How Cooking Affects Your Vegetables' Nutritional Value


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  286 comments   :  111,318 Views

Sure, you're eating your five a day servings of fruits and vegetables, but did you know that how you prepare them and how you serve them factor into how much good they do your body?

NPR recently did a story about how to get the most nutrition from your vegetables. As Tanya told you last year, a fat-free diet can actually keep you from getting the most from your food. If you're eating fat-free dressing on your salads, you aren't absorbing as many of the phytonutrients that make vegetables so good for you.

According to NPR, Iowa State University researchers fed people salads with and without fat in the dressing and tested their blood before and after eating the salads each morning. "When researchers went back and analyzed the blood samples they realized that people who had eaten fat-free or low-fat dressings didn't absorb the beneficial carotenoids from the salad. Only when they had eaten the oil-based dressing did they get the nutrients." (Carotenoids are pigments found in red, yellow and orange veggies, plus dark greens, that become vitamin A in the body. SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand says they can help prevent cancers, and they have antioxidant properties that protect cells. )

In addition to adding a bit of heart-healthy fat, cutting vegetables into small pieces and chewing them well can also help maximize your absorption of the good stuff they possess. And how you prepare vegetables has an effect, too.

Microwaving has been shown to be one of, if not the, best ways to cook vegetables to retain and release vitamins and minerals. Steaming and sautéing (with minimal fat) also help retain nutritional value, while boiling and pressure cooking are the least effective. Essentially, the longer you cook vegetables, the more they leach out their nutrients.

I use a microwave to reheat my lunch here at work, but I don't own one and haven't for much of my adult life. I was happily microwaveless until Christmas 2007, when my parents bought me a new one, despite my complaints. I accidentally set it on fire about a year later while trying to make popcorn in a paper bag. RIP, microwave. (NOTE: When it says use a lunch bag sized bag, use one. Anything larger will catch fire! I digress…)

There has been a backlash against microwaves in recent years, and I will admit that I like being able to say that I don't own one. It makes me have to stop and think before heating something up, and I don't ever buy frozen meals because they would take too much time and energy to cook in the oven. (That, and I like to cook and try to eat whole, unprocessed foods.)

But this bit of news proves that microwaves have been somewhat unjustly vilified. It would be nice to be able to cook vegetables quickly and still retain their nutritional value. (I steam mine on the stove or in my rice cooker to multitask.)

My question for you is: How do you cook your vegetables? Do you microwave them? Would you be more likely to start microwaving them now that you know it's such a good way to prepare them?

(Oh, and if you want to add a bit of heart-healthy fat to veggies, try drizzling on some olive oil, dipping them in hummus or eating them with a bit of low-fat cheese! Yum!)

