Boiled, steamed, fried, slow-cooked, baked or raw – is there a best way to prepare your vegetables?
We asked Public Health Nutritionist Charlotte Morrison for the low-down on whether how you cook your veggies impacts how good they are for you.
Can how you cook your vegetables alter their nutritional content?
Charlotte confirmed that cooking vegetables can change the amounts of nutrients you get when you eat them, though not always in a bad way.
Charlotte says, “Vegetables are great sources of fibre and different vitamins and minerals. What happens is that when you cook vegetables, this affects the amounts and the availability of those nutrients in the vegetables.”
She explained that water-soluble nutrients, like vitamin C, B vitamins or folate, can leach out of veggies when cooked in water.
“You know when you’ve boiled carrots or broccoli and the water changes colour?” Charlotte asks. “That’s usually related to the vitamins that have been lost in the water. So, if you’re over-boiling them, then you will lose some of the nutrients.”
But this doesn’t mean you should immediately stop cooking your veggies and adopt an all-raw diet.
“When you cook some vegetables, the nutrients might be better available for the body. If there’s a vegetable that’s quite tough, take carrots as an example, cooking the veggies softens them, so that helps the body access the nutrients in the vegetables.”
How should you cook your veggies?
When it comes to cooking vegetables, it’s not as simple as declaring one method as better than the others. Charlotte explains that the appropriate cooking method will vary from vegetable to vegetable.
“Some veggies you can obviously eat raw,” says Charlotte. “Something like lettuce, you would usually eat raw; you wouldn’t often cook it. Whereas a vegetable like carrots, you can eat raw as well as cooked.”
While you won’t lose any nutrients if you eat your veggies raw, very hard or tough vegetables, like pumpkin or potato, will be difficult to eat and digest without cooking at all.
For those who love salads, Charlotte recommends preparing your meal as close to eating time as possible.
“You will lose some nutritional value if you cut them too far in advance, so try to keep vegetables whole as long as possible,” Charlotte explains. “Try to prepare vegetables near to the time that you’re going to eat them. If you are cutting them in advance, then make sure that they’re stored in an airtight container in the fridge.”
When it comes to those water-soluble nutrients, Charlotte says it’s about getting the balance right when boiling or steaming your vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to keep a close eye on your cooking and let your appetite help guide you.
“If the vegetables go really mushy, if they are bland looking, if the flavour is reduced, you’re not only losing the nutrients, but it’s not going to make you want to eat it as well,” says Charlotte.
Keep an eye on the amount of water used and the time, making sure you cook your vegetables long enough to eat, but preserving some crunch and flavour.
If boiling your vegetables for too long decreases their nutrient content, surely a method like slow cooking them over hours is a poor choice? Not necessarily, says Charlotte.
She explains, “With normal boiling, if you cook the vegetables over a long period of time some nutrients will be lost. But with slow cooking, you’re tending to make stews, casseroles, soups and curries – dishes that you eat with the juices or the sauce they cook in. That’s where the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables have gone during the cooking process, so you will be more likely to get those as long as you’re eating all of what’s in the pot.”
While you’d be unlikely to drink the water you boiled your Brussels sprouts in, when you’re slow cooking, you’ll probably eat the gravy or sauce created by your dish.
The most important thing to remember when slow cooking? “Just make sure that you put plenty of vegetables in the dish,” says Charlotte.
Is deep frying ever an okay way to get your veggie count? Unfortunately for French fry lovers, Charlotte says no.
“It’s best to keep those to a minimum. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we watch the number of kilojoules we’re eating and the amount of fat that we’re eating, so it’s better to avoid deep frying. If you’re using any fat in your cooking, use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils (like extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil), and only a small amount.”
Stir-frying, on the other hand, is a good way to cook veggies, and we have a several tasty stir-fry recipes you can choose from.
Other cooking methods
“If you like grilling, roasting or barbecuing vegetables, that’s great. If you like stir-fries, that’s great as well,” says Charlotte.
“The main point is, whatever method you’re using for cooking, to use as little water as possible, so the vitamins and minerals don’t leach out.
Also, look at what you use to cook the veggies in or add to the veggies. Look at the dressings on salad, look at the sauces that you add to your stir-fry. Avoid a lot of creamy or sweet sauces. Keep those additions to a minimum, so you get the flavour of the veggies. You can also add herbs and spices to give that extra boost of flavour.”
Should Queenslanders be worried about how they cook their vegetables?
For most Queenslanders, how their vegetables are cooked should be a secondary concern to actually eating enough of them on a daily basis.
“Only 7% of Queensland adults consume the recommended amount of veggies per day, and only 4% of children aged 5-17 eat their recommended daily intake of veggies,” says Charlotte. When it comes to eating enough vegetables to maintain a healthy diet, Charlotte says, “We’re not getting there.”
So, what should a person do if they want to try to eat more veggies?
“Even if you just add one extra serve of vegetables a day, that’s good,” says Charlotte. “We need to slowly increase our veggie intake: getting veggies into our daily food, into meals, dishes and snacks. Look for vegetables that are in season and try to cook them in different ways to try and get the veggies in.” If you need some inspiration, check out our range of recipes.
When it all boils down to it, Charlotte says, “We need to look at how we cook vegetables, but we also need to make sure we get more into our diet, for our long-term health.”
Australian Dietary Guidelines – Eat for Health
Thanks to Public Health Nutritionist Charlotte Morrison for sharing her insight and tips.