Healthy Ways to Cook Vegetables That Taste Good!
We all know that vegetables are good for us and most women recognize they do not eat nearly enough veggies. Whether you love vegetables or not, there’s one thing you know for sure: the more you get, the better. But did you know that there are some ways to cook veggies that are healthy and other ways that, well put even the most nutritious vegetable in the junk food column? If you are looking for the best ways to balance taste and nutrition and really healthy ways to cook vegetables that taste good, I have the secrets for you!
But first, why is it important to eat vegetables?
So, what is all the fuss about anyway and why should we be eating more veggies in the first place? As it turns out, there are a ton of health benefits that people who eat their greens enjoy… everything from more energy and lower bodyfat to better overall health and reduced risk of chronic illnesses. But why? Turns out that vegetables themselves contain vital nutrients that your body truly needs according to the USDA. And if you don’t get it from veggies, chances are you won’t get them at all.
We all know that obesity leads to greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. The good news is that since vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and completely lack cholesterol they are the ideal food for women that want to stay healthy. I encourage all of my Online Personal Training clients to eat unlimited veggies as part of our nutrition plan. Here are just a few reasons why it is important to eat vegetables.
- Veggies contain some really critical nutrients like fiber, vitamins A & C, folate and one of my favorites, potassium. Potassium plays a key role in an overall healthy eating plan especially for women over 40 as it can help lower blood pressure, stop bone loss and help avoid the development of kidney stones. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.
- I have sung the praises of dietary fiber before but it is definitely worth repeating. Dietary fiber from vegetables is a key component to lowering blood cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and is a really critical part of bowel health and digestion. For women that are working to lose weight, veggies are a God send because the fiber they contain helps you feel full longer and with less calories than most other foods. My favorites… green peas, broccoli, corn, cauliflower and carrots.
- Momma’s to be along with their unborn babies will benefit from the folate or folic acid contained in vegetables like asparagus, leafy greens, beets, brussel sprouts and broccoli among others. Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Folic acid is used to make the extra blood your body needs during pregnancy. According to the US Preventative Task Force, all women of childbearing age should consume 400 – 800 micrograms (0.4 – 0.8 milligrams) of folic acid a day to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
- Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections. Some vegetables that include Vitamin A are carrots, broccoli, squash as well as many other green leafy vegetables and colorful green, orange and yellow vegetables.
- The water soluble Vitamin C is vital in the growth and repair of bones, teeth, skin and other tissues. It also helps prevent cell damage and can reduce the risk of some cancers while helping to keep your immune system strong. But, Vitamin C cannot be stored in the body in large amounts since it is lost though urine as a water soluble vitamin. That means you have to take in Vitamin C daily in order to benefit from it. And while there are plenty of supplements on the market, it is best to get your Vit C from a healthy diet with lots of veggies and fruit. Some of my favorite vegetable sources of Vitamin C are red, yellow and green peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts.
The Healthiest Way to Cook Vegetables
Yes, there are ways to cook vegetables that are healthier than other ways and you can make vegetables even more nutritious if you prepare them in ways that maximize their benefits. Surprisingly, keeping vegetables raw is not always the best way to prepare them. By cooking many vegetables, you can actually begin to cut through some of those dense surface layers and give your digestive system a better chance of absorbing all of those awesome nutrients that make vegetables so healthy in the first place. Two great examples are spinach and carrots. As much as I love both carrots and spinach raw, if you cook them before eating them, your body is better able to absorb the beta carotene which can then be converted into Vitamin A. Not that you should avoid raw veggies, it is just important to understand that cooking can help with nutrient absorption.
Surprisingly, keeping vegetables raw is not always the best way to prepare them.
As a general rule, it’s best to keep cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid to a minimum. That’s why steaming is one of the best ways to cook most vegetables. A 2009 study prepared broccoli (one of the top cancer fighting foods) using five popular methods — boiling, microwaving, steaming, stir-frying and stir-frying/boiling. Researchers found steaming kept the highest level of nutrients. When in doubt, choose steaming first then microwaving to cook your veggies. If you must boil them, do so with the least amount of water possible.
Boiling vegetables causes water soluble vitamins like vitamin C, B1 and folate to leach into the water. So unless you are going to drink the water along with your vegetables, such as when making soups and stews, these vitamins are typically poured down the sink. Steaming is a gentler way to cook because the vegetables don’t come in contact with the boiling water.
The chart below lines out cooking times for some of my favorite vegetables. If you have the option for most veggies, choose steaming first, but it is still fine to microwave and even boil veggies if you need.
But, what about sautéing? Most women recognize that deep frying vegetables in fat is not very healthy. In fact, when you immerse the vegetable in fat, it penetrates and dehydrates the veggie adding tons of extra calories. A better option is to sauté the vegetable with a bit of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This helps to blossom the flavor while also providing some of the healthy fats your body needs to properly digest fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A. Just be sure to watch how much you use and to cook at controlled temperature. 1 TBSP of EVOO along with some garlic and pepper can turn even the most bland vegetable into a true treat! And by keeping the cooking temperature lower, you preserve some of those key vitamins and minerals and allow of increased nutrient absorption.
And now for TASTE…
So, you understand the importance of eating more veggies and all of the wonderful benefits they have for your body. You know that for most vegetables, steaming is the best way to cook them so that they maintain the most nutrients. Now, I want to share with you a few ideas on how to make your vegetables taste their best. Full disclosure, my favorite vegetable is broccoli steamed just right with a dash of salt so that it is still a bit firm but super flavorful. That said, not everyone loves plain broccoli. Here are a few healthy ways to cook vegetables that taste good!
- Steam any of your favorite vegetable with a bit of citrus juice and zest in the water for a burst of flavor. Try lemon juice with spinach, orange with broccoli or grapefruit with carrots.
- Explore seasonings. Topping vegetables with seasonings as you put them in your steamer is a great way to add flavor. My favorites: garlic and rosemary.
- Steam green beans together with a chopped onion and a fresh pressed clove of garlic in the cooking water.
- Combine your favorite veggies together… Zucchini, squash, diced tomatoes and mushrooms tossed together with a tablespoon of olive oil and herbs makes an incredible sauté!
- If you want to enjoy kale, but struggle with it raw, boil kale along with a handful of chopped currants along with salt and pepper.
- One of my all time favorites are sweet potato fries. Start by cutting a sweet potato into long, thin pieces, season with olive oil, cayenne pepper and a dash of salt then bake until golden brown.
- Diced or crushed tomatoes in a vegetable or chicken broth are amazing for the base of homemade soups. Toss in some herbs and spices to bring out the flavors.
- Who knew the microwaving spaghetti squash could be so good? Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and place it face down in a dish of water. Microwave until soft then scoop out the squash and serve with spaghetti sauce for a super low cal Italian treat.
Bottomline… there are so many amazing healthy ways to cook vegetables that taste good! Keep exploring and if you find something new you love, share it! I would love to hear what you come up with!
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“Folic Acid: What Foods Have It?” American Pregnancy Association, 21 Mar. 2017, americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/folic-acid/.
“Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/.
“Nutrition and Healthy Eating Nutrition Basics.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 4 Nov. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/.
“Food Sources of Vitamin C.” Dietitians of Canada, 17 Oct. 2016, www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-C.aspx/.