10 ways to get the best out of your veg

7 April 2015 by
First published: 10 April 2015

Given that most of what we eat is cooked, we need to better understand how to cook our food to maximise its health-giving potential – so here are 10 ways to get the best of your veg.

We all know that food contains powerful vitamins and minerals that protect and maintain our health. We are often told that cooking destroys this goodness and some say we should eat everything as raw as possible, but do we know how much is destroyed through cooking and what type of preparation is best for preserving nutrition? And, did you know that cooking can actually increase the goodness in some ingredients? Follow our 10 tips to make your food work harder for you.

1. Don’t submerge your veg

Some vitamins we know to be very powerful in protecting our health are water-soluble. What this means is that they leach out in hot water. If you currently cover your greens in water and boil them, you will only keep around 55 per cent of the vitamin C content of the raw green. If you reduce the amount of water used, however, you will keep around 60 per cent of the vitamin C content. This is because if you don’t submerge the veg completely, more of the water-soluble vitamins stay in the greens.

2. Stir fry where you can

If you stir-fry your greens you will keep around 85 per cent of the vitamin C. This is because the water-soluble vitamins won’t leach out as much into the oil.

3. Steaming is your best bet

Steaming is a great way to retain the water-soluble vitamin content of your veg if you want it to be more tender than stir-fried veg. In fact, you can steam broccoli until it is tender and still keep 85 per cent of the vitamin C.

4. Use the cooking water

Using the liquid in which you cooked your veg for, say, a sauce you’re also making will help maximise your vitamin intake.

5. Give grains a soak

Soaking grains and pulses breaks down the acids in them that inhibit nutrient absorption. For pulses, soak overnight just covered in water and rinse before cooking. For grains such as brown rice an hour or two will do. This will enable the minerals in these ingredients to be released more effectively.

6. Use frozen veg

Frozen peas only need to be reheated as they are blanched prior to freezing very soon after they are picked. Reheating frozen peas will retain 100 per cent of some of their vitamins!

7. Use the juices when roasting

Vitamins and minerals leach out of the Sunday roast during cooking so to get them back use the juices and as much of the fat as you would like for the gravy. With roast pork, for example, including the juices in the gravy will give you 30 per cent more thiamin (vitamin B1) and phosphorus, both of which are very powerful nutrients for our health.

8. Butter your veg!

Remember what grandma always did with veg? Just as some vitamins are water-soluble, some are fat-soluble. When you have cooked a carrot the main benefit is the vitamin A content, however this is a fat-soluble micronutrient so it needs to be eaten with some fat to maximise our body’s use of the goodness. Most veg has fat-soluble vitamin content, so make free with the oil, butter and fat from the roasting tin.

9. Chop in advance

Some scientists believe we need to chop onion and garlic 10 minutes before cooking. This is thought to strengthen their powerful health-giving properties, and protect them against the effects of heat.

Also, chopping carrots breaks down their very tough nature and increases our body’s absorption of their goodness.

10. Cook some foods for longer

Recently you will have seen many claims being made for superfoods like blueberries, and the reasons for these claims is their phytochemical content. Phytochemicals are what plants use to protect themselves against bacteria, fungi, viruses and cell damage. Research has shown that these same chemicals can prove equally beneficial to us, helping in areas such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The phytochemical content of some veg and fruit is greatly reduced by cooking (much more so than vitamins and minerals), however the phytochemical content of carrots and tomatoes is greatly enhanced by cooking.

So while you quickly stir-fry or steam green veg, cook carrots and tomatoes for much longer to reap not only the amazing benefits of the vitamins and minerals but also the protective qualities of phytochemicals.

Eating the right foods is essential for our health and wellbeing but you can also get many more of those valuable nutrients into your body by making small tweaks to how you prepare and cook your food. So, get busy in the kitchen and tailor your cooking method to get the most out of the ingredients you use.