How can I get the most nutrition from the vegetables I eat? There is a major difference in the nutrition of the vegetables you eat, depending on what form you eat them in. The freshest and least processed are generally the vegetables supplying the most nutrients.
Right after harvest the nutrients in any vegetable begin to deteriorate, including those all-important antioxidants. The sooner a vegetable is eaten after it’s picked, the more nutrients it has. Having a home garden is excellent, as you can simply walk out your door, pick what you need and plop it straight into the cooking pot or salad bowl. Of course, not everyone has the space or time for a garden, so what’s the next best thing?
A farmers’ market! The veggies from a farmers’ market are usually grown locally and are normally fresher than what you can get at the supermarket. Barring that, the next best choice is, surprisingly, frozen vegetables.
What most people don’t know is that frozen food can often be more nutritious for you than fresh, especially if the fresh variety has been transported over a long distance. If you’re living in New York and are eating fresh peas grown in California, those peas have endured a number of days in a truck before arriving at your market.
Also, any sugars in the vegetable begin to convert to starch from the moment it’s picked, which is why freshly picked corn straight from the farm is so much sweeter than the kind that has been sitting in the supermarket for a few days. However, frozen peas and many other vegetables are generally flash frozen on the spot where they are harvested, preserving those nutrients.
On a whole, vegetables that have been cooked are generally not as nutritious as raw. Remember if you do cook them be sure to do it only long enough make them tender. The longer they cook, the greater the nutrient loss. There are, however, some exceptions. Tomatoes, for example, provide greater amounts of lycopene when they are cooked than when eaten raw. Cooking breaks down the plant’s cell walls, releasing greater amounts of nutrients. Zucchini, carrots and broccoli are best eaten cooked for this reason.
The lowest in nutrients are canned vegetables. Many of the vitamins are lost in processing under high heat. The water-soluble vitamins B and C and polyphenols are easily lost when canned or boiled. Researchers at the University of California found that between 85 and 95 percent of the vitamin C in canned peas and carrots were lost in the processing. The vegetables containing fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K can be steamed or boiled, however, without losing a great amount of nutrients.
Raw vegetables are generally best, but if you find eating raw veggies unappealing to the point where you avoid them, its fine to eat them lightly cooked. Better to get some healthy nutrients than none at all!
Good nutrition can sometime appear to be very complex as our understanding of it is constantly evolving. If you have questions about your current nutrition or supplement plan, please ask.
We look forward to helping you!
For Your Health,
Dr. Steven M. Gillis