Today I am going to explain to you why the cooking process of vegetables matters. It is probably something you have never thought of, but maybe after reading this then you may think of cooking some of your vegetables in a different or varied way.
Lets start off by saying that different methods of food preparation can affect the foods vitamin content and bioavailability. Bioavailability is the proportion of a substance that enters circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect on the body.
- Some vitamins and minerals are most available, and best absorbed when foods are eaten raw.
- Some vitamins and minerals are most available, and best absorbed when foods are cooked.
- Some are most available and best absorbed when foods are eaten with other foods.
- Some are most available and best absorbed when their structures are broken down e.g. by cutting or crushing.
Watch out for boiling vegetables
Many vitamins are water soluble meaning that they are absorbed by the body when water is present. As the body is made up of water then it is easy for the body to absorb these vitamins. If these vitamins are boiled in water then the vitamins are released from the vegetable into the water. If we boil and then discard the water then you usually lose most of the nutrients from that food.
The best example of this is boiling broccoli. If you boil broccoli then you will notice that the broccoli loses its strong green colour and the water turns green. That is the nutrients coming out of the broccoli and being absorbed by the water. This is why restricting water in the cooking process is a better option as you are preserving the vitamins in the food you are about to consume. This means better cooking methods than boiling are steaming, sautéing, roasting, and microwaving.
Raw or Cooked
Lets look at blue or red foods such as plums and berries. These contain anthocyanins which are digested relatively quickly. Consuming these foods raw ensures that as much of these antocyanins are readily available.
Tomatoes contain lycopene and are often best absorbed when cooked. Tinned tomatoes and tomato paste are great sources of lycopene.
Raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach. However raw spinach contains oxalic acid which can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like iron and calcium. This is why it is good to mix up your raw and cooked food intake.
Consuming or cooking with other foods
Some vitamins and minerals such as those found in dark greens, or fat soluble vitamins become more or less available when cooked and eaten with other foods. For instance, we need to eat fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins, which is why it is a good idea to put some olive oil, avocado, feta, or nuts on your salad.
We need vitamin C to best absorb iron from leafy greens, so adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice to your kale would be a good addition for both absorption and flavour.
Breaking down foods
The best example of breaking down foods is garlic. Chopping or crushing garlic, then letting it sit for a few minutes before cooking, will release allicin, a powerful disease fighting chemical. When it comes to cooking vegetables, I would recommend you cook them whole before chopping them. This ensures as many vitamins and minerals are still in the food after the cooking process.
Foods around the world
If you look at different diets throughout the world, you will see that they have worked out how to make the most of the vitamins and minerals in food. The Mediterranean diet includes both crushed garlic and cooked tomatoes. They also drizzle olive oil on their salads, and roast their vegetables along with various herbs.
South Asian foods throw in turmeric and ginger into their foods for some anti inflammatory benefits, along with hot peppers which work well for a natural painkiller.
As you learn more about nutrition, look at world cuisines and notice what foods they traditionally put together in dishes and meals. There is a reason beyond just taste.
Things to think about
One thing you need to remember is that you don’t eat nutrients, you eat food. You don’t sit there thinking I will have some chicken and sweet potato with a portion of vitamin C and iron. It is important to mix up the cooking process for a balanced nutrient intake.
Eating a whole range of vegetables and consuming foods raw and cooked can help us get abundant vitamins and minerals. One thing I haven’t covered today is supplements. Supplementing a particular vitamin or mineral will not have the same effect as eating a food containing them ( I will cover this in a future article).
Finally, don’t worry too much about what vitamins and minerals are in each food. Mix up the cooking process and eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables to ensure you are consuming a balance of essential vitamins and minerals in your diet.
If you have any questions then please write them in the comments section below and I will be happy to answer them.