Eat your vegetables, a phrase we've all heard since the Food Guide Pyramid came out in the 90s. Going about it the right way isn't always super clear, though. Some vegetables are more nutritious eaten raw, steamed, microwaved, or roasted.
Us 90s kids are coming to the age where we're fending for ourselves as "adults", making our own choices of what to eat. If we're going to follow those directions from out childhoods to eat copious vegetables, let's maximize their nutrient content and availability.
Most often, it's not recommended to eat vegetables raw. Studies show that certain cooking methods actually break down outer layers and some cellular structures of vegetables, making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
In the raw.
Raw food diets have received a lot of attention in recent years. Because the diet is mostly plant-based and unprocessed, it's by no means an unhealthy option. Heat can break down and destroy 15-30% of certain nutrients in vegetables (especially vitamin C, folate, and potassium).
But, some veggies are best eaten raw, such as arugula, red peppers, asparagus, and beets. There are ways to cook vegetables to maintain these nutrients as well as add flavor and texture.
Don't blow off steam.
It's generally best to keep cooking time and the amount of liquid used in your cooking to a minimum for optimal nutritional value. You're better off steaming vegetables rather than boiling, unless you plan to drink the water you boiled those vegetables in...
In a 2009 study that prepared broccoli using 5 popular cooking methods, researchers found that steaming kept the highest level of nutrients.
Microwaving is also a good cooking method (especially in a dorm room) because it uses little to no water and can heat vegetables quickly. An exception to this is cauliflower, as another 2009 study found that both boiling and microwaving caused high losses of nutrients.
Cook as a whole.
Cutting the vegetables up multiplies the rate of nutrient loss since there is greater surface area exposed to the heat. In recipes that call for smaller pieces or diced vegetables this isn't practical, but when just cooking vegetables for a side dish or snack, keeping them whole will preserve nutrients.
Sauté all day.
As a healthier option to pan frying, sautéing vegetables with a little bit of heart-healthy cooking oil can maximize flavor of vegetables for those who may not otherwise put veggies on the dinner plate. Adding oil also can increase the absorption of phytonutrients because of fat-solubility.
Fat-soluble means that the body absorbs nutrients better when a fat is present. The health of added oil is all to a certain point, though. That point is called the oil's smoke point, the temperature when it will start to smoke and break down, becoming less heart healthy.
Sauté cabbage, eggplant, or asparagus with a little bit of olive oil and black pepper for an easy side dish to any meal or as part of an entree.
Give roasting a try.
Roasting or baking vegetables on a baking sheet in the oven is another option. You can even use this to make alternatives to chips or fries. Depending on how long you roast them determines how crispy they'll be but to satisfy your potato chip craving or as a side dish swap for French Fries, roasted veggies are a reasonable swap.
And even some veggies that can be enjoyed raw are better off eating roasted rather than not at all. Roast some kale or a can of chick peas for a crunchy alternative to croutons on a salad or as good study snacks to munch on.
Mix it up.
When it comes down to it, there are studies that have found benefits for most cooking methods. So what's best is to have a variety in your diet. Pack some raw peppers and hummus as a snack, make baked sweet potato fries as a side with dinner, and steam some broccoli for when you're in a rush and need something to eat with lunch.
It would be awesome to get all the maximized nutrient contents out of your veggies but that's not always realistic. If you're getting the recommended 3-5 servings per day, any cooking method mentioned isn't harmful or totally devoid of benefits.