Cooking makes fruits and vegetables become different; not better, not worse, just different. It breaks down some of the valuable nutrients and, at the same time, improves bioavailability of others. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, are among those that suffer from cooking the most. On the contrary, fat-soluble vitamins in these foods become more easily available to the body after they are cooked. Higher temperatures help break down cell walls and help release certain nutrients and vitamins.
By cooking your veggies, you can achieve several goals:
Eliminate harmful bacteria sometimes present in them, like in sprouts, for example
Make proteins in many vegetables easier to digest Breakdown hard to digest fibers, allowing better absorption of many essential nutrients.
With that being said, fruits and vegetables should be cooked, not overcooked. This is to ensure that as many of the other vitamins as possible and some very important enzymes survive. Overcooking also kills the life-giving energy that raw fruits and vegetables provide. General cooking rules are to get the most out of the veggies is to minimize two things: the total amount of heat exposure and the volume of the cooking medium.
Boiling in a large amount of water is probably the worst cooking method, while moderate cooking in a small amount of water with some oil is one of the best. Steaming, blanching or sautéing moderately are also good options. Moderately cooked means that the vegetable or fruit does not lose its shape and remains rather on the firm side. This can be achieved, for example, by “fast and furious” cooking — at relatively high temperatures for a relatively short time. This also helps preserve taste and color. Of course, you can always cook them well if the recipe calls for it! But if you can bake the veggies instead of boiling them in a large volume of water, then go for baking. Another option is low temperature cooking for an extended time. This can actually be done, for example, in a dishwasher. Dishwashers usually run at approx. 150-160°F (65-70°C). This is enough to get the veggies cooked in about 1 and 1/2 hours. This can potentially preserve more enzymes and water-soluble vitamins than high temperature cooking. To cook with this method, veggies with some water, herbs and spices are placed in Mason jars or similar airtight containers. A large amount of water is not recommended in order to avoid nutrients leaching from the veggies. It is not necessary, of course, to use a dishwasher for this method. Many air ovens, pizza ovens, etc. have a low cooking temperature setting. Mason jars with vegetables can also be put into a larger pan with hot water.
Frying, especially for extended period of time is not recommended, it can create cancerogens and free radicals.
Foods prepped with any of the methods are most beneficial if consumed within 3 hours after they have been cooked.
Fruits and Veggies that Benefit from Cooking
Tomato is a fruit, actually a berry to be precise. It is rich in vitamins C, K and A and, most notably, an antioxidant called lycopene. Among other benefits, it is a heart protector and can help protect the body against cancer. Raw food diet followers usually have a low supply of lycopene.
Cooked tomatoes release lycopene much better than raw ones. Ketchups, tomato paste, etc. are not a very healthy form of cooked tomatoes. It is best to cook them just like other vegetables. Tomatoes normally cook within minutes. They are good for example with fried eggs or in omelettes. Just place them onto a frying pan for a couple of minutes on high heat, before adding eggs.
Sometimes it is recommended to eat canned tomatoes in order to get the most out of them. Canned tomatoes are usually too acidic and not easy on the stomach. Also, acidic foods are to be generally avoided in order to keep a good body acid-alkaline balance.
If you like tomatoes and want to try something new, try tomato berries! They are not easy to buy but are very easy to grow in your garden.
Carrots get their vibrant orange color from beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an important carotenoid which gives fruits and vegetables their red, yellow, and orange color. The body converts this beta-carotene into vitamin A, an essential nutrient that plays an important role in maintaining healthy vision, bone growth and boosting the immune system. It is a fat-soluble vitamin which is not lost when the foods containing them are cooked. The body tends to store it in the liver and adipose tissue when not used and therefore, you don’t need this vitamin in large quantities or on a daily basis. Vitamin A helps T-cells to grow and home. Read here about the role of vitamin D for immunity.
Cooking carrots, especially with vegetable oils helps release beta carotene from its tissue.
Lightly cooked in oil bell peppers will better release lycopene and ferulic acid, as well as Vitamin A. As always, avoid overcooking to prevent losing water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C.
Red bell pepper is the only bell pepper rich in lycopene. This important carotenoid and antioxidant has many benefits and is resilient to heat processing. Cooked red bell pepper has the highest antioxidant activity among bell peppers of all colors.
