Have you ever thought that how you prepare food changes the nutrients? We try to eat healthy foods, but it’s important to know how to prepare them as well. The food group I am always encouraging people with diabetes to eat more of is vegetables. According to data from CDC only 9% of Americans met the recommended intake for vegetables. Vegetables are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, magnesium, folate, and iron. Vegetables also contain phytonutrients which have important functions in our body including detox, immunity, antioxidant, and heart, bone, eye, and brain health.
All vegetables contain some carbohydrates. Vegetables are in often divided into two categories: starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Both types are good choices to include in your regular eating plan. Non-starchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates, so they don’t have a big impact on blood glucose. A good technique for meal planning is to aim for ½ of your plate non-starchy vegetables. So, you know you need to eat vegetables, but how do you eat them?
Fresh or raw vegetables that have been recently picked will have the highest amount of nutrients. Purchasing fresh local vegetables is a good choice to reduce the amount of time after harvest. When preparing fresh vegetables, wash gently but don’t soak. Soaking decreases some of the water-soluble vitamins. If you don’t love eating raw veggies, cooked veggies are a good choice too.
When preparing vegetables, try to eat the edible skin to increase fiber and other nutrients. Instead of peeling, wash and eat the skin on potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and beets. Prep the vegetables just prior to cooking to decrease exposure to oxygen and light which can decrease nutrients. Cooking decreases some of the nutrients in vegetables. Higher temperatures and longer cooking times are the two variables that can cause more nutrient loss.
On the flip side, cooking can also increase the availability of some nutrients. For example, lycopene from tomatoes is absorbed better from cooked tomatoes. Availability of calcium and magnesium can also be increased by cooking. Carotenoids (phytonutrients found in red, yellow, and orange vegetables) are better absorbed when cooked.
To preserve water-soluble vitamins, steaming is a better option than boiling vegetables. When steaming, keep the pot covered to reduce cooking time and avoid overcooking. Other healthy quick cooking techniques include stir-frying, pressure cooking, and microwaving. Roasting is a quicker technique than baking. Using oil when roasting helps to speed the cooking process and increases absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from vegetables. One of my favorite ways “cook” vegetables is to add fresh greens or other raw vegetables to soups, stews, or sauces. This works great in a slow cooker and keeps the nutrients in food you are eating.
A bonus for cooked veggies is that they decrease in size with cooking, so you can often eat more.
Many people believe frozen veggies are not as healthy as fresh. That’s not true because frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe. They are then washed, blanched, and frozen. Studies have shown that frozen vegetables have similar vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient amounts compared to fresh. Frozen vegetables are a very convenient and quick way to add veggies to any meal.
So, the good news is that raw, cooked, and frozen vegetables are all good choices. The best way to prepare vegetables, is how you enjoy them. Try to eat a variety of vegetables and prepared in different ways to increase nutrients. Remember a healthy gut will absorb the most nutrients. Include vegetables every day to maximize absorption of all those powerful nutrients.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE