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3 Jan

Breaking News In the Fight Between Raw Foodies and Grandmas Everywhere!

cookveggiesRaw food has gotten a lot of press lately because a number of studies have suggested cooking depletes vegetables’ key nutrients. As those of you who frequent the MDA community know, we’ve tried to stay out of the fray. In short, we support vegetables—in a pot or not.

Now it’s time for an update—and a little validation. A recent study out of Italy suggests that certain cooking methods may be just fine for our beloved veggies, thank you very much, and may even increase the power of some healthy compounds:

In the new study, the researchers evaluated the effects of three commonly-used Italian cooking practices — boiling, steaming, and frying — on the nutritional content of carrots, zucchini and broccoli. Boiling and steaming maintained the antioxidant compounds of the vegetables, whereas frying caused a significantly higher loss of antioxidants in comparison to the water-based cooking methods, they say. For broccoli, steaming actually increased its content of glucosinolates, a group of plant compounds touted for their cancer-fighting abilities.

via Science Daily

As the article states, this is not the first study to find that cooking can boost the nutrient power of vegetables. It’s commonly accepted now, for example, that cooking can increase the lycopene and overall antioxidant activity in tomatoes.

Yet, there’s still that nagging question of those other studies, the ones that measured nutrient depletion. As the researchers of this study noted, we might one day be able to know the preparation method that most effectively preserves or activates the nutrients of each fruit and vegetable. Until then, science—and the battle—wage on.

Score one for Grandma, but stay tuned.

iLoveButter Flickr Photo (CC)

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  1. Always good to hear when plant compounds are touted for anything no matter how they are cooked. My question is, what about baked? Does baked count as boiling? Are my eggplants still affective if I casserole them?

    Proteus wrote on January 3rd, 2008
  2. I’m the one who took the photo (glad you liked it Mark!) and am a nutrition student.

    Proteus, that’s a good question about baked. I would think that some nutrients will be destroyed because of the exposure to high heat, but not as much as boiling where the heat is very direct (stick your hand in a pot of boiling water vs in a hot oven). But don’t worry about the eggplant, they’re still totally effective if you bake them. In addition to vitamins and phytonutrients, they also have lots of minerals which aren’t effected during cooking. Plus, they have fiber too which is beneficial.

    Although some vitamins may be destroyed by cooking, cooking also breaks down the cell walls making more nutrients available. So, I figure in the end you come up even. It’s easy to drive yourself crazy with this stuff… Try not to worry about it.

    The most beneficial way to cook your vegetables (or not): what ever way you find tasty, easy and/or convenient. That will make you most likely to eat them, and that’s the most important factor.

    iLoveButter wrote on January 3rd, 2008
  3. Thanks for the photo, iLoveButter. Cheers!

    Mark wrote on January 3rd, 2008
  4. For ovens equiped to do so, I’ve heard that slow-baking at 170-degrees is an excellent compromise. I first learned about this with an asparagus recipe promising hot, but crisp, stalks as asparagus only softens (then mushens) at the 212-degree mark for boiling or steaming. I think it was a 90-minute process.

    Brian A wrote on January 7th, 2008
  5. Baking is actually one of the lowest-heat cooking methods. (The only one I can think of that employs less heat is smoking.) Counterintuitive, maybe, since your oven goes up to 550 degrees, but temperature is not actually a measure of heat. (Migraineur puts on her Know-It-All, Ms. Science Guy hat.) It is a measure of the average energy of the molecules in a substance. The air molecules in the 450-degree oven each have more energy than a water molecule in a 212-degree pot, but since they are less densely packed, there are fewer molecules, and therefore less total energy (heat) overall, in the oven than in the water.

    If that doesn’t convince you, do as iLoveButter suggests and imagine sticking your hand in each!

    Anyway, I bring this up because baking might be a good, relatively low-temperature compromise between raw and cooked.

    Or you could just eat a mix of raw and cooked foods and call it good. :)

    Migraineur wrote on January 10th, 2008
    • Thanks for the science leason Migraineur :D

      So, by that logic slow cookers (aka crockpots) are another good way to cook?..

      Joe wrote on September 30th, 2010

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