Vegetables are important weapons in the fight against heart disease, cancer, and a host of other ailments like stroke, vision problems, and hypertension. That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture says they should make up more than one-quarter of the foods we put on our plates each day -- with many nutrition experts recommending even more veggies.
But depending on how vegetables are eaten, the valuable vitamins, phytochemicals and flavonoids they possess can be either enhanced or destroyed.
“When you're preparing vegetables, you have to be careful in how you cook them because the reality is that heat always destroys some of the nutrients,” says Sue Gebo, R.D., M.P.H., a West Hartford, Conn., dietitian and assistant professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. "But on the other hand, the nutrients in some vegetables are better absorbed after some cooking.”
Raw-food aficionados may think that cooking destroys the nutrition in all vegetables, but this isn't true. When it comes to tomatoes, for instance, cooking them actually enhances their healthful properties because heat breaks down the thick cell walls of this fruit -- OK, it's not technically a veggie, but we treat it like one -- which better releases its nutrients.
Although there are exceptions, griddle and microwave cooking generally help maintain the highest levels of antioxidants, while pressure-cooking and boiling lead to the greatest losses. The advantage of microwaving doesn’t surprise Gebo, who notes that this process cooks food lightly, just as steaming does.
The problem is that no single cooking method is best for optimal nutrition. With that in mind, here's a guide to bringing out the healthy best in the best-for-you veggies. What's your favorite way to eat your veggies? Share in the comments below.
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