Vegetables: cook up with care

By • Published: November 2nd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Spinach is a delicious, healthful addition to any meal, whether scrambled with eggs for breakfast or topped with almonds, cranberries and a light vinaigrette for lunch. But getting the full health benefits from these well-loved greens might depend on whether you eat them raw, zap them in the microwave or cook them on the stovetop.

Antioxidants… compounds that mop up potentially harmful chemical species in the body… are partly credited for the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and decreased sickness and premature death from conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

But much of the research showing such benefits is based on raw foods, even though not many vegetables are eaten raw. Cooking causes physical and chemical changes that can reduce the potential benefits of certain foods, and those changes can vary with cooking method.

A number of studies, including one published recently in the Journal of Food Biochemistry, show that boiling greatly reduces the antioxidant capacity of certain vegetables.

Microwaving and pressure cooking, on the other hand, appear to have a less detrimental effect on some components in vegetables that contribute to their health effects.

Interestingly, for carrots and tomatoes, cooking increased rather than decreased antioxidant capacity. That’s probably in those foods, cooking causes changes that allow the beneficial ingredients to be released more readily into the body.

For a web app that helps you find delicious ways to eat your veggies raw or cooked, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-sponsored, and click on “Recipes.” You can search by food item and meal type. Try it… you might find a new favorite!