SYDNEY, NSW / Sydney Morning Herald / Life & Style / November 22, 2011
Chew on This
By Paula Goodyear
Get more from your greens ... add avocado to salads. Photo: Gary Schafer
There are two main rules for getting the most out of vegetables – one is eat lots of different coloured veg (not just the green ones) and the other is never ever boil them. Boiling vegetables is a food crime. Besides nuking important nutrients, it also kills off delicate flavours, giving good vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts a bad name. If you ever wondered why Australia’s vegetable intake is low, boiling deserves some of the blame.
But while we’ve learned that lightly steaming (or microwaving) is the best way to preserve flavour as well as nutrients like vitamin C in cooked vegetables, how well do other methods like roasting and stir-frying do when it comes to locking the food value in?
They’re pretty good, according to nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton in her latest book, The Choice Guide to Food – how to look after your health, your budget and the planet.
“There’s not a lot of difference between stir-frying and steaming, as long as the stir-fried vegies are still crisp,” she says.
Stanton rates roasting as the next best way to preserve nutrients, especially if you wrap vegetables in foil. Stewing vegetables – as you might do in ratatouille or in a casserole - is okay too. You might lose some of the vitamin C and the B vitamin folate but most of it will go into the cooking liquid and be part of the meal, she adds. That’s assuming you don’t soak your vegetables in water first - another good way to sacrifice vitamin C.
But sometimes cooking can make it easier to get some nutrients from vegetables - carotenoids, an important group of around 600 plant chemicals found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, are absorbed better from cooked vegetables than raw. That doesn’t mean you have to cook every carrot – they still contribute useful amounts of carotenoids in their raw state, says Stanton who suggests eating some of your vegetables raw and some of them cooked.
As for what to dress your vegetables with, olive oil vinaigrette trumps fat free dressing every time.
“Carotenoids are absorbed better when some fat is eaten at the same meal – so adding a dressing with extra virgin olive oil or cooking tomatoes in olive oil helps to absorb these valuable compounds,” Stanton explains.
But whatever the cooking method, the fibre content of vegetables is bullet proof and won’t be lost – even if your beans are soggy.
Along with the right cooking techniques, there are other ways of getting more bang for your buck with vegetables. Many nutrients work better as a team than all by themselves – which helps explain why eating a broad mix of fresh food is good for us. You’ll absorb more iron if you eat a vitamin C rich food with your iron food, for instance – think tomatoes or red capsicum with a plant source of iron like red kidney beans.
Tossing avocado into a salad can also make a difference. Along with its own package of vitamins and minerals, it has a similar effect to adding olive oil – the healthy fat helps us capture more nutrients. In a study at Ohio University, researchers found that the fat in avocado helped to absorb more of the antioxidant lycopene and more carotenoids from tomatoes. The same researchers found that when volunteers ate a salad they absorbed four times as much lutein from the leafy greens when avocado was added to the mix – lutein is the antioxidant credited with protecting against vision loss from macular degeneration.
Another winning combination could be broccoli paired with spicy salad vegetables like radish, rocket or watercress – University of Illinois researchers say that an enzyme in these hot flavoured vegetables boosts broccoli’s cancer fighting properties.
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