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  • 286
    I have a microwave but was advised the food loses nutrients by the microwaves, not only the time you take to cook foods. I prefer vegetables stir fried in a pan or steamed. I will also try cooking in the oven in foil. I only use it to heat coffee up. My coffee pot is expensive but has a thermos that holds the coffee and shuts off every time coffee is made, it is not hot enough to begin with. I think I need another coffee maker. - 7/15/2017   5:15:12 PM
    Most of t salad dressings that you can buy at the store have a significant amount of sodium, so I have started making my own low fat dressing to put on my salads. This way I am getting all the nutrients from my salads and not getting too much sodium in my diet - 5/26/2017   10:55:58 AM
  • 284
    I have scaled waaaaaay back on the use of our microwave oven. These days I use our convection oven instead for 99% of our oven cooking. (It will do conventional baking, convection baking, toasting, a "keep warm" mode", and broiling.). I'm using my cast iron skillets more for heating foods on the stove, cooking veggies or steaming veggies with my steamer pan. - 3/15/2016   4:00:34 PM
    Never ever ever use a microwave. Get rid of it. - 3/11/2016   3:51:30 PM
  • 282
    I have never been one to jump on the "fear de jour" train about nutrition, "bad" food groups, and things like microwaves. I've used a microwave since they first came onto commercial market in the 1970s, and prepare LOTS of veggies using it and my trusty microwave steamer. It uses much less energy to prepare food than conventional stoves, and (being in a drought in California) it uses minimal water. Besides, carrots taste like carrots that just came out of the ground, not boiled-to-death carrot stuff.
    - 4/10/2015   8:23:12 AM
  • DKO444
    I thought that microwaving wasn't good for you. That you should limit the use of a microwave! - 2/25/2015   1:51:18 PM
    I microwave my veggies a lot because I buy the frozen bags of them because I am so busy. But now I feel less guilty. But when I do have time, I like to saute them and bake them. - 6/17/2013   1:19:08 PM
    Try the "Plant Test". Microwave some water to the boiling point and then boil some water normally on the stove or kettle. Cool the water. Prune two identical plants down to only the new growth. Use the microwave water on one plant and the purified water on the other. Watch what happens to each plant after a month or so. It has been known for some years that the problem with microwaved anything is not the "radiation" people used to worry about, it's how it corrupts the DNA in the food so the body can not recognize it. Microwaves don't work different ways on different substances. Whatever you put into the microwave suffers the same destructive process. Microwaves agitate the molecules to move faster and faster. This movement causes friction which denatures the original make-up of the substance. It results in destroyed vitamins, minerals, proteins and generates the new stuff called radiolytic compounds, things that are not found in nature. So the body wraps it in fat cells to protect itself from the dead food or it eliminates it fast. Think of all the Mothers heating up milk in the "Safe" appliances. What about the nurse in Canada that warmed up blood for a transfusion patient and accidently killed him when the blood went in dead. But the makers say it's safe. Try the "plant test" and decide for yourself. - 1/31/2013   5:03:50 AM
    I never use the microwave it is so bad for why would you recommend to do that my stomach used too always hurt from cooking food in the microwave when you use the microwave its destroys all the the nutrients in the food, if you microwave water and poor it on a plant the plant will die - 1/31/2013   12:12:28 AM
  • 277
    Microwave grill or roast. And fresh veggies if available - 1/11/2013   9:31:53 AM
    Hmm. I have never heard of a paper bag catching fire in the microwave. Ya learn something new every day. - 12/1/2012   11:24:52 AM
    when cooking frozen vegtables (mostly when they're out of season) I will microwave, unless adding to a quick soup. When they are fresh I saute in a non-stick skillet whith a little low sodium broth and a dash of olive oil. Fresh are also great grilled or roasted (especially in a convection oven) these methods require a light spray of oil again my 1st choice is olive oil. Season is a matter of taste... when it comes to potatoes I like them baked with skin and fresh salsa. - 11/15/2012   9:22:05 PM
    I cooked most of my veggies with a few drops of water, in a covered glass dish in the microwave for years, but I've become a convert to roasted veggies. You can roast anything from asparagus and broccoli to kale and zucchini. Try roasting a medley of winter squash, parsnips, carrots and onions. Roasting also involves a small amount of olive oil to prevent the veggies from drying out, which also increases bio-availability of the fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K. - 11/4/2012   7:11:06 PM
  • 273
    I cook my vegetables two ways--in the microwave usually in the steamable bags and I have recently begun roasting vegetables, which I love. It was news to me about the low-fat and fat-free dressing. Food for thought. - 7/4/2012   9:05:04 PM
  • 272
    I have microwaved my veggies for years. I think they taste so much better that way. They maintain their crispness. They aren't soggy. I never liked cooked veggies until I tried them in the microwave. Corn on the cob done in the microwave is amazing good! - 6/10/2012   9:37:16 AM
    I gotta be honest. I try to eat more veggies and I don't worry about lost nutrients via cooking method. It's enough right now that I am eating vegetables. - 5/18/2012   12:05:15 PM
    I always microwave my veggies. I cut out the oil/butter that I used to put in but after reading this, will add just a little olive oil. - 5/15/2012   10:56:28 AM
  • 269
    I like using my vegetable/rice steamer. I have trouble chewing raw veggies and it works well for me. I do use the microwave if I'm doing frozen or canned vegetables. - 5/15/2012   5:26:32 AM
  • 268
    I've had a microwave for years, but I've only ever used it for cooking vegetables, occasionally "stewing" fruit, and for reheating.
    Vegetables, I usually m'waved or steam, sometimes roast or bake, and very occasionally boil.
    Then I use the drained water from whatever cooking method for either the gravy or for next day's soup.
    I know I'm still losing some of the goodness, but I do try to minimise that. - 5/14/2012   4:12:11 PM
    I used to cook almost all my vegetables in the microwave, but about 8 months ago the nuker made a spark and that was the end of microwaving for us. I miss it when I want to warm leftovers or soup, but now roast almost everything. Roasted vegetables have a better texture when roasted and it may be a while before I (if ever), replace the microwave. - 5/14/2012   9:56:17 AM
  • 266
    I cook all of my vegetables in the microwave. I was taught as a child to cook vegetables in a small amount of water with a piece of butter added it was known as the conservative method for cookin. This was to conserve Nutrients especially the carotenoids. Carrots Turnip and parnips were always cooked that way.I Use the microwave to cut down on cooking time for onions, that is great when sauteeing less spatter and so much quicker. I also Pre cook potato slices for scalloped potatoes before putting them into the oven.I love to see how green the leafy greens come out of the microwave, they are bright green and attractive. No loss of colour in fact quite the opposite they are enhanced by cooking them that way. I still add a little oil especially to the collardsand kale.
    Winter squash and pumpkin I wash and drain, no added water but a little oil they are covered and cooked on high and they are never never 'mushy'.
    - 5/13/2012   9:12:16 PM
  • 265
    Keep the crunch: green beans (Costco canned taste just like fresh cooked this way!) - flash fry partially covered on the stove top with a little olive oil and just a pinch of bacon bits. Steam broccoli in a bamboo basket steamer for two and a half minutes. Add just a touch of butter or shredded mozzarella cheese afterwards. - 5/13/2012   1:32:53 PM
  • 264
    I'm afaid I like my vegetables plain. Either raw or lightly cooked so they still have a crunch. I would think though when eating them with a meal there would be enough fats in other things. I guess when I am snacking on a few raw broccoli or cauliflour sprigs I should grab a pinch of cheese or a few nuts and eat them either right before or right after them as part of the same snack. - 5/12/2012   11:29:32 AM
  • 263
    I don't own a microwave, haven't in about 3+1/2 years. For the same reason you said - it makes me stop and think about what I'm eating & heating up as opposed to plopping it into the micro and being ready in mere seconds. It seems to have helped me think and decide on what I'm really wanting.

