How to Keep Your Veggies Vitamin-Packed
How to best prepare, serve, and store your veggies so you can get the most nutritious bang from your broccoli.
Most of us are confused and overwhelmed by all of the tips and information
out there about how to cook and care for vegetables. Is it healthier to eat
your tomatoes raw, or enjoy them in a slow-cooked sauce? Should you refrigerate
Unless you're Popeye, you're probably not going to bulk up overnight by
eating a can of spinach, no matter how it's prepared. But there are plenty of
health benefits that you'll enjoy from careful care and preparation of your
The most striking benefit of plant foods is their disease-fighting
potential, says Amy Joy Lanou, PhD, a nutritionist and the nutritional director
of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "Across the board,
fruits and vegetables are beneficial for reducing chronic disease risk,"
she says. That's why we asked Lanou and nutritionist Christine Filardo to give
us the scoop on proper veggie handling, so something insignificant doesn't come
between you, your health, and your veggies. Here's a little food for
To Cook or Not to Cook
There's plenty of conflicting information about whether vegetables and
fruits are better enjoyed cooked or raw, and that's because there is no single
answer. Some active nutrients in vegetables and fruits are more readily
available when cooked, others are more prevalent when foods are eaten raw, says
Lanou. For example, lycopene, an antioxidant, which may help prevent against
prostate cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, is more prevalent
in cooked forms of tomatoes -- even ketchup.
On the flip side, many of the nutrients from vegetables can get leached
during cooking. The key is to watch out for cooking vegetables too long, and
with too much water, says Filardo. If you cook vegetables gently -- and without
a great deal of water -- you will help protect the water-soluble vitamins.
Filardo recommends blanching your veggies, which is when you quickly cook
vegetables in boiling water, and remove them when they're still very crisp, to
help preserve the color and nutrients. The same principle applies if you're
going to steam or microwave vegetables.
Not all water is bad, however; it's only when you aren't consuming the
liquids that the nutrients are leached into. That's the great thing about soup,
says Lanou. "You consume the water-soluble vitamins that go into the
broth," she says. For the most part, it's the leaching that causes the
problem, not the heat.
The Fresher, the Better
Time is the most important factor when it comes to the nutrient breakdown of
fruits and vegetables. You can slow down the process of nutrient depletion by
your storage methods, but getting produce fresh to begin with is very
important. Try finding markets that sell locally grown produce. "Farmers'
markets are great, because usually you get produce the day after it was
harvested," says Lanou. The sooner you eat a fruit or vegetable after it's
picked, the better.