How you cook your vegetables matters! (Photo: Getty Images)
You’ve loaded your grocery cart with produce. Great! And this week you’re actually eating those veggies and not just letting them turn into a science experiment in your fridge. Even better! But just because you’re consuming the recommended 2½ cups of produce daily, doesn’t mean you’re reaping all the health benefits. In fact, the way you’re cooking your veggies can actually make them less nutritious.
Here are seven mistakes people make when cooking along with tips for how to remedy them:
This is one of the most common ways people ruin their veggies. Often, this leaves your greens — and reds, oranges, etc. — mushy and drained of color so they’re not appetizing to eat. But the worst part is that “heat destroys the majority of their nutrients,” explains Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet. Boiling is the worst cooking method because water-soluble micronutrients leech out into the water.
If you must boil, drink the cooking liquid if possible, such as in soups or stews, or blanch your veggies, which is a quick boil. Your best bet? Steaming the veggies for three to five minutes before stir-frying. Which brings us to the next common mistake…
2. Using just any kind of oil
(Photo: Getty Images)
Your usual stir-fry seems like it would make for a healthy dinner, but think again if you’re sautéing in seed oils like canola oil and sunflower seed oil. The unsaturated fats in these oils “oxidize at high heats and become toxic,” cautions Frank Lipman, MD, an integrative and functional medicine physician, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, and author of The New Health Rules. A better option is to sauté veggies in grass-fed butter or coconut oil.
3. Nuking the wrong way
Microwaving may be quick, but it can easily overcook your veggies, which reduces their nutritional content. But that’s not the worst of it. “Microwaving food with plastic wrap can introduce toxins, such as BPA, into the food,” Lipman explains. These toxins are carcinogens and can be detrimental to your endocrine system. If you must nuke your produce, do so in a glass dish sans the plastic wrap.
4. Turning up the heat
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You’re in a rush to get dinner on the table, so you turn up the heat, right? Wrong. If you’re using olive oil, it can create smoke that gives food a burnt flavor. “More importantly, heating olive oil until it smokes destroys its antioxidants,” explains Susan Blum, MD, author of The Immune System Recovery Plan and founder of Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, N.Y. Instead, cook olive oil on medium-high heat and drizzle some on top of your veggies at the end to “get all the antioxidants intact,” Blum adds.
5. Peeling your produce
“One thing everyone does to their beautiful organic carrots (and potatoes, parsnips, cucumbers, etc.), is to peel them before cooking,” says Lee Gross, former personal chef to Gwyneth Paltrow, culinary director of New York’s Organic Pharmer and consulting chef for LA’s M Cafe restaurants. “This means you’re losing valuable nutrients to the trash.”Vegetable skins contain high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, including some that are unique to the outer layer of the vegetable and not found in its flesh. “For optimal nutritional benefits, don’t peel it!” Gross says.
6. Tossing those veggies on the grill
(Photo: Getty Images)
Grilling is often a healthy option because you don’t need to drown your vegetables in oil or other sauces to enjoy a tasty meal. “However, the high, dry temp of the grill can deplete nutrition,” Hever explains. Even worse? When veggies are charred (a.k.a. get those grill marks), it promotes carcinogen production. To avoid this, don’t cook your veggies until they’ve got grill marks; instead, try one of those cooking baskets made for veggies. “However, the less heat, the better, so do so with caution,” Hever says.
7. Drowning veggies in oil
Eating broccoli, kale, and other produce can make you feel virtuous because this food group is low-fat, low-cal and bursting with nutrients. But adding too much butter or oil can boost the calorie content fast. (For example, one tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories and who uses just one tablespoon?) “Plus, many oils become oxidative when cooked at certain temperatures, promoting inflammation in the body, and butter has a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol,” Hever adds. Instead, cook in vegetable broth, water, vinegar, or wine and make sauces and dressings out of beans, tofu, and avocado. Or steam your veggies, then drizzle a little olive oil on them rather than cooking in it.
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