Vegetables are a great food. Any way you can get yourself to eat more of them, do that. We tend to eat more raw foods in the summer months, who wants to work over a hot stove if you don’t have to? In the winter we love hearty, hot casserole dishes.
If you want to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to nutrients, it’s important to realize that a vegetable just HAVING nutrients isn’t good enough. They have to actually be bioavailable. That means, your body has to be able to separate the nutrients from the fiber to use them.
The argument that cooking veggies leaches the nutrients out of them has some validity. However, if not cooking them means your body can’t access the nutrients… that’s not a win.
A few veggies you should consider cooking:
Spinach – Cooking spinach makes the calcium in it more available to the tune of 245mg per cup as opposed to 30mg per cup. It also releases a lot of the liquid as it wilts, making it smaller in volume and allowing you to eat more (that’s a good thing). The oxalic acid in raw spinach can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium and iron. No worries, steaming reduced the oxalic acid.We eat spinach both raw in salads and cooked. However, I think cooked spinach smells foul. I either put it in casseroles like sweet potato lasagna or I serve it with the Asian dressing over it. (Both recipes available to members on the recipes page)
Asparagus– Giving asparagus a quick steam or bake will increase its cancer fighting properties. That said, we are most likely to eat it raw just chopped over salad. Not because we don’t like it cooked. Just because it often gets eaten before I cook it.
Tomatoes–The anti-inflammatory antioxidant lycopene is boosted when tomatoes are cooked. We eat tomato sauce (cooked) and raw tomatoes because we like them. As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong way to eat a tomato (except some store-bought ones. They are often more cardboard than tomatoes)
Mushrooms– These fungi are better eaten cooked for two reasons. One – the heat enhances the antioxidants. Two – some mushrooms contain agaritine, a potential carcinogen that is cooked off. We buy mushrooms in big containers from the nearby warehouse store. I chop and cook the whole batch in a large frying pan with a lid. Just mushrooms and a bit of garlic. Store them in an airtight container and put them on salads, potatoes, pasta – pretty much anything. Bonus – mushrooms are on the Clean Fifteen list so there is no need to pay for organic.
Carrots– Cooking carrots increases their antioxidant power three-fold. Make sure you leave the skin on to get all the benefits. We eat carrots both cooked and raw. I run four or five of them through the food processor and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. It makes it super easy to grab them and throw them on whatever we are eating.
A quick word about cooking – Don’t fry anything, ever (I think that goes without saying but I said it anyway). It you boil veggies some of the nutrients will end up in the water (great for watering houseplants once it’s cooled). Steaming is a great option. And my go-to, put everything in a casserole dish with some spices and cook it all at once in the oven.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.