Orange and green peppers are probably the most beneficial for the eye health. This is thanks to relatively high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in them. The former has more zeaxanthin and the latter has more lutein.
To get the most out of bell peppers, it is best to combine cooked red, orange, yellow and green ones. It is recommended to minimize the cooking time to about 5 minutes, in order to maximize the benefit of these great veggies.
Try this. Remove the core of bell peppers and put some minced garlic and olive oil inside each. Roast with some oil or grill until the texture is softened.
Spinach contains oxalic acid, which can contribute to formation of kidney stones in some individuals. Cooking spinach, on the other hand, depletes the vitamin C that spinach has. To get the most of this leafy green vegetable, it is best to sacrifice the vitamin C and get it from somewhere else, at the same time getting rid of oxalic acid. To achieve this, it is enough to cook spinach for as little as one minute and then discard the cooking water.
Cooked spinach is high in vitamins A, B-6, K and riboflavin and is as rich in minerals as the raw version. Since cooking makes spinach much more compact, it helps to get a significantly larger amount of nutrients and vitamins from a similar sized serving of cooked spinach.
Kale is rich in potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. Cooking kale preserves the elements. Kale is also rich is carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Cooking kale make them more bio-available than in its raw version. Kale is also high in vitamins K, A and C. Vitamin C content will somewhat diminish with cooking. Vitamin K is important for bone health, cancer and diabetes prevention. Vitamin C will boost metabolism and immunity.
Those with kidney stones who follow an oxalate-restricted diet must watch raw kale consumption. Different types of kale have different oxalate content, from low to quite high, so it is very easy to get confused. Those who don’t worry about oxalates in their diet, can safely consume any kind of raw kale as often as they like.
Others can vary raw and cooked versions to stay on a safe side. Light boiling in a small amount of water and disposal of the cooking water afterwards is the best method to get rid of the oxalates. Baked kale with some olive oil also has in a significant amount of health benefits. Remember that we will most likely eat more of it cooked than raw, especially in a baked form. Therefore we potentially get overall more nutrients and vitamins from cooked kale. Not to mention that kale chips are much healthier than potato chips.
Raw kale is to be consumed with care also by those with hypothyroidism, a condition more common among women. The problem is that many are not even aware they have it. Glucosinolates are the substances that can affect the thyroid for some people.
Pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A and E, fiber and quite a few minerals, including potassium. It is rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives it its bright orange color. Beta-carotene may help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease, also it benefits eye health. Just like some of the bell peppers, pumpkin has lutein and zeaxanthin, they help protect eye health as well. As already mentioned, beta-carotene is converted in the body into vitamin A.
Pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A and E, fiber and quite a few minerals, including potassium. It is rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives it its bright orange color. Beta-carotene may help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease, also it benefits eye health. Just like some of the bell peppers, pumpkin has lutein and zeaxanthin, they help protect eye health as well. As already mentioned, beta-carotene is converted in the body into vitamin A. It possesses an antioxidant activity, meaning it protects cells from damage coming from free radicals. Also vitamin A boosts immunity, especially in combination with vitamin C, which is also rich in pumpkin. As with the other fruits and vegetables, cooking pumpkin will help release beta-carotene, and will somewhat reduce the contents of water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C.
Cooked pumpkin doesn’t need to be boring. It combines well will oils and spices, like curry. Stuffed baked pumpkin is one of the most fun ways to enjoy it.
Asparagus is high in vitamins K and B9. The latter plays a significant role in cellular development, it is particularly important during the times of growth. Vitamin K, among other functions, regulates blood clotting. In addition, asparagus is a good source of folate and potassium. People who do not get enough folate from their diets may feel constantly tired. Potassium intake helps manage blood pressure and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, this has to go hand in hand with the reduction of sodium consumption. Sodium, especially in the form of regular table salt, retains excess liquids in the body, which affects cardiovascular health. If you can’t live without salt, opt for Himalayan pink salt instead. It is a much healthier and comprehensive salt than the regular white version. Several antioxidants in asparagus, which include beta-carotene, tocopherol and selenium, also contribute to cardiovascular health because they eliminate free radicals.
