The Cooking Advantage: Nine Vegetables That Offer More Nutrition When Cooked

Recent trends in the raw food diet overlook the fact that some vegetables are more nutritious when cooked. Cooking methods such as steaming or roasting can enhance the availability of essential nutrients in vegetables such as asparagus, mushrooms and spinach. This process releases important vitamins and antioxidants, which are sometimes trapped in the plant’s cell walls. Although cooking can reduce certain vitamins such as vitamin C, the overall absorption of nutrients is often increased, benefiting aspects such as immune function, bone growth and cancer prevention.

Cooked vegetables, including asparagus, mushrooms and spinach, often provide more nutrients than when raw, as cooking releases essential vitamins and antioxidants for health benefits.

Raw diets are a fairly recent trend, including raw veganism. The belief is that the less processed food is, the better. However, not all foods are more nutritious when eaten raw. In fact, some vegetables are actually more nutritious when cooked. Here are nine of them.

1. Asparagus

All living things are made up of cells, and in plants, important nutrients are sometimes trapped in these cell walls. When vegetables are cooked, the walls break down, releasing nutrients that can be more easily absorbed by the body. Cooking asparagus breaks down its cell walls, making vitamins A, B9, C and E more available to be absorbed.

Grilled asparagus

When asparagus is cooked, its cell walls break down, releasing a number of nutrients that are otherwise difficult to access. This process makes vitamins A, B9 (folate), C and E more available for absorption. These vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining immune health, skin health and cellular function.

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain large amounts of the antioxidant ergothioneine, which is released during cooking. Antioxidants help break down “free radicals,” the chemicals that can damage our cells, causing disease and aging.

3. Spinach

Spinach is rich in nutrients, including iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. However, these nutrients are more absorbed when spinach is cooked. This is because spinach is packed with oxalic acid acid (a compound found in many plants) that prevents the absorption of iron and calcium. Heating the spinach releases the bound calcium, making it more available for the body to absorb.

Research suggests that steamed spinach maintains its folate (B9) levels, which may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Grilled Cherry Tomatoes

Cooked tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse, mainly due to the significant increase in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, when they are heated. Lycopene has been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and some types of cancer. While cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content, the general increase in bioavailable nutrients, especially lycopene, overcomes this loss.

4. Tomato

Cooking, with any method, greatly increases the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes. Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of a variety of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. This increased amount of lycopene comes from the heat that helps break down the thick cell walls, which contain many important nutrients.

Although cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content by 29%, their lycopene content increases by more than 50% within 30 minutes of cooking.

5. Carrots

Cooked carrots contain more beta-carotene than raw carrots, which is a substance called carotenoid that the body converts into vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin supports bone growth, vision and the immune system.

Cooking carrots with the skin on more than doubles its antioxidant power. You should boil the carrots whole before slicing them, as this prevents these nutrients from escaping into the cooking water. Avoid frying carrots, because this has been found to reduce the amount of carotenoids.

Grilled peppers

Peppers, when cooked, undergo a transformation that increases the availability of certain nutrients. Cooking breaks down their cell walls, making carotenoids like beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein more absorbable. These antioxidants are vital for maintaining eye health and supporting the immune system.

6. Cucumbers

Peppers are a great source of antioxidants that stimulate the immune system, especially carotenoids, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein. The heat breaks down the cell walls, making the carotenoids easier for your body to absorb. As with tomatoes, vitamin C is lost when peppers are boiled or steamed because the vitamin can leach out into the water. Try roasting them instead.

7. Brassica

Brassica, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, are rich in glucosinolates (sulphur-containing phytochemicals), which the body can convert into a variety of cancer-fighting compounds. Because these glucosinolates are converted into cancer-fighting compounds, an enzyme in these vegetables called myrosinase must be active.

Research has discovered that steaming these vegetables preserves both vitamin C and myrosinase and, therefore, the cancer-fighting compounds you can get from them. Chop the broccoli and let it sit for a minimum of 40 minutes before cooking also allows this myrosinase to be activated.

Likewise, sprouts, when cooked, produce indole, a compound that can reduce the risk of cancer. Cooking sprouts also causes glucosinolates to break down into compounds that are known to have cancer-fighting properties.

Green Bean Almond

Cooking green beans can amplify their nutritional value, particularly in terms of antioxidant content. Various cooking methods, such as baking, microwaving, and griddling, have been shown to increase antioxidant levels in green beans compared to boiling or pressure cooking. These antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting the body from oxidative stress and inflammation.

8. Green beans

Green beans have a higher level of antioxidants when they are baked, microwaved, griddled, or even fried as opposed to boiled or pressure cooked.

9. Kale

Kale is healthier when lightly steamed, because it deactivates the enzymes that prevent the body from using the iodine it needs for the thyroid, which helps regulate your metabolism.

For all vegetables, higher temperatures, longer cooking times and larger amounts of water cause the loss of more nutrients. Water-soluble vitamins (C and many of the B vitamins) are the most unstable nutrients when it comes to cooking, because they leach from the vegetables in the cooking water. So avoid soaking them in water, use the minimum amount of water during cooking, and use other cooking methods, such as steaming or roasting. Also, if you have the cooking water above, use it in soups or sausages that contain all the smoothed nutrients.

Written by Laura Brown, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, Food and Health Sciences, Teesside University.

Adapted from an article originally published on The Conversation.The Conversation

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