    That said, I steam veggies very quickly so they are still bright and crunchy, grill, roast or do a quick stir fry. Speaking of which, it's dinner time and need to get the cauliflower to roasting! - 3/18/2012   1:28:36 AM
  • 262
    I LOVE broiling my vegetables, the inteensity of the flavors is amazing. I stopped eatting brussel sprouts because i could only tolerate them covered in cheese but now broiled in the oven with salt and pepper and just a bit of oil! it is pure bliss! Root vegetables like squash, turnips and parsnips will never be cooked any other way in my home! - 3/16/2012   8:16:22 AM
    I love my microwave for vegetables!
    - 3/12/2012   8:15:38 AM
  • 260
    My microwave has a feature button for fresh vegetables and a separate button for frozen veggies. Either case, they are rinsed and placed in a glass microwave dish. I also "bake" potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes using the Baked potato button on the microwave. Cooks perfect every time. - 7/29/2011   5:36:31 PM
    Prefer to steam my veggies on the stove with my steamer just enough to brighten the color and where they still have crisp to them. Will use my microwave steamer when I'm in a hurry but have a tendency to over cook when using the microwave. - 7/27/2011   3:54:49 PM
  • 258
    I microwave almost all of my vegetables. Squash and carrots with just a little oil and no water. I sautee onions till translucent in canola oil. I microwave potato slices to take much less time for scalloped potatoes and people told me it was not a good idea. In school in England we were taught to cook carrots in very little water and always add some fat-we of course used butter and it was called the conservative method. I am so very happy I was doing it right all along.Pat in Maine. - 6/30/2011   11:28:38 PM
    This is very interesting! My dad has always told me that microwaving was the best way to cook order to lock in the nutrients, but all these years I thought he was full of crap. Thanks for setting me straight. - 6/21/2011   2:47:44 PM
  • 256
    I usually cook vegetables in my steamer or lightly sautee them in a wok or pan. It's good to hear these ways were keeping most of the nutrients, especially since I am vegetarian! - 5/26/2011   12:07:25 AM
  • 255
    Just cooked butternut squash in microwave... cut in half skin side up... couple of spoon fulls of water... lid... if you have one.. I didn't then cook 20 minutes... peel , mash and add soya milk... less calories than basting with butter in the oven. - 9/21/2010   1:27:11 AM
  • 254
    How do you cook your vegetables?
    A myriad of ways...steam, saute, stir fry, roast, grill, microwave...etc.

    Do you microwave them?
    Yes. Though I am moving away from using plastics (with and without BPA) when doing so...I am using glass containers whenever possible.

