Are you getting the most nutrition out of your vegetables? Or is there more that you can do to maximize the health benefits of every bite of broccoli, beans, and bok choy? You may be surprised to know that not all vegetables are made, or cooked, equally. Read on for seven tips and tricks to make your vegetables even more nutritious.
1. Choose Organic
According to the USDA, organic crops with the USDA organic seal have been verified that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used during the growing or harvesting of that crop. Conventionally grown (non-organic) crops are routinely sprayed with a number of chemicals to ward off pests, molds, and weeds. These chemicals don’t stay on the surface of the fruit or vegetable, and they don’t rinse off. Instead, they make their way into the flesh of the food, which you then consume.
A review published in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at 343 studies of organic foods, and found that organic grown crops had higher antioxidant levels (and lower levels of cadmium, a toxic metal) than non-organic crops. Antioxidants are compounds found in fruits and vegetables, like the vitamin C found in oranges and bell peppers, the lutein found in kale, or the lycopene found in tomatoes. Antioxidants protect the cells in the body from free radical damage and oxidative stress. Oxidation is a normal process in the body where unstable molecules called free radicals are formed. This happens with age, and can be accelerated by lifestyle choices. These unstable molecules then create a chain of damaging chemical reactions within the cells of the body, and this free radical damage can lead to early signs of aging, and has been linked to serious illness and disease.
Antioxidants can help prevent, slow, or even reverse the damage done by free radicals in your body. Antioxidants are made in your body, and even more come from dietary sources. By eating organic fruits and vegetables, you are getting more of these antioxidant compounds that can help fight the free radicals that can lead to illness and aging.
2. Buy Frozen Veggies
Sometimes the price of organic vegetables can cause people to choose the conventionally grown version instead. Many people don’t know that frozen organic vegetables are just as healthy, if not healthier, than fresh. Frozen fruits and vegetables are harvested at the peak of freshness. They have had time to mature and develop a full array of beneficial nutrients. Then, they are flash frozen, locking those nutrients in and preserving them until they get to your freezer and dinner table at home. Fresh vegetables, on the other hand, are often harvested before they have reached optimal ripeness, so they may not have had time to develop a full spectrum of nutrients yet. Frozen vegetables can also last in your freezer far beyond the season that they were harvested, so you can enjoy summer peas all winter long, or winter squash far into the springtime.
3. Use the Microwave
Surprisingly, the microwave is one of the healthiest ways to cook your vegetables. Microwave cooking time is significantly shorter than other methods, leaving more nutrients intact. One exception to this rule is cauliflower, which has been shown to lose up to half of its antioxidants in the microwave.
4. Bake Corn and Spinach
Some foods, like green beans, eggplant, corn, swiss chard, and spinach become even healthier if you throw them in the oven, with antioxidant levels increasing after being baked. Others, like artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, and peppers are just as healthy in the oven, with no antioxidant loss.
5. Boil Carrots
Most vegetables lose antioxidants when boiled in water, but carrots are a shining exception to this rule. Boiling carrots can actually boost their levels of antioxidant carotenoids, which the body can convert to vitamin A to support vision health.
6. Steam Broccoli
Broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini are two vegetables that take well to steaming, which will help preserve their antioxidant levels. Steamed cauliflower actually preserves 100% of all its minerals. Vegetables do contain fat-soluble vitamins, however, so to make your steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini even healthier, toss with a bit of coconut oil or olive oil before serving.
7. Don’t Cook At All
Raw vegetables haven’t lost any of their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or enzymes to heat, which is why proponents of a raw food diet don’t cook any of their foods above 115 degrees. So cut up some crudites, and enjoy some of your vegetables raw. Shaved asparagus salads, crunchy carrots with a yogurt dip, or even a handful of snap peas for a snack will all give you the full nutritional benefit of these vegetables. A mix of cooked and raw should satisfy all of your nutritional needs.
Remember, the most nutritious vegetables are the ones that you eat!