Cooking asparagus increases its antioxidant activity by about a quarter. It also increases levels of phenolic acid, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Green asparagus contains higher amounts of flavonoids and overall has a greater antioxidant capacity than other colors. Blanching is one of the best and fastest methods to cook asparagus. It is recommended to cook various parts of asparagus for different periods of time: cook the tips briefly and the base for the longest amount of time. This is easy to achieve in a small pot filled with boiling water, just up to the level of the asparagus tips. Then, after a few minutes of blanching, more boiling water can be added in order to cover the tips as well. The total cooking time is usually less than five minutes. This method will preserve most of the vitamins and will make the thicker ends easier to consume. Asparagus can be added to soups, salads, omelettes, etc.
Cauliflower and Broccoli
There is no nutritional benefit in cooking cauliflower or broccoli. However, they are more popular cooked than raw. They are also likely to digest easier when cooked for some people, especially in larger quantities. Cooking will slightly diminish their health value though.
Steaming and baking are probably the best ways to process these vegetables, because it preserves the most minerals and vitamins in them and prevents them from leaching out. As always, avoid overcooking. Broccoli makes a great creamy soup
Similarly to cauliflower, a relatively large amount of raw Brussel sprouts may be challenging to digest for some people. Light steaming, roasting or sautéing might be an optimal solution to preserve vitamins and nutrients and facilitate its digestion.
Eggplants are fruits, just like tomatoes and bell peppers. Cooked eggplants health benefits depend very much on the way they are cooked. Eggplants absorb oils like a sponge, so when they are cooked in oil they have a rather bad reputation. However, properly cooked (baked or grilled) eggplants have many surprising health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants, like anthocyanins with its anti-inflammatory properties and nasunin, that is known for protecting brain cells. Eggplant is also quite low in carbs, making it a good choice for those who watch their insulin levels and want to stay fit. In addition to that, eggplants are beneficial for
The key to a great-tasting and juicy eggplants is to cook them the way the moisture is preserved. So, either bake them whole or bake or grill them cut into pieces. In the latter case surround the eggplant pieces with tomatoes or other vegetables that easily give out moisture. Ages ago, soaking eggplant’s pieces in salt before cooking was a must in order to eliminate bitterness. However, modern eggplants are rarely bitter. Salting the cut part can to some
extent reduce the amount of oil that they absorb, it also helps preserve the texture. Roasted eggplant strips soaked in olive oil and liquid smoke can serve as a vegan bacon substitute.
Baked eggplants can make a great dip, spread or a salad. Try this recipe. remove the eggplant’s skin, chop it finely, add minced garlic, tahini, Himalayan salt, olive oil, black pepper and lemon juice. You can also add some milk-soaked white bread, just leave out the crust. Mix all the ingredients well.
Not only are they not vegetables, mushrooms are not even plants, they are fungi. They are low in carbs and rich in fiber and protein, which makes them a good choice for a low-carb diet.
Cooked mushrooms, of the same volume as raw ones, are overall more healthy and nutritious. Heat processing makes them easier to digest; also cooking increases their polyphenol and antioxidant activity. Cooking increases the vitamin C content in mushrooms as well, but decreases the amount of vitamin B complex. In addition, cooked mushrooms provide slightly less proteins. However, heat-processed mushrooms are easier to digest and they reduce in volume by two times during cooking. Cooked mushrooms are overall superior to raw ones, they provide more nutritional value for the same volume.
Similarly to eggplants, mushrooms easily absorb oils. Therefore, it is best to limit the amount of oil during cooking. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, grilling and baking with other vegetables with a small amount of oil is one of the best methods. Mushrooms make great creamy soups and are very popular marinated as well.
Sprouts are superfoods and are full of vitamins, minerals and valuable nutrients. These differ from one kind of sprout to the other. They are grown in a warm, humid environment. Nutrients used in the farming and other factors contribute to the potential growth of harmful bacteria. Sprouts are responsible for many outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. People with a weak immune system have to be especially careful consuming them. The best way to eliminate the risks is to cook sprouts. There are many ways of cooking them, from boiling and stir frying to baking. The most important is to reach temperatures close to the water boiling point, at least briefly. This will make sure that no foodborne bacteria, if any, remains.
