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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I prefer microwaving - they are firmer and I had heard they are better for you that way Report
I love a microwave!!! I microwave most of my veggies except spinach (takes too long-stove is faster) I don't buy premade meals either but I love the microwave for warming leftovers of food I make myself! Interesting about the need for fat. Does anyone know if eating fat in the same meal counts? Report
I've always loved my veggies and my kids do too. We all have our fav's, so I'll slice them and arrange them on a platter surrounded by a bowl of hummus. My kids also love hummus....Tribe brand is the best ( opinion).

Now that the frozen veggies have steam fresh bags, I've guiltily been buying those and this saves soooo much time! Especially with all there is to accomplish in the day. Report
I usually cook my vegetables by boiling or roasting them. I rarely microwave them, but, now that I now how beneficial it is (and quick!), I think I'll try it more often. Report
I like my veggies steamed and crunchy,micro waved if in a hurry but mostly roasted. I use Pam or olive oil add spices for more flavor. Report
I do it all - tend not to boil - but somethings like fresh green beans - just need it... I have become a fan of steaming veggies in my rice cooker. I guess cheese over veggies, which I use to do all the time, might not be so bad after all. hmmm! Report
I love the the frozen stir- fry oriental veggies from Aldis. I serve them over rice and scramble a small amount of egg beater and add that. I sprinkle a little garlic and onion powder and stir fry them in a little olive oil and hit them with the butter oil spray. Fantastic! Report
I love to throw my veggies in the crock-pot with a beef roast for a wonderful stew. I'm a broth drinker, but if you aren't, throw the veggies in after the meat has cooked for a while so they aren't cooked to death. I also like them raw or steamed. Report
I eat them raw, roast them, saute them in a little olive oil, steam them, nuke them, use them in soup/stew/casserole/gratin, grill them, blanch-shock-saute them, stir-fry them, juice them. Let's see. Did I leave anything out? Report
I usually sauté my veggies in olive oil. Sometimes I microwave but I'll definitely start using my micro & steamer more often after this article! :-) Report
Eat them raw! Right now for breakfast I am drinking a smoothie- a raw banana, raw spinach, raw blueberries, a small handful of almonds, two dates and a few strawberries. Super yum! I buy the blueberries and strawb. frozen from my big box store. Freezing has little impact on nutrients. I'm not a big pill taker, so I throw a krill oil capsule in the smoothie for my omega 3's. Try at night just serving your family some raw veggies, it's much quicker, easier on cleanup and better for you! Report
I just toss in a skillet, or pan and cook with a lid. What is a steamer bag? Report
I agree 100% with this article, however, after reading Sally Fallon's book, "Nourishing Traditions", highly processed oils are not good to consume at all and are the equivalent to consuming liquid plastic. Sounds pretty darn crazy. . .doesn't it? For more info on choosing the best fats and oils, I would recommend starting here:

Brightest Food Blessings! Report
I steam my veggies or sautee them Report
I very lightly saute veggies in olive and/or flax seed oil, just enough to warm them through, but not really cook them. Otherwise I eat them raw most of the time. I've even discovered how wonderful some can be that I'd never thought of trying raw, grated Beets on a sandwich, grated potato in a salad, turnips dipped in hummus, etc! I haven't boiled a vegetable in probably 20 years. Boiled veggies just taste nasty to me, LOL! I do use my steamer though too for things like green beans and asparagus when I want them cooked slightly.
Also, if the veggie has a skin on it, like beets and potatos and carrots, I Always leave it in lose a lot of your minerals when you peel veggies!!! Report
If I am not eating them raw, my veggies are either microwaved, stir fried or grilled. Usually it is in the microwave though! Report
Love this suggestion as the microwave is one of my basic kitchen items at home and at our summer home In fact the stove in our trailer has been used very little have the microwave, electric fry pan, an electric sauce pan and a George Forman grill and those are the basic used Great to learn that the food from the microwave is healthy and safe thanks for sharing the blog Report
I love the article! When I am under time constrain my microwave is very handy.... I also enjoy just lightly steaming my veggies on the stove (especially cabbage)...... I bye the vegetable steamers..... these are handy to throw into my lunchbag. Report
Oh yes learned that early on!! If my they are not eaten raw they are slightly zapped!!! LOL Report
I enjoyed this article. I always wondered if microwaves reduced the nutrition, so it was interesting that they helped vegetables retain their nutrition. Report
I cook then the way is best for me at the time. I will say that I will start useing the microwave more often now. Report
I usually microwave veggies, even corn on the cob (in their husks). I just throw them in the microwave, husk and all for 3 minutes. Always works - corn comes out perfectly - have had no complaints so far. I do occasionally use my bamboo steamer in the wok - cooks green beans and asparagus so well! Report
Like several people mentioned, I love roasted veggies. But how does that impact nutritional value?? Does anyone know? Report
I have a microwave but I dont use it alot for cooking, just reheating...when i cook my vegetables my mom bought me a steamer so i steam the veggies so they still have a crunch to them, if they get soggy then I know i have gone to far usually 2-3 minutes in the steamer is all they need Report
I generally buy frozen and steam or fresh and saute'. With a little bit of "I cant believe its not butter". Report
I do it all LOL I am very very happy to hear that zapping is OK! I especially like that sometimes I do not want my veggies *wet* from steaming for certain recipes.

