Vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. A diet rich in vegetables may help prevent against certain cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes (1). Vegetables also provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. Based on nutrient content, there are 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables (1).
There have been numerous discussions on how you should prepare your vegetables to ensure you get the most nutrients. However, there’s no single answer because it really depends on the vegetable.
Some vegetables are most nutritious uncooked and raw while other others become more nutritious when heated. Specific nutrients may either be enhanced or broken down during the cooking process – again, this depends on the vegetable.
Here is a short list of common vegetables stating whether they’re best raw/cooked (2):
Eat these raw and uncooked:
1. Beets – helps retain folate, which help with brain function
2. Broccoli – retains an enzyme that helps cleanse the liver of carcinogens
3. Onion – retains hunger-busting phytonutrient
4. Red Peppers – retains vitamin C content
These 4 vegetables retain more nutrients when eaten raw. Heat will destroy enzymes and reduce their anti-cancer fighting compounds.
Eat these cooked:
1. Asparagus – steaming them increases cancer-fighting potentials
2. Mushroom – heat brings out increased potassium levels
3. Spinach – helps with absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium
4. Tomatoes – increases absorption of lycopene, which is cancer-fighting
5. Carrots – increases antioxidant beta-carotene, which improves bone, eye & reproductive health
Cooking these vegetables makes it easier for our bodies to benefit from their protective antioxidants by breaking down the cell walls, allowing for better absorption (3). This prevents oxidative cell damage and is heart-friendly. To best retain taste and color, it is best to roast, grill, steam, blanch or sauté your vegetables. Avoid boiling or using excessive water to retain the most water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C). Cooking at a higher heat for the least amount of time is the best method, which also retains texture and crunch.