Most of us are too focused on the nutrient contents of food. But, on our quest to find the most nutritious foods out there, we have forgotten to ask one important question. How much of these nutrients are actually absorbed by our body?
Is a raw food diet the ultimate answer to this quest? Well, not always. How so?
Keep in mind that before our body starts to absorb nutrients, it is a must to break down food into its simplest form. Various factors will also affect our body’s capability to absorb these nutrients. Lastly, not all raw vegetables are good for you. Why? This article will expound the concept behind the nutrients in raw and cooked veggies. This post will also offer some cooking tips on how to get the most nutrients in vegetables.
I. Why do we Cook Most Vegetables?
Vegetables contain a variety of compounds. Most of these compounds are healthful. Some, like antinutrients may cause some undesirable effects.
As of today, there are various kinds antinutrients present in vegetables. The common denominator here is that all these substances deter nutrient absorption.
Take cruciferous vegetables like kale for example. This dark green leafy veggie is an infamous superfood. However, it also contains some troublesome compounds. Phytates, oxalates and goitrogens are the typical foes found in vegetables belonging under this group. Their names may seem intimidating. But remember, these substances are easily neutralized or reduced. Cooking, moderate consumption and diversifying your diet can help you win the battle over these antinutrients.
B. Cellulose and the Digestive System
Like human beings, a plant is also made up of millions of cells. One characteristic of a plant’s cell is its sturdy wall, which is mostly composed of cellulose. Why is this important?
Within these cell walls are nutrients and other healthful components. These substances make plants valuable in the health department. However, without breaking these walls, these compounds become inaccessible.
One problem encountered in raw vegetables is the resilient cell wall common in plants. We know that the nutrients are there. But, it is hardly absorbed by our body. Why? One primary reason is because we lack the enzyme that can break down cellulose. Our gut bacteria, on the other hand, can digest this compound. Thus, raw vegetables will only be fully digested once it reaches our large intestine where bacteria resides. So, what’s the problem here?
As you know, the major site of absorption is our small intestine. By the time food reaches our large intestines, nutrient absorption had already taken place. Still, there’s minimal absorption in the large intestine.
One may also experience digestive problems such as gas and bloating. Thus, if you’re fond of consuming raw fruits and vegetables, a healthy gut is imperative.
What’s your alternative? Heat and other food preparation techniques like fermentation can rapture a plant’s resilient cell wall. Through this, our bodies are able to quickly absorb nutrients.
C. Edibility and Bioavailability of Nutrients
Antinutrients, cellulose and insoluble fibers are not the only deterrents in terms of nutrient absorption. For crops like tubers, grains and beans; cooking or food processing is imperative. Why? This is because cooking will make these products edible and more digestible for our gastrointestinal tract.
Take soybeans and other dried beans for example. It is true that uncooked beans contain more nutrients. However, it has been a common practice to soak and cook it before consumption. There are various reasons for this. The simplest one is to make it digestible.
Dried beans are hard little crops that may damage your oral cavity when eaten raw. Both soaking and simmering makes it soft and edible. These methods also reduces its antinutrient contents. At the same time, it also unleashes its healthful compounds.
D. Food Safety
Have you ever experience enjoying a sumptuous meal and a few hours after your stomach starts turning upside-down? Vomiting and diarrhea are the classic signs of food poisoning. This is definitely a dreadful feeling we all want to avoid. For this reason, we tend to be vigilant in terms of the food we eat.
There are various factors that may lead to food poisoning. Consuming raw food can sometimes lead to this problem.
Nowadays, pollution is a prevalent dilemma. Fruits and vegetables are definitely not exempted from this ordeal. There are various cases of contaminated veggies wherein the major causes are polluted soil and pesticides. Aside from that, transporting crops from one place to another may also lead to microbial contamination. For these reasons, cooking and proper food handling techniques may lessen the risk of food poisoning.
Let’s face it. Eating plain raw veggies especially the bitter-flavored crops is not something enticing. Ever since the culinary world has evolved, we crave for a mixture of flavors that would excite and satisfy our taste buds. Some of us will even disregard vegetables as one of our favorite foods. Nevertheless, we all know that consuming veggies will greatly benefit us. As a solution, most of us cook our vegetables and mix it with various ingredients to make it more appetizing.
Today, eating is not just a way to get our daily dose of nutrients. With thousands of food products to choose from, we become picky eaters. Nonetheless, we can always combine flavor and nutrition. It is just a matter of using the precise amount of time, an efficient cooking method and pairing the right ingredients.
II. Healthy Cooking Methods for Your Veggies
It is true that heat can decrease a vegetable’s nutrient value. However, it can also resolve the issues typically encountered in raw food. Along with that, it also increases your body’s capability to absorb essential nutrients.
Cooking will also affect a vegetable’s overall nutritional value. This can happen in a positive or negative manner depending on the food and cooking method used. So, what are the best cooking methods you can apply to keep the maximum nutrients in vegetables?
A. Food Preparation Techniques using Heat
It is a common practice to blanch veggies before freezing. But, you can also use this technique to soften some vegetables. In fact, blanching can offer numerous perks, culinary and health-wise. Basically, the main purpose of blanching is to stop enzyme activity. But, that’s not all. Your veggies are also cleaned and brightened during the process.
Steaming is considered as one of the most effective way to retain nutrients in vegetables. But, there’s a downside. Like blanching, fat-soluble vitamins namely vitamins A, D, E and K are not readily absorbed by our body. A remedy for this is to pair your steamed veggies with a fat-containing dish. You can also complement it with butter, ghee, olive oil or sesame oil. This will not only enhance vitamin absorption. It can also add flavor to your steamed vegetables.
