How Cooking Affects Your Vegetables' Nutritional Value

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Sure, you're eating your five a day servings of fruits and vegetables, but did you know that how you prepare them and how you serve them factor into how much good they do your body?

NPR recently did a story about how to get the most nutrition from your vegetables. As Tanya told you last year, a fat-free diet can actually keep you from getting the most from your food. If you're eating fat-free dressing on your salads, you aren't absorbing as many of the phytonutrients that make vegetables so good for you.

According to NPR, Iowa State University researchers fed people salads with and without fat in the dressing and tested their blood before and after eating the salads each morning. "When researchers went back and analyzed the blood samples they realized that people who had eaten fat-free or low-fat dressings didn't absorb the beneficial carotenoids from the salad. Only when they had eaten the oil-based dressing did they get the nutrients." (Carotenoids are pigments found in red, yellow and orange veggies, plus dark greens, that become vitamin A in the body. SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand says they can help prevent cancers, and they have antioxidant properties that protect cells. )

In addition to adding a bit of heart-healthy fat, cutting vegetables into small pieces and chewing them well can also help maximize your absorption of the good stuff they possess. And how you prepare vegetables has an effect, too.

Microwaving has been shown to be one of, if not the, best ways to cook vegetables to retain and release vitamins and minerals. Steaming and sautéing (with minimal fat) also help retain nutritional value, while boiling and pressure cooking are the least effective. Essentially, the longer you cook vegetables, the more they leach out their nutrients.

I use a microwave to reheat my lunch here at work, but I don't own one and haven't for much of my adult life. I was happily microwaveless until Christmas 2007, when my parents bought me a new one, despite my complaints. I accidentally set it on fire about a year later while trying to make popcorn in a paper bag. RIP, microwave. (NOTE: When it says use a lunch bag sized bag, use one. Anything larger will catch fire! I digress…)

There has been a backlash against microwaves in recent years, and I will admit that I like being able to say that I don't own one. It makes me have to stop and think before heating something up, and I don't ever buy frozen meals because they would take too much time and energy to cook in the oven. (That, and I like to cook and try to eat whole, unprocessed foods.)

But this bit of news proves that microwaves have been somewhat unjustly vilified. It would be nice to be able to cook vegetables quickly and still retain their nutritional value. (I steam mine on the stove or in my rice cooker to multitask.)

My question for you is: How do you cook your vegetables? Do you microwave them? Would you be more likely to start microwaving them now that you know it's such a good way to prepare them?

(Oh, and if you want to add a bit of heart-healthy fat to veggies, try drizzling on some olive oil, dipping them in hummus or eating them with a bit of low-fat cheese! Yum!)

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1CRAZYDOG 5/25/2021
I will steam, bake, broil, grill, roast or micro my veggies. I never boil them. I love a little texture to my veggies and the micro does it perfectly.

