Getting The Most Nutrition From Vegetables

We’ve always been told to eat our vegetables.
The USFDA goes so far as to recommend filling half of our plates with fruits and vegetables in order to achieve the best nutrition on a daily basis. But… it’s important to know that how you choose and prepare your vegetables is almost as important as if you eat them.

That’s right, quantity is not the only consideration in this good eating equation. Quality is at least equally as important and can be altered in many ways before reaching a plate. Consider the following information when filling in half of your plate each day.

Getting The Most Nutrition From Vegetables

General Guidelines

  1. To get the maximum nutrition from fruits and vegetables it is recommended to eat them raw.
    This is true in general for most produce, but there are some vegetables that actually benefit from a little heat, and we will mention some of those in the next section.

  2. Eat produce as close to the peak of ripeness as possible.
    Both fruits and vegetables reach peak ripeness at the same time as their nutritional values also reach peak levels. Thus, ripe is the tastiest time to eat both fruits and vegetables and also the healthiest. Although fresh is usually the most desired state for fruits and vegetables, but not always practical. Luckily, this is also when they are flash frozen and canned so that the most nutrients available will be reserved with the produce in the can or freezer.

  3. Avoid Overcooking.
    The shorter the cooking time, the better. Less cooking means more nutrients can survive the heat.

  4. Choose steaming or sautéing over boiling every time.
    This way, the nutrients don’t end up leaving the produce and end up in the water. We should also mention that frying is the worst cooking method, as the added fat pretty much negates all the good qualities… but that goes for all foods.

  5. If you must boil your veggies, then save the water.
    Use said water to make your grains. This way, the nutrients can still be absorbed instead of tossing them down the drain.

  6. If microwaving, be sure to use a microwave safe steamer so that water is not needed for cooking.

  7. Eat the skins (if possible).
    If not possible, then eat as close to the skin as possible.

Don’t forget to always wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
Root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, should be scrubbed well before eating and/or cooking. This is an essential step, but it should be performed just before eating and not before storing as added moisture shortens the shelf life of most produce.

Getting The Most Nutrition From Vegetables

Veggies that Appreciate with Heat

These are some vegetables that can provide some extra benefits when heated before eating.

  • Asparagus – Studies have shown that cooking increased the antioxidant levels of the this vegetable. [1] This is a good thing, since most people prefer asparagus cooked to a crisp-tender.

  • Carrots – Antioxidant activity increases when carrots are cooked. [2] Try cooking carrots whole and unpeeled in order to keep even more of the goodness from escaping.

  • Mushrooms – When heated, antioxidants in mushrooms are enhanced. [3]. Even more importantly, danger from any existing carcinogens in the mushrooms is greatly reduced with heat. Therefore, mushrooms should be cooked before eating.

  • Potatoes – This veggie is also healthier when cooked. They contain anti-nutrients, which interfere with the proper absorption of their vitamins and minerals, and these lessen with cooking. [4] The healthiest cooking method for this vegetable is baking… minus the delicious toppings that is!

  • Spinach – Steaming spinach not only shrinks it way down in size so that more can be easily consumed, but it also breaks down an acid (oxalic) contained in the spinach that interferes with the body’s ability to absorb all the iron and calcium that it contains. [5] . Try blanching spinach and then cooling it before eating to gain the maximum vitamin and mineral value of this veggie.

  • Tomatoes – the disease fighting lycopene contained within tomatoes becomes more powerful if simmered slowly before eating. [6] . Good to know for pasta lovers everywhere!

  • Keeping Nutrients in Veggies

    Additional Info

    Ever wonder if frozen vegetables have as many nutrients as fresh ones? Check out this post to find out.

    For help with freezing fresh vegetables, see our how to freeze veggies post.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

    SEARCH Eat By Date

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