What's the Healthiest Way to Cook Vegetables?
As a kid, vegetables were never the food group you were eager to fill your plate with, but, over time, colorful, nutrient-rich plants became a regular part of your daily meals. And now, they’re more prominent in your life than ever before.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan who snacks on raw veggies every chance you get, are content with the idea of ordering them as a side every so often, or still bribery to get you to eat a cup of Brussels sprouts, it’s hard to deny the benefits of eating vegetables. Produce is packed with an abundance of vitamins and nutrients. But how to do you make the most out of them?
Eating raw, well-washed veggies is probably the healthiest way to reap all of the health benefits they provide. “The worst thing you can do to a vegetable is boil it; the flavor and nutrients end up in the water, not the vegetables,” says Teresa Dotson, M.S., R.D., C.D.-N. It’s also the best way to make vegetables taste like dirt, so we consider this knowledge a win for your taste buds.
If you don’t want to go raw, there are three other techniques we recommend. We’ll start with the least healthy and work our way down to the healthiest.
The Three Healthiest Ways to Eat Cooked Veggies
Roasting is a healthy way to bring out the flavors of your vegetables, and to make nearly any veggie more appetizing thanks to the natural caramelization that roasting does to their natural sugars. And who isn’t into a little sweet and savory combination?
Depending on the produce of your choosing, the time spent in the oven may alter nutrient levels and vitamin content. “Roasting vegetables helps bring out their sweetness and can be very helpful for those with sugar cravings. Using a variety of root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets produces a beautiful, and tasty, result,” says Adrienne Raimo, R.D, L.D.
In order to save time, combine the vegetable(s) with a dish that can also be roasted at the same time. Incorporate similar spices or flavors (for example, citrus zest or smoked paprika or crushed red pepper) in both dishes to enhance whatever healthy cuisine you’re putting together. Add fresh herbs, or a little salt and pepper, for even more flavor.
A cousin to sautéing, stir-frying is best done over high heat. You’ll want to constantly move the contents of the wok (or pan) around to prevent your veggies from burning. This method exposes veggies to high heat very quickly, and results in tender-crisp vegetables that retain more nutrients than if they were exposed to heat for a longer period of time.
As long as you stick to the proper methods and don’t over-do it on the oil, this is a pretty solid healthy cooking method. Make sure to pick a cooking oil that can stand up to the heat. “Be careful not to add sauces that are high in sodium or fat,” says Dotson. “Cooking with wine is great because it adds flavor but little extra calories (and the alcohol burns off at high temperatures).”
As expected, steaming is the healthiest cooking method. It’s also the most efficient. A gentle steam is best; it allows vegetables to maintain their nutrients because the vitamins and minerals don’t leak out into the water you end up discarding. “Steaming is one of the best ways to retain nutrients, and tends to be one of the quicker methods of cooking vegetables,” says Raimo. Steaming can also help you knock out meal prep like a pro, as you can put lots of veggies in the same pot to cook as long as they share similar cook times. Don’t switch off the burner when one batch is done; pile the next round of veg into the steam basket and repeat.
And now, you’re ready to get your veggie on! What’s your favorite technique?