GEORGE815 5/24/2021
Thanks Report
REDROBIN47 3/19/2021
Good article. Thank you. Report
CD4994568 11/26/2020
Many times we roast them! Report
MISSA526 8/19/2020
I usually microwave my veggies or in the summer my boyfriend grills them. Report
Good need-to-know information, thanks! Report
Interesting to read that microwave cooking saves nutrients! Thank you for this well written article! Report
Thanks Report
Thanks Report
Thanks for sharing this one! Report
Sauteed or steamed are ways I usually prepare vegetables. Report
I love steamed vegetables, but if I’m eating them raw I like a little dressing for flavor. I do ten to stick to full fat versions of most things because their low fat cousins have more sugar in them to make up for lost taste. Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks! Report
Thanks for a great article! :) Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Except for "salad vegetables" (lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) I like my vegetables COOKED, not raw and not "crunchy." Depending on the dish I am preparing, I'll pan-roast, sautee, grill, steam or (rarely) boil them.I have no objections to using the microwave (with my husband and me working different shifts, cooking would be a nightmare without it), but usually use it for reheating rather than cooking, The exception is potatoes/sweet potatoes: SO much faster in the microwave! Report
thanks Report
I still prefer to steam my vegetables using no fat or additives. Report
Very helpful information in this article. Report
thanks for sharing Report
I use the stove top to cook my vegetables, using very little water. Report
I have a microwave and I use to heat most frozen veggies. They are great for baked sweet potatoes. Id be ubhappt if I didnt have one Report
I have a microwave but was advised the food loses nutrients by the microwaves, not only the time you take to cook foods. I prefer vegetables stir fried in a pan or steamed. I will also try cooking in the oven in foil. I only use it to heat coffee up. My coffee pot is expensive but has a thermos that holds the coffee and shuts off every time coffee is made, it is not hot enough to begin with. I think I need another coffee maker. Report
Most of t salad dressings that you can buy at the store have a significant amount of sodium, so I have started making my own low fat dressing to put on my salads. This way I am getting all the nutrients from my salads and not getting too much sodium in my diet Report
I have scaled waaaaaay back on the use of our microwave oven. These days I use our convection oven instead for 99% of our oven cooking. (It will do conventional baking, convection baking, toasting, a "keep warm" mode", and broiling.). I'm using my cast iron skillets more for heating foods on the stove, cooking veggies or steaming veggies with my steamer pan. Report
Never ever ever use a microwave. Get rid of it. Report
I have never been one to jump on the "fear de jour" train about nutrition, "bad" food groups, and things like microwaves. I've used a microwave since they first came onto commercial market in the 1970s, and prepare LOTS of veggies using it and my trusty microwave steamer. It uses much less energy to prepare food than conventional stoves, and (being in a drought in California) it uses minimal water. Besides, carrots taste like carrots that just came out of the ground, not boiled-to-death carrot stuff.
I thought that microwaving wasn't good for you. That you should limit the use of a microwave! Report
I microwave my veggies a lot because I buy the frozen bags of them because I am so busy. But now I feel less guilty. But when I do have time, I like to saute them and bake them. Report
Try the "Plant Test". Microwave some water to the boiling point and then boil some water normally on the stove or kettle. Cool the water. Prune two identical plants down to only the new growth. Use the microwave water on one plant and the purified water on the other. Watch what happens to each plant after a month or so. It has been known for some years that the problem with microwaved anything is not the "radiation" people used to worry about, it's how it corrupts the DNA in the food so the body can not recognize it. Microwaves don't work different ways on different substances. Whatever you put into the microwave suffers the same destructive process. Microwaves agitate the molecules to move faster and faster. This movement causes friction which denatures the original make-up of the substance. It results in destroyed vitamins, minerals, proteins and generates the new stuff called radiolytic compounds, things that are not found in nature. So the body wraps it in fat cells to protect itself from the dead food or it eliminates it fast. Think of all the Mothers heating up milk in the "Safe" appliances. What about the nurse in Canada that warmed up blood for a transfusion patient and accidently killed him when the blood went in dead. But the makers say it's safe. Try the "plant test" and decide for yourself. Report
I never use the microwave it is so bad for why would you recommend to do that my stomach used too always hurt from cooking food in the microwave when you use the microwave its destroys all the the nutrients in the food, if you microwave water and poor it on a plant the plant will die Report
Microwave grill or roast. And fresh veggies if available Report
Hmm. I have never heard of a paper bag catching fire in the microwave. Ya learn something new every day. Report
when cooking frozen vegtables (mostly when they're out of season) I will microwave, unless adding to a quick soup. When they are fresh I saute in a non-stick skillet whith a little low sodium broth and a dash of olive oil. Fresh are also great grilled or roasted (especially in a convection oven) these methods require a light spray of oil again my 1st choice is olive oil. Season is a matter of taste... when it comes to potatoes I like them baked with skin and fresh salsa. Report
I cooked most of my veggies with a few drops of water, in a covered glass dish in the microwave for years, but I've become a convert to roasted veggies. You can roast anything from asparagus and broccoli to kale and zucchini. Try roasting a medley of winter squash, parsnips, carrots and onions. Roasting also involves a small amount of olive oil to prevent the veggies from drying out, which also increases bio-availability of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K. Report
I cook my vegetables two ways--in the microwave usually in the steamable bags and I have recently begun roasting vegetables, which I love. It was news to me about the low-fat and fat-free dressing. Food for thought. Report
I have microwaved my veggies for years. I think they taste so much better that way. They maintain their crispness. They aren't soggy. I never liked cooked veggies until I tried them in the microwave. Corn on the cob done in the microwave is amazing good! Report
I gotta be honest. I try to eat more veggies and I don't worry about lost nutrients via cooking method. It's enough right now that I am eating vegetables. Report
I always microwave my veggies. I cut out the oil/butter that I used to put in but after reading this, will add just a little olive oil. Report
I like using my vegetable/rice steamer. I have trouble chewing raw veggies and it works well for me. I do use the microwave if I'm doing frozen or canned vegetables. Report
I've had a microwave for years, but I've only ever used it for cooking vegetables, occasionally "stewing" fruit, and for reheating.
Vegetables, I usually m'waved or steam, sometimes roast or bake, and very occasionally boil.
Then I use the drained water from whatever cooking method for either the gravy or for next day's soup.
I know I'm still losing some of the goodness, but I do try to minimise that. Report
I used to cook almost all my vegetables in the microwave, but about 8 months ago the nuker made a spark and that was the end of microwaving for us. I miss it when I want to warm leftovers or soup, but now roast almost everything. Roasted vegetables have a better texture when roasted and it may be a while before I (if ever), replace the microwave. Report
I cook all of my vegetables in the microwave. I was taught as a child to cook vegetables in a small amount of water with a piece of butter added it was known as the conservative method for cookin. This was to conserve Nutrients especially the carotenoids. Carrots Turnip and parnips were always cooked that way.I Use the microwave to cut down on cooking time for onions, that is great when sauteeing less spatter and so much quicker. I also Pre cook potato slices for scalloped potatoes before putting them into the oven.I love to see how green the leafy greens come out of the microwave, they are bright green and attractive. No loss of colour in fact quite the opposite they are enhanced by cooking them that way. I still add a little oil especially to the collardsand kale.
Winter squash and pumpkin I wash and drain, no added water but a little oil they are covered and cooked on high and they are never never 'mushy'.
Keep the crunch: green beans (Costco canned taste just like fresh cooked this way!) - flash fry partially covered on the stove top with a little olive oil and just a pinch of bacon bits. Steam broccoli in a bamboo basket steamer for two and a half minutes. Add just a touch of butter or shredded mozzarella cheese afterwards. Report
I'm afaid I like my vegetables plain. Either raw or lightly cooked so they still have a crunch. I would think though when eating them with a meal there would be enough fats in other things. I guess when I am snacking on a few raw broccoli or cauliflour sprigs I should grab a pinch of cheese or a few nuts and eat them either right before or right after them as part of the same snack. Report
I don't own a microwave, haven't in about 3+1/2 years. For the same reason you said - it makes me stop and think about what I'm eating & heating up as opposed to plopping it into the micro and being ready in mere seconds. It seems to have helped me think and decide on what I'm really wanting.

That said, I steam veggies very quickly so they are still bright and crunchy, grill, roast or do a quick stir fry. Speaking of which, it's dinner time and need to get the cauliflower to roasting! Report