Everyone knows eating vegetables is good for you, but did you know that the content of some nutrients in vegetables can be affected by cooking? While cooking can increase the nutrient availability and ease of digestion for some vegetables, it can actually decrease the nutrient levels in others. Though you really can't possibly go wrong with the decision to eat veggies, there are some smart moves you can make in the kitchen to preserve as many nutrients as possible. So, if you opted for broccoli and spinach today over yet another bagel or slice of pizza in an effort to be healthy and mature, here are the facts you should know to maximize your vegetable nutrients.

Broccoli: raw

broccoli, cabbage, vegetable, cauliflower
Kristine Mahan

Broccoli is packed full of nutrients, so don’t worry too much here. It does, however, have some powerful antioxidants that are deactivated in heat, potentially making raw broccoli a better choice. Myrosinase is a a key enzyme in the formation of sulforaphane, a compound with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Myrosinase, unfortunately, tends to break down under high temperatures. Munching on uncooked broccoli is a safe bet to avoid risking the loss of any sulforaphane absorption. So, if you are looking for a good dose of antioxidants, you better start dipping your broccoli raw into Ranch or hummus. 

Red Peppers: raw

pepper, vegetable, chili, cayenne, sweet pepper, red pepper
Torey Walsh

If you are sick and looking to increase your vitamin C intake, raw red peppers are your best friend. Red peppers are known for their high levels of vitamin C, they have almost 3 times more vitamin C than the average orange.  Vitamin C, however, breaks down in high temperatures, so be careful if you are choosing to boil your red peppers. Eating them raw or cooked on low heat will help avoid the risk of losing precious vitamins and will maybe even help shorten the length of that pesky cold. 

Spinach: cooked

spinach, cabbage, salad, pasture, lettuce, vegetable
Caroline Ingalls

It is safe to assume a raw spinach salad would not be considered low on good vegetable nutrients, just ask Popeye. Raw spinach has abundant vitamin K, folate, and potassium. Cooking it, however, can help you absorb more calcium, iron, and magnesium, which are all vitamins and minerals that Americans are most commonly low on. So, next time you're looking to flex your biceps like Popeye, try cooked spinach instead. If you're feeling skeptical, try sautéing or adding spinach to omelettes, pasta, or soup to get a delicious twist and bonus nutrients. 

Tomatoes: cooked

vegetable, Red, three tomatoes, tomatoes
Sabrina Yu

Tomatoes are known for their high level of antioxidants; however the enzyme responsible, lycopene, is difficult to absorb from raw tomatoes. While the crunch of a cherry tomato on a salad is certainly delicious, opting for a soft and warm tomato can help increase your lycopene absorption. When your mom told you to make good choices, she was most likely referring to the decision to incorporate more cooked tomatoes in your diet.

Carrots: cooked 

vegetable, carrot, local vegetables, Farm Fresh, local farm, local carrots, farmer's market, shop local
Sam Jesner

If your friends are telling you that your carrot crunching in the library is a little too loud, they might be on to something. While cooked carrots are not only a quieter study snack, research has shown they may also be better for nutrient absorption. Cooking carrots helps to soften their cell walls, allowing easier access to a variety of carotenoids. Carotenoids, such as beta carotene, are antioxidants that are necessary for the body to absorb Vitamin A. So, if you want the 20/20 vision and excellent eye health that carrots famously offer, trade the crunch for cooked. 

Overall, if you are eating vegetables today and enjoying it, give yourself a pat on the back. While many studies have shown the impacts cooking can have on vegetable nutrient availability, that doesn't mean vegetables of all variety aren't always full of at least some good nutrients. It is recommended for adults to eat around 2-3 cups of vegetables a day, and there are countless ways to eat them. If you are ever questioning the best way to prepare your vegetables, a safe option is simply however you like them best. Whether it be raw or cooked, vegetables in all forms are both delicious and nutritious!