The Healthiest Ways to Eat Your Veggies
I was watching Food Network’s Chopped Junior the other day and I noticed one of the contestants presented deep fried Brussel sprouts as part of his dish. It was surprising (also a little embarrassing) that frying vegetables, outside of fried rice and making stir-fry, had never even occurred to me.
Vegetables (and fruits) are packed with powerful nutrients and antioxidants that help prevent diseases like cancer, help with vision, and boost the immune system. I guess this is why doctors are such huge fans. So you have to wonder: won’t the grease of the oil (saturated fat) defeat the purpose of eating vegetables in the first place?
So, I decided to do a little digging. It turns out there are healthier ways to prepare vegetables than boiling them like we typically do. It led me down a path to discover the best ways vegetables can be prepared in a way that retains their nutrients. It differs from veggie to veggie. Some are best eaten raw, like carrots or broccoli but also retain nutrients when they are steamed.
Here are a few ways in which vegetables can be prepared and eaten that are healthier than outrightly cooking them:
Nutritionists have found that some vegetables are better consumed raw because like we have previously established, even the lowest heat can destroy some of their properties. For instance, broccoli and radishes both contain an enzyme called Myrosinase that creates compounds that actively fight against the growth of cancer cells and stomach ulcers. Cooking them depletes the myrosinase. Another vegetable that’s excellent eaten raw is cabbage, a common ingredient in coleslaw. Cabbage contains an incredible amount of vitamin C and K and also anti-cancer agents. Other vegetables that have been proven to be better consumed raw are kale, onions, and carrots.
We all know sautéing meat or produce is a great, fast and super easy way to cook them. Dieticians recommend sautéing vegetables rather than outrightly deep-frying them. Using healthy cooking oils such as extra-virgin olive oil is recommended for sautéing vegetables because, that way, they absorb nutrients and antioxidants from the oil and increase their nutrient value.
I personally think grilling is a great, fun way to cook some particular types of food, especially meat and fish. Grilling enhances flavour, and gives food a lovely char which improves the overall appearance of a plate. It has been proven to be a good way to cook vegetables; one we personally do very well here in Nigeria, is corn. Other vegetables that can be cooked by grilling are red, yellow and green bell peppers, carrots and asparagus.
This method of cooking which involves low heat and minimal water has been proven to help preserve nutrients in vegetables; especially water soluble vitamins like vitamin C which is found in quite a number of vegetables like tomatoes and broccoli. Generally, vegetable take a few minutes to cook, however the denser the vegetable, the longer it takes to cook.
For instance vegetables like carrots and potatoes take longer than softer, less dense ones like spinach or peas. Steaming vegetables is highly recommended because the method does not allow the vegetables come in contact with water. That’s one sure way to lose the nutrients in your vegetables. Boiling vegetables is only recommended when making soups where the broth the vegetable is cooked in is consumed as well.
This is an unconventional way of preparing vegetables, but it’s another way to quickly cook them with minimal contact with water, which as we have established, helps to retain the nutrients in vegetables. Like with the steaming method, timing matters and also differs. It’s easier to avoid over-cooking or undercooking vegetables with microwaves because of the inbuilt timers that they come with. The trick is to cut them into smaller pieces- the denser the vegetable, the smaller the pieces - lightly season them, add water (minimal amount!) and then microwave. It’s fast, easy and perfect for lazy people like me who cannot be bothered to heat up a grill.
Basically, I’ve learnt that in cooking vegetables, the goal is to retain all their bad-ass nutrients, and the trick is to limit their contact with water and avoid pressure cooking. I think this means we have to find a better way of cooking efo riro and egusi because what’s the point of eating vegetables if you’re cooking all the nutrients away, right?