3. Baking and Roasting
For most nutritionist, roasting or baking veggies is the best cooking method to retain the nutrients in your food. This is actually a healthy alternative for deep-frying. What makes roasted veggies special?
If you’re familiar with the caramelisation reaction in food, roasting is the best method to unleash the natural sweetness or the so-called “butterscotch” flavor of starchy veggies like potatoes.
In a nutritional point of view, baking or roasting are evidently deemed as an excellent way to cook vegetables. One primary reason for this is it increases bioavailability of nutrients. Compared to boiling, water-soluble substances are not leached.
Deep fried foods have garnered a bad rep in the health industry. But, stir-frying is also a good way to cook your veggies. Here’s why. The oil used in stir-fried recipes aid in absorbing fat soluble vitamins.
What about the high temperature used in this method? Since, it is only cooked in a short period. The damage for water-soluble vitamins is only minimal. So, if you’re craving for some veggies with a bit of crisp, stir-frying is a good choice. You can even use various kinds of stir-fry sauces or oils like sesame oil to add an interesting aroma and flavor.
One of the most extensive cooking methods in terms of preserving nutrients is boiling. Then, why is it on this list?
Actually, this cooking method can keep a food’s nutritional value if the water or broth is also consumed. Thus, in cases of soups and stews, the nutrients are not lost. It is apparently mixed with the liquid. There’s an exception here. Unstable compounds like vitamins B and C are evidently compromised during the process. This is inevitable since any method where heat is typically applied can negatively affect these vitamins.
B. Other Methods
1. Soaking and Sprouting
As a child most of us have done this simple experiment on germination. Back then, we just stare with amazement as the seeds starts to sprout.
Today, we know that this simple experiment is an excellent technique to unleash the nutrients in legumes and grains. Yes, both soaking and sprouting is usually done so that these food products become more digestible. At the same time, some antinutrients are also reduced.
As you know, the existence of cultured foods can be dated back in the ancient times. For these products to still exist today, there’s really something remarkable about them. In fact, a lot of cultured products are widely advertised as healthful foods.
In my previous article about cultured vegetables, I’ve presented several benefits of including these kinds of products in our diet. Yes, being a highly nutritious food is just one of its perks.
III. How about Salads, Smoothies and Juices?
Cooking vegetables can offer many perks. But, keep in mind that there are certain crops that are better when eaten raw. Take garlic for example. Studies have shown that consuming raw garlic is better, health-wise.
In regards to both green smoothies and juices, most of us have heard the advantages of drinking smoothies and vegetable juice like carrot juice. But, can they really live up to their claims? Despite the above mentioned problems with consuming raw veggies, these products can still offer benefits for your health. How so?
As you know heat can destroy various substances like enzymes and phytonutrients present in vegetables and other plant products. One classic example for this is glutathione. It is a compound typically found in cruciferous vegetables. However, research has shown that this type of substance is easily diminished by heat. One way to get these kinds of nutrients is through juicing.
For some people, the juicing process is more appropriate for raw veggies. This is especially true for those who are having a hard time digesting fiber. This is because the juicing process extracts a vegetable’s nutrients and removes its fiber contents. Blending, on the other hand, chops fruits and vegetables into tiny bits and pieces.
One important note to remember is that both smoothies and juices are mere supplements. They cannot compete with the overall nutrient profile of a balanced meal.
For most of us, salads have become a regular addition to your weekly meals. Like me, you’re probably concerned about cellulose. While we can’t digest cellulose and other insoluble fiber, it can still give us some benefits. One benefit is that it helps cleanse our digestive system. In nutritional point of view, salad is a great addition to our meals. However, a diet based on green leafy vegetables is incomplete. As much as possible, it is best to diversify the food we eat.
IV. Considerations when Eating Raw Vegetables
- As much as possible eat veggies that are in season. A veggie’s nutrient content is at its fullest when harvested at the peak of its ripeness. As time goes by, its nutritional value deteriorates. Thus, the best way to eat these food products is right after your trip to the farmer’s market.
- Today, food safety should always be a priority especially when eating raw fruits and vegetables. With that in mind, always carefully and properly wash these products before consumption.
- To optimize nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins, always consume it along with fat-containing foods or dressings for salads.
- If you’re experiencing digestive problems like bloating and gas when consuming raw veggies, it is best to avoid them. You can also try juicing. Vegetables juices can give the perks of raw veggies without the disadvantages of the tough fibrous part of plant products.
V. Final Thoughts
Raw or cooked vegetables, which one is better? It is without doubt that the best way to get the benefits of fruits and vegetables is to include both raw and cooked vegetables in your diet.
What about nutrient loss in cooked foods? This is the foremost importance of diversifying your diet. Take vitamin C as an example. It is a very unstable compound. Aside from being a water-soluble vitamin, it is also easily destroyed by heat. Hence, getting your daily dose of vitamin C from cooked veggies will not suffice. But, there are other food products that contain this nutrient. As a remedy, you can get it from fruits. You can also opt for infusions like lemon water as another source of vitamin C.
Eating raw fruits and vegetables is an excellent addition to any person’s diet. But, diversifying your diet by consuming both raw and cooked vegetables is definitely advantageous. This is not only in a health perspective. It will also give you a chance to experience the wonders of the culinary world.
VI. Tips on How to Store Your Fresh Vegetables
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