. You’re trying to live longer. You’re trying to prevent or fight disease. So what do you do? Naturally, eating a lot of fresh, varied vegetables comes to mind. Likewise, unless you plan to eat entirely raw foods, you’re probably searching for the best way to cook these health-boosters without comprising their benefits. Steaming seems like the best option, right? When steaming, you don’t use fat from oil that is needed for frying, nor do you submerge the items in water as with boiling, which runs high risk of leaching nutrients. It also has the potential to increase the nutrient density or ability of nutrient absorption for some vegetables, like asparagus. However, heat destroys enzymes and changes the chemical composition of vegetables. The level of nutrient breakdown varies in each vegetable. For those listed here, while some nutrients are still available after steaming, a significant amount are not. Thus, despite steaming’s seemingly good qualities, there are still certain vegetables you should never steam, but instead eat raw. Of course, eating them steamed is better than not eating your vegetables at all, but for those worries about heat killing nutrients, avoid steaming these veggies.
Kale has been hailed as a superfood for its amazing, low calorie doses of iron, fiber, Vitamins A, B and K, antioxidants, and calcium. It has quickly become a vegan, nutrient-rich favorite and a staple for green juicers. However, did you know kale is one of the vegetables that loses much of its benefits when steamed? You see, the isohiocyanates, or the cancer-fighting chemicals in kale, are destroyed when cooked, and this includes steaming. To maximize your benefits from kale, eat or drink it raw in smoothies, juice, or salads.
Another green, nutrient-rich food has been found to lose its nutritional benefits when exposed to the heat produced from steaming. According to Fiona Kenny from Eating Well, broccoli “delivers a healthy dose of sulforaphane, a compound thought to thwart cancer by helping to stimulate the body’s detoxifying enzymes.” However, this dose is significantly decreased by contact with heat. Broccoli also does not retain its amazing levels of glucosinolate (also cancer-fighting), folate, potassium or vitamins, making this vegetable best eaten raw.
Cauliflower is a diverse, cancer-fighting, vitamin-packed vegetable that should be eaten regularly. However, it is also from the same family as broccoli: Brassica. Like broccoli, this vegetable should never be steamed because it loses its amazing nutrient potentials when heated, too. If you are trying to get the amazing health benefits this vegetable has to offer, opt for it in raw form. You can dip it or even crumble it raw onto salads. Check out these 3 Easy Steps to Vegan Dip Bliss.
Surprised? You may have heard that the steam’s heat helps carrots to break down their cell walls and thus release carotenoids, or precursors to vitamin A. However, while this seems reasonable and applicable to other vegetables, more in-depth research indicates steaming decreases levels of carotenoids. Therefore, if you are eating carrots for their infamous high doses of Vitamin A, you should reconsider your preparation methods. Again, raw is best here because there are no changes to the food structure or nutrient availability.
While steaming is definitely better than boiling the sprouts, steaming them still compromises their ability to help you maximize health through nutrition. Like broccoli, the great things we want from the sprouts — folate, potassium, and vitamins — are destroyed by the heat of steaming, reducing the amount of nutrients you end up with. The best option here is to grate them into a raw salad.
When you use heat to cook bell peppers, no matter which method you choose, you’re stripping up to 75% of their antioxidant power! Heat kills a majority of the nutrients in these veggies, so it’s best to eat them raw. Bell peppers are one of the most vulnerable to heat when you stack them against other veggies.
You don’t have to go completely raw to get healthier, but you do need to know what vegetables are compromised or enhanced by heat to ensure you are getting the nutrients you think you are. Consider that many vegetables are already not exactly “fresh” by the time you buy them. Their nutrition content decreases with time; adding heat to this mix can further destroy what nutrients were left, leaving you not as close to optimal nutrition as you thought. Don’t be fooled by these vegetables ever again — if you want the amazing benefits they offer, eat them raw.
Lead image source: Kham Tran/Wikipedia