For the poster who commented about foods/veggies spoiling too soon........the BEST thing I have done is purchase the Vaccuum Sealer!! I can get more fresh veggies at the store and vac seal them and refrigerate...last many days longer this way, and I save $ and shopping time! Just a thought........

The vaccuum sealer and the microwave will aid in my weight loss for sure!

I do also love to saute in EVOO often with garlic and onion and zapping fresh veggies a bit first really cuts the cooking time and I can slightly carmelize them w/o overcooking if microwaved first.

Great thread!
Sherri Report
I steam, boil, saute and nuke my veggies. I eat them raw too. ;)

I know there are some very mixed opinions about microwaves. I knew someone who wouldn't use them either. Personally, I consider them a lifesaver. The last thing I want to do in the summer is turn on the oven and cook ! However, it's easy to pop a meal into the microwave to reheat it. That doesn't heat up the house.

What I have done is stop using plastic wrap to cover my food. I read that melted plastic wrap gets into the food. I don't know how true that is, but I didn't want to take any changes. so, I now use wax paper whenever I microwave at home.

My next change is getting rid of my plastic containers. I use glass at home, but at work I use plastic. Once again, I hear that a person shouldn't reheat food in those plastic containers. How true is that, I don't know. Right now, I'm looking for glass containers that aren't too heavy.

I took a vegetarian cooking/nutrition class in college about 12 years ago and the instructor told us that steaming veggies in the microwave with just a little water in the bottom of the bowl would keep more nutrients in them vs. boiling them on the stovetop and I've been doing it ever since! Pampered Chef has a great microwave steaming dish that comes in small and large - I use them almost every day. Report
I steam my veggies, on the stove or in the microwave. Report
I always cook my fresh Veggies in the Microwave, they keep there color a lot better, and I do not over cook them.
Annie Report
I use the microwave most of the time for my veggies. Report
I microwave both fresh and frozen vegetables. Sometimes I will grill or roast them for a yummy change. Report
I mainly use the microwave when it is frozen vegetables. When I cook fresh veggies I tend to boil them on the stove. I love the new veggie steamers. You heat them in the microwave but the taste juicy and steamed. Report
I thought microwaving veggies would make them lose their nutrients as well. Thanks for the article. I am also going to try poping corn as recommended. I thought it was something special the companies did as well. Learn something every day, don't we. Report
I have a friend who gave me a Tupperware steamer that is used in the microwave. This is what I use for cooking my vegetables. I love the way they turn out from this steaming method. Report
Thank you for the information. I always thought that microwaving vegetable would "kill" all the nutrients, so I never did. I'm more likely to microwave my veggies now. It is more convenient for me to keep fresh vegetables at work but I get tired of raw veggies. Microwaving with a little bit of salad dressing will be a nice change. Report
i have a question....what about soup? i know the veges are boiled more or less but everything is still in the pot. is soup a bad process for keeping the nutrients of veges? Report
I usually microwave my veggies and have for 30 years. Report
I steam most of my veggies. I love my steamer!! Report
I bought a microwavable steamer from Tupperware and I just love it. It's so easy to steam vegetables in the microwave.

I do not like fat free or low fat salad dressings. I bought a new kind at Sprouts and decided to give it a try and it tasted horrible. I will stick with dressings that contain fat and just use less. They taste a lot better. And now I know they help me make vitamin A from the beneficial carotenoids in the vegetables I am consuming. Report
My favorite cooking method for fresh veggies is to saute lightly in olive oil and a smidge of butter, or stir fry in peanut oil. I love that seared, crunchy, intense flavor.

Steaming in the microwave is good, especially for a quick side dish of broccoli or peas (tossed in Italian dressing-yum).

Root veggies tossed in olive oil and oven-roasted are wonderful in winter. Report
steam or microwave for me. Report
Steam or cook in a foil pack on the BBQ. I add a little olive oil or just add a tbsp of water to cook in the foil and then toss with a little olive oil. In the winter, if I am baking a caserole or baking/broiling meat, I do a foil pack in the oven. It carmelizes the veggies and brings out their natural sweetness plus doesn't use any extra energy than I am already using.
I love my microwave. Haven't cooked ANYTHING in or on a stove in more than 6 years! It's a healthier way to cook and uses less energy. Better for my body and my wallet, thank you!!! And you can make most any recipe in one if you learn how to do it. Report
If not fresh, I LOVE steamed vegetables!! I have a microwave steamer that I use. Report
A very surprising but pleasing finding for me. I love my microwave -- well, I mostly use it to heat water for tea and heat up leftovers -- and if I can cut my cooking time AND cook healthy at the same time, GREAT! Now we need more recipes that utilize the microwave. Any suggestions on how exactly to cook veggies in a microwave? Report
I microwave and stir-fry (well, steam "fry"--no oil, I don't like the stuff). I also eat them fresh and stewed. It depends on my mood. Report
I prefer to buy fresh veggies, but because of our current lifestyle, we don't cook a lot and they end up spoiling in the fridge. So even though it is not the ideal, I load our freezer with frozen veggies. The steamfresh bags work wonders for us to add lots of veggies to our meals. I figure even though it's not perfect, it is better than the spoilage and waste wwe had before. Report
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