Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on February 22, 2022
Biggest Bang for Your Produce Buck

Biggest Bang for Your Produce Buck

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If you’re trying to work more fruits and vegetables into your diet, make sure you get the most out of them. How they’re prepared can make a big difference in the nutritional punch they pack. The right type of heat can bring out the nutrients in some, but you’ll need to eat others raw to get the biggest benefit. 

Raw Garlic

Raw Garlic

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This is one powerful plant. It’s rich in selenium, an antioxidant that may help control high blood pressure and possibly lower your chances of some cancers. You can mix it into veggie stir-fries, casseroles, or tomato sauce for pasta, but you’ll get more nutrients if you eat it raw or add it just before the dish is finished cooking.  

Fresh Fruit

Fresh Fruit

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This is a healthy snack that's rich in fiber, low in fat and calories, and packed with vitamins. Some types may even make you less likely to get type 2 diabetes. The best choices are blueberries, grapes, and apples. But the same can’t be said for fruit juice from the grocery store. It lacks the fiber of whole fruit and has a lot of added sugar.

Make Tomato Sauce

Make Tomato Sauce

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Pasta tossed with rich tomato sauce is an easy classic that’s good and good for you. Cooking fresh, diced tomatoes helps your body take in and use lycopene, a natural chemical that may make you less likely to have heart disease and some types of cancer.

Cook Carrots

Cook Carrots

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These popular veggies have natural chemicals, too, called carotenoids. They’re what make carrots orange, and they may help protect your eyes and possibly lower your chances of some cancers. Like lycopene, heat makes carotenoids easier for your body to use, so steam or lightly roast fresh carrots to get the most out of them.

Steam Broccoli

Steam Broccoli

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If you think raw broccoli is tough or tasteless, a quick steam can soften it up without killing off many of its nutrients. Unlike boiling or stir-frying in oil, steaming lets it hold onto most of a healthy compound called glucosinolate. That gives it its distinct odor and may help prevent certain types of cancer.

Use Pressure With Mushrooms

Use Pressure With Mushrooms

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These fungi are very low in calories and offer a unique flavor along with fiber and antioxidants. You can slice them raw to add to a salad, but if you prefer the texture of cooked mushrooms, steam them or heat them in a pressure cooker. Quick cooking can raise the amount of antioxidants in some types of mushrooms.

Bake Sweet Potatoes

Bake Sweet Potatoes

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These are rich in fiber, vitamins A and C, and calcium and magnesium that help you build strong, healthy bones. But how you cook your sweet potato can change the amount of starch and sugar in it. The best way to prepare one of these filling, naturally sweet gems is to bake it and serve it up with the skin in place. But skip the butter.

How You Cook Matters

How You Cook Matters

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When you boil vegetables, both the water and high heat can drain some nutrients. But stir-frying or sauteeing can preserve more of those. And a quick zap in the microwave lets the veggie hold on to even more vitamins.

What About Steaming?

What About Steaming?

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This can be a good way to keep the nutrients in fresh produce without adding any fat from oil or butter. And as a bonus, you can enjoy the steaming liquid as a veggie broth that’s full of all the nutrients from the veggies you cooked. But steam’s intense heat can destroy some nutrients in certain veggies, like kale, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts. You might use these in a crunchy, healthy salad instead.

Watch the Timing

Watch the Timing

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When you use heat on any fresh vegetable, you want to keep as much of the flavor, look, texture, and nutrients as you can. Cook them only until they’re tender but still crisp, not mushy. If you’re making a lot, it can be a good idea to whip up small batches instead of big piles. That helps make sure they’re all cooked over the same amount of heat.

Be Careful With Juicing

Be Careful With Juicing

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Juicing raw fruit is a trendy way to get tons of different nutrients in one glass, and there are plenty of places to buy one when you’re on the go. But use caution with that fresh, frothy treat. Fruit skins that haven’t been washed well can have bacteria that cause diarrhea. It’s best to carefully clean, cut, and squeeze your own juices.

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SOURCES:

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: “Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins B, C, and phenolic compounds.”

OneGreenPlanet.org: “6 Veggies You Should Try to Avoid Steaming.”

Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oil.”

Nutrition in Clinical Care: “The role of carotenoids in human health.”

The Journal of Nutrition: “Dietary factors that affect the bioavailability of carotenoids.”

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences: “Eating Defensively: The Nutrition and Food Safety Benefits of Cooked Produce.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “The Juicing Trend: About Raw Juice.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Added Sugar: What You Need to Know.”

Harvard Medical School Health Letter: “Is microwave food healthy?”

Cleveland Clinic: “6 Surprising Ways Garlic Boosts Your Health,” “White Potatoes vs. Sweet Potatoes: Which Are Healthier?”

PLoS One: “Effects of cooking methods on starch and sugar composition of sweet potato storage roots.”

Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: “Stability of carotenoids, total phenolics and in vitro antioxidant capacity in the thermal processing of orange-fleshed sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas Lam.) cultivars grown in Brazil.”

United States Department of Agriculture: “Why is it important to eat fruit?”

BMJ: “Fruit consumption and risk of type-2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.”

Dairy Council of California: “Health Benefits of Garlic.”

Piedmont Healthcare: “Health benefits of raw vegetables.”

FoodRevolution.org: “Mushrooms Have Stunning Power to Heal People and the Planet.”

The Journal of Food Science and Technology: “Impact of optimized cooking on the antioxidant activity in edible mushrooms.”