Vegetables are the strongest sources of vitamins and other micronutrients in nature. Man-made vitamin mixtures do not compare to the natural cocktails in vegetables for multiple reasons. Their bioavailability (the degree to which the vitamins can be absorbed) is dubious and depends too much on the way the multivitamin is manufactured. Since they contain most of the vitamin your body needs and each vitamin needs a different substrate for best absorption, multivitamins should not be the only source you rely on. In contrast, vegetables do not come choke full with all the vitamins, but the ones they do have are more easily absorbed by the body i.e., they are much more bioavailable. They also come with a good mix of fibre and macronutrients, even water. Bottom line: eating a combination of different vegetables throughout your day is the the most reliable way to get everything your body needs.
But several people, either because of traditional ways of cooking or just misinformation, cook vegetables wrong. In this blog we discuss the best ways to get the most of these potent foods.
Don’t boil them
Never boil them. Boiling is probably the worst thing you can do to vegetables. Many of the vitamins present in the vegetables (like vitamin C and some of the B vitamins) are water soluble. This means that water can dissolve them and drain them out of the vegetable. When you drown a vegetable in water, which is what boiling requires, you are providing a route for that priced vitamin to escape. When you strain those vegetables from the pot of water or pressure cooker, you’re losing the things you most want in your food.
We know, we know. A lot of Indian recipes call for boiled vegetables. Aloo or Gobi Paranthas for instance need those aloos to have been boiled. But there are several ways to get a mash out of the potatoes or cauliflowers. You don’t have to boil them. Instead you can steam them. Steaming takes way less water. Cauliflower lend themselves quite well to steaming. Potatoes may not be too happy with this. You can microwave these. In a microwave, you would be using no water. Poke some holes in those potatoes with a fork or knife and pop them in for five or six minutes on high. You will have as good a mash (albeit a tad dry, easily fixed with some water) as from the pressure cooker. But the nutritional value will be way higher.
Don’t deep or shallow fry them
This is the corollary of the ‘no boiling’ rule. Like there are water soluble vitamins, there are fat soluble ones too. When you fry vegetables in hot oil, the oil will whisk away the good fats. Also the hot oil (oil gets much much hotter than water and hot oil does more damage than hot water ever can) will destroy any fibre and any water soluble vitamins. Not worth it! You could stir fry them. Or steam them and drizzle them with some sesame oil (for an East Asian taste) or olive oil. The crunch will stay without pushing the veggie goodness away (not an intentional rhyme!).
Don’t eat (some of) them raw
We talked a little already about bioavailability. It determines how much of each vitamin in a vegetable cab you really absorb and use. Bioavailability is he reason you should doubt a candy which claims to be “fortified with vitamins and minerals”. This could just be ad spin Just because vitamins are added doesn’t mean your body can absorb it through the usual pathways. Most vitamins present in vegetables are already ready for absorption. For example, you could shell a pea pod now and pop the peas in your mouth and absorb all that they have to offer. But this is not uniformly true for all vegetables. The vitamins in some vegetables become more readily available when you cook them a little.
Consider the tomato. It has the antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene in abundance. But just eating a raw tomato does not mean your body will use these antioxidants. You need the tomato to be a little cooked. Don’t boil or fry them, of course. Just stir fry them or roast them for some time, and you’ll have a much healthier dish!
It is a simple list of rules to remember. No boiling any of them, no frying any of them, and cooking all of them at least a little.