I’m a nutrition expert – here are 9 foods that are healthier for you if you COOK them

SUMMER is just around the corner and that means salad time.

When it’s too hot to cook, a leafy salad made from chopped fresh vegetables is easy.

Vegetables are often best eaten cooked


Vegetables are often best eaten cookedPhoto credit: Getty

If you already include these foods in your diet, great for you!

But Laura Brown, associate professor of nutrition, food and health sciences at Teesside University, has shed an intriguing light on why they’re best eaten cooked.

She said raw food diets are a fairly new trend. There is a belief that the less processed foods the better.

“However, not all foods are more nutritious when eaten raw,” Ms Brown wrote in an article for the Conversation.

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“In fact, some vegetables are actually more nutritious when cooked.”

Some vegetables are so versatile that they can be eaten raw or thrown into pretty much any curry, stew or soup, or even into an omelet, for example.

But be careful how you cook it, as Ms Brown said, the higher the temperature, cooking time and amount of water, the more nutrients are lost.

Vitamins can be lost in the cooking water, which is why experts recommend steaming or roasting vegetables over cooking.

Ms Brown laid out nine foods that are best served cooked and why:

1. spinach

Ms Brown said: “Spinach is high in nutrients including iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc.

“However, these nutrients are better absorbed when the spinach is cooked.

“That’s because spinach is packed with oxalic acid (a compound found in many plants), which blocks the absorption of iron and calcium.

“Boiling spinach releases the bound calcium, making it more available for the body to absorb.

Research also suggests that steaming spinach retains its folic acid (B9) levels, which may reduce the risk of certain cancers, Ms Brown said.

2. tomatoes

Tomatoes – you love them either grilled or cold.

“Cooking, by any method whatsoever, significantly increases the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes,” Ms Brown said.

“Lycopene has been linked to a lower risk of a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

“This increased amount of lycopene comes from the heat, which helps break down the thick cell walls that contain several important nutrients.”

But as a reward for increasing lycopene levels, cooking tomatoes reduces vitamin C levels by 29 percent.

3. carrots

Grated carrots are a coleslaw staple—and always raw.

However, Ms Brown said cooked carrots “contain more beta-carotene than raw carrots, a substance called a carotenoid that the body converts to vitamin A”.

Vitamin A supports bone growth, vision and the immune system.

Ms Brown also had some cooking tips to maximize the carrot’s true potential.

“Cooking carrots in their skins more than doubles their antioxidant power,” she said.

“You should cook carrots whole before slicing, as this prevents those nutrients from escaping into the cooking water. Avoid frying carrots as this has been found to reduce the amount of carotenoid.”

4. Peppers

Paprika tastes both cooked and raw.

But to get their high antioxidant properties that boost the immune system, toss your peppers in a hot dinner instead.

Ms Brown said: “All living things are made up of cells, and in vegetables sometimes important nutrients are trapped within these cell walls.”

But heat “breaks down the cell walls, making the carotenoids easier for your body to absorb.”

She added: “As with tomatoes, vitamin C is lost when peppers are boiled or steamed because the vitamin can leach into the water. Try roasting them instead.”

5. Kale

Kale isn’t for everyone, but for those who love it, it often makes the bed for a salad.

Ms Brown said: “Kale is healthiest when lightly steamed as it deactivates enzymes that prevent the body from using the iodine it needs for the thyroid, which helps regulate metabolism.”

6. asparagus

Asparagus, believe it or not, can be eaten both raw and cooked.

But it’s better to stick to the latter, as Ms Brown explains: “When vegetables are cooked, the walls break down, releasing the nutrients, which can then be more easily absorbed by the body.

“Boiling asparagus destroys its cell walls, allowing vitamins A, B9, C and E to be better absorbed.”

7. Mushrooms

If you have cooked mushrooms in your diet, you may want to add them after hearing about their top benefits.

Ms Brown said: “Mushrooms contain large amounts of the antioxidant ergothionein, which is released when cooked.

“Antioxidants help break down ‘free radicals,’ chemicals that can damage our cells and cause disease and aging.”

An anti-aging ingredient that can be added to almost anything – from stir fries, bolognese, curries and omelettes? Yes, please.

8. Green beans

Green beans are an easy vegetable to add to almost any dish.

But the way you prepare them could have a big impact on the vitamins you get from them.

“Green beans have higher antioxidant levels when they’re baked, microwaved, grilled, or even fried than when they’re boiled or pressure-cooked,” Ms Brown said.

9. Cabbage

Brassica, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, have anti-cancer properties.

They contain glucosinolates, which the body can convert into a number of cancer-fighting compounds.

But there’s only one way to cook them if you want to reap the rewards, Ms Brown suggests.

“In order for these glucosinolates to be converted into cancer-fighting compounds, an enzyme in these vegetables called myrosinase must be active,” she explained.

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“Research shows that steaming these vegetables preserves both the vitamin C and myrosinase and therefore the cancer-fighting compounds that can be derived from them.”

She added, “Chopping broccoli and letting it sit for at least 40 minutes before cooking also allows for this myrosinase to be activated.” I’m a nutrition expert – here are 9 foods that are healthier for you if you COOK them

Sarah Y. Kim

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