Sweet potato is rich in beta carotene (especially orange one), potassium, calcium, fiber, anthocyanins (especially purple), and vitamins C and B6. This makes sweet potato an immune boosting, cancer fighting, eye health protecting, blood pressure regulating and digestion improving vegetable. This is one of the few veggies that is normally consumed well-cooked. Baking whole sweet potatoes (with skin pierced with a fork) for about an hour is one of the most popular ways to cook it. Cooking significantly changes the amount of sugars in sweet potatoes. The Glycemic Index or GI of a cooked sweet potato greatly depends on the cooking method. For example, baking and roasting gives it the highest GI. Baked or roasted sweet potatoes also have quite a high glycemic load. All this makes them a great post-workout food.
Read more on that here. Boiling, on the contrary, gives sweet potatoes a relatively low GI and is good for those who watch their carbs. Generally, people tend to eat less sweet potatoes than regular ones in one sitting. Therefore, while having similar glycemic numbers, sweet potatoes is preferred over white potatoes.
Corn is a grain, a vegetable (a starchy vegetable, to be exact) and a fruit all at the same time. Corn can be called a whole grain when its whole kernels are consumed (from the cob or as popcorn, for example). Corn flour is usually referred to a as whole grain flour, where all the three main grain parts are used for the milling process. Cornstarch, on the contrary, is the finely ground starchy part of the corn kernel only. It basically contains only pure carbs and has almost none of the original corn flavor. Cornstarch is mostly used to add thickness or texture to dishes (like soups) and beverages (like hot chocolate). Corn flour, in addition to carbs, has fat, fiber and protein. Since all corn flour is gluten-free, it is not suitable to make yeast dough, but is great for tortillas, crackers and similar breads. Cornmeal is a more coarsely ground corn flour, and just like the latter, it has a lot of original corn flavor. It is important to remember that corn flour, cornmeal and cornstarch are different, so they can’t replace one another in recipes.
Corn is a good source of potassium, copper, zinc, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. Also it has vitamins A, E, K, B complex and several antioxidants. Fiber in corn aids digestion and helps cleanse the colon naturally. As usual, cooking corn diminishes some of the vitamin C. At the same time, it cranks up its antioxidant activity.
Sweet corn on the cob makes one of the most popular summer snacks. Despite common belief, most sweet corn is not genetically modified. To be on the safe side, choose certified organic sweet corn. Another common misconception is that sweet corn has lots of sugar. Actually, the sugar content in it is relatively low. Sweet corn can be cooked in a variety of ways, from grilling to steaming. Try baking it wrapped in foil with spices for 60 min at 200 C or 400 F. Then season with sauce, more spices and salt.
Plums are one of those fruits that have a lot of potential when cooked. Try them steamed as a sauce base. Tkemali sauce is great with virtually anything. It can be a soup ingredient or even consumed on its own.
Special Tkemali plums used to prep it can be substituted with wild plums or any other plums, preferably sour.
Marinated plums is another way of having this popular fruit.
Last but not least is plum wine. Though plums are technically not cooked in this case, they go through a fermentation process.
Quince is a very aromatic and flavorful fruit and can be consumed raw. However often it has an astringent taste and it may be hard to chew. At times, raw quince can even feel tasteless and rather resemble wood. Cooking opens up quince aroma and flavor. Quince is great in various stews, it makes a great jam and kompot.
The quince kompot recipe is very simple. Cut 2-3 quince fruits into medium-size pieces, place them into a saucepan, add 2-4 cups of water, depending on the taste intensity you want to achieve. Also you can add sugar to taste or, better, erythritol (somewhat larger amount than sugar), if you are watching your carbs. Set to a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 minutes with a lid closed. Cool down and enjoy your quince kompot.
If you want to enjoy quince in a stew, simply add small or medium chunks to it at the same time when you would add carrots or potatoes. Quince jam is also quite easy to make.
You will need several quince fruits, some sugar and some lemon juice. Don’t peel the quince for the jam, just remove the core. Grate the fruits or blend in a food processor, but not until it becomes a puree. Quince jam is best when a little chunky. Places the pieces into a saucepan, add a small amount of water (1 cup per 2-3 fruits) and sugar. Then bring to a boil. Simmer until jam-like texture, but not less than 30 minutes. Add some more water if it gets too sticky too fast. Close to the end of cooking, add lemon juice to taste. Quince jam combines well with a good quality cheese.