    Would you be more likely to start microwaving them now that you know it's such a good way to prepare them?
    I already am!
    - 8/23/2010   9:37:47 PM
  • 253
    I'm generally anti-microwave, but your blog has given me food for thought - though I'm not sure it'll be enough to get me to cook my veggies in the microwave, but you never know. Usually I saute my veg in a little olive oil, or I steam or blanch. I also roast on occasion. I try to match my cooking methods to the season - lighter style of cooking in the summer and heartier methods (like roasting) in the winter. - 8/23/2010   4:38:15 PM
    Veggies have to be easy at my house so I use the microwave. I like the "steamer" bags of veggies in the freezer section, but if those aren't on sale, I steam them in a covered casserole dish in the microwave. And after reading this article...I don't feel nearly so bad about the bit of butter I usually mix up in them before serving them. - 8/23/2010   9:19:46 AM
  • AJOSEPH101
    Thank you for sharing. I always thought microwaving veggies was bad, so now I know. Usually, I saute mine in olive oil just for a couple minutes. I like them crunchy. - 6/14/2010   2:43:25 PM
  • 250
    I microwave them...some time only steam.. as it takes less time and do not hav to fill basin again...


    Sonea Mudgal - 6/11/2010   7:40:58 AM
    I usually steam my veggies. - 6/10/2010   12:40:49 PM
  • 248
    I eat them raw as much as possible. But when they must be cooked I love to stir-fry and steam on the stove. - 6/10/2010   11:29:13 AM
  • 247
    lov'em anyway!! - 5/17/2010   3:43:20 PM
  • 246
    I had some of the Ziploc steam bags in my drawers that I bought probably 2 years ago and had never used so when I started SP, I decided to try and use them for my veggies--they were great. I ran out, and have been just putting the veggies in a microwave dish and covering with cling film and it's been working exactly the same so I've decided it's my new method. It's so quick and the veggies are cooked perfectly leaving me free to do other things (unlike stir frying which is my second favorite method of cooking them, followed by roasting). I also eat veggies raw, sometimes with hummus, sometimes on their own. - 5/17/2010   2:38:09 PM
  • 245
    raw, steamed, sauteed, boiled, steamed, raw, sauteed, etc. etc. etc. - 4/15/2010   7:00:42 PM
    Most veggies I like raw. When cooking I usually cooked very lightly so the veggies are still firm and crispy. I do a lot of oriental cooking so my veggies are never mushy. Love BBQ veggies again cook fast. Adding olive oil and sesame seed oil brings the flavor. Never in the MW - 3/18/2010   7:48:18 PM
  • 243
    My favorite way to eat most vegetables is RAW. They are great for a snack with a little fat free or lite ranch dressing. If I cook them, it's steam or grill. Cooking in water turns most into tastless mush (my opinion). - 3/9/2010   10:06:40 AM
  • 242
    I usually steam my vegetables, honestly never even thought of microwaving them. I'll have to give it a try!! - 3/9/2010   12:44:17 AM
    Broiling!!!! - 3/8/2010   12:38:25 AM
  • 240
    I PRECOOK all of my vegetables in the microwave. Carrots cut small in a teaspoon of canola oil and 1 tablespoon of water. Conservative cooking because it coserves the nutrients. I make my own stocks, in the winter overnight in the crock pot in the summer I put it in the garage. To make a great stew or soup I cut up the vegeatbles and precook them before adding to the stock. Soup or stew is done in no time and the vegetables are a bright attractive color. MICROWAVE for me. I also cook fruits in the microwave. Apple crisp in a few minutes even in the summer. Berry crisps, peach crisps. Nice dry topping that actually CRISPS. Not cobblers though.! I can use very little canola oil, no butter or margarine, Just flour and oats Minimal Brown sugar and I use sweet apples not Granny Smith type. I actually wear out microwaves. I never cook meat in it, it does not cook evenly since the micro does have hot spots. Pat in Maine - 3/7/2010   9:10:59 PM
  • 239
    I prefer microwaving - they are firmer and I had heard they are better for you that way - 3/7/2010   2:34:58 PM
  • 238
    I love a microwave!!! I microwave most of my veggies except spinach (takes too long-stove is faster) I don't buy premade meals either but I love the microwave for warming leftovers of food I make myself! Interesting about the need for fat. Does anyone know if eating fat in the same meal counts? - 3/6/2010   1:13:48 PM
    I've always loved my veggies and my kids do too. We all have our fav's, so I'll slice them and arrange them on a platter surrounded by a bowl of hummus. My kids also love hummus....Tribe brand is the best ( opinion).

    Now that the frozen veggies have steam fresh bags, I've guiltily been buying those and this saves soooo much time! Especially with all there is to accomplish in the day. - 3/6/2010   11:04:18 AM

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