Cooking Methods and Nutrients in Foods

A continuation from last week’s corner in healthy cooking with Barbecuing, this week is how to cook other foods to get best bang for nutrients. There’s no best one way for choosing the best cooking method for nutrition. With vegetables, nutrients react differently to various types of cooking methods and their reactions also vary across the different types of vegetables. 

These variations are caused by the cellular structure of vegetables. Depending on where in the cell a nutrient is stored, cooking can do the following:

  • Make the nutrient more readily absorbed (as the cell wall softens)
  • Break down the nutrient itself
  • Kill off oxidizing agents that would otherwise reduce the quantity of that nutrient

Vitamin C – aka ascorbic acid, is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues.  

When many people hear Vitamin C, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes come to mind.  Although there are many vegetables rich in Vitamin C as well, and you are more likely to cook with these as opposed to the citrus fruits mentioned.  Broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach are all great sources of Vitamin C, but how you cook them matters to whether the Vitamin C is retained.   Boiling is one of the most popular ways to prepare these veggies, but unfortunately not great for retaining vitamin C content.  Because vitamin C is water-soluble, it seeps out of the vegetables and into the water and down the drain.  It can reduce the vitamin C content of vegetables by more than 50 percent!

Vitamin C is also heat sensitive so heating for too long will do same thing.  To optimize vitamin C intake, think low heat cooking as, sautéing, microwaving, or, better yet, eat them raw.

Vitamin K – think blood & bones. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and maintaining healthy bones.

Vitamin K is primarily found in leafy greens, spinach, chard, beet greens and kale.  It is a less finicky vitamin, when it comes to cooking.  Spinach, for example, retains most of its vitamin K content regardless of how you cook it.  Chard is another one where most cooking methods will actually increase the levels of available vitamin K.

Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A) – is a phytonutrient which the body coverts into Vitamin A. It supports the immune system and optimizes healthy retinal function (eyes)

Beta-carotene is what makes carrots and yams orange and are excellent sources.  To absorb more, lightly boil or steam carrots along with spinach and chard.  Although spinach and chard contain slightly less beta carotene, they are still great sources.

Vitamin E – a powerful antioxidant that neutralize free radicals that are highly reactive molecules that are harmful to cells. Vitamin E also helps maintain our immune system.  Vegetables that contain vitamin E are root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and leafy greens like spinach, chard… 

Depending on the vegetable, cooking method matters.  When root vegetables are cooked no matter what the method, levels of vitamin E always decrease.  Leafy greens, however, when cooked, available vitamin E increases significantly.

Onto meat, yup meat has vitamins too, specifically B vitamins.  Meat also contains important minerals and certain fats.  Of course, meat has to be cooked, but how long, temperature and how you are cooking the meat matters to what you retain.  

Unfortunately, when cooking meat, there are other concerns you should take into consideration that can be worse than trying to retain majority of the nutrients.  As mentioned in last weeks “corner” harmful chemicals HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can become part of the meat from the smoke that is created when cooking at high temperatures.

To minimize your intake of PAHs and HCAs, avoid grilling and searing your meat. Instead opt for baking or broiling!

*If this article or any past articles leaves you with questions, the want to be a better you, the courage to take the first step to a happier you, than please contact me at: 

Mikkie Pollon (Nettles), Certified Personal Trainer/Holistic & Sports Nutritionist
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