Dec. 15. 2017
Truth
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

The way you cook your food plays a large part in just how much of its nutrients your body is actually getting.

Cooking methods are not one-size-fits-all, and they should vary based on the different nutrient makeups of certain foods. Today, discover the basic framework for optimizing the health benefits of the food you’re about to eat so you can get the best nutrient bang for your buck.

Eating Raw

Research on the nutrient composition of foods from certain cooking and processing techniques has encouraged some people to consume uncooked foods as part of a strictly raw food diet, and others to slowly introduce raw food recipes into their lifestyles. Eating raw can be a great way to ensure that you’re getting everything the food has to offer and avoiding nutrient loss. This study shows that vegetables deliver the most Vitamin C when consumed raw. On the other hand, research has shown, however, that cooking can sometimes increase the availability of other nutrients like lycopen and carotenoids. These nutrients are easier for our bodies to digest and use once they’ve been heated. If you’re unsure about how to get started with a raw, no-cooking approach, find dozens of recipes that celebrate raw foods in the NS Recipe Index

Heating

Boiling is a go-to method for quickly preparing foods in a large amount of hot water. Since water is involved, however, the number of water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C, B1 and folate greatly decrease after cooking. Studies have shown this to be the case especially with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, where it caused great losses of chlorophyll, soluble protein, soluble sugar, vitamin C, and glucosinolates. That being said, it’s a good idea to avoid boiling your leafy greens knowing that the water will wash away any vitamins and minerals that are water-soluble in them. However, on the flip side, other vegetables have shown to maintain the highest level of their antioxidants when boiled, like cauliflower, peas, and zucchini.

Grilling is a great way to enjoy meats and vegetables with their natural juices intact while staying pretty minimal with extra sauces and seasonings that may not be as nutritious. However, some research suggests that the well-done, charred meats may increase the risk of breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. Check out the following recipes to make the most of this cooking method:

  • Grilled romaine salad: take a head of romaine lettuce and cut longways, brush with olive oil and a touch of sea salt and grill cut-side down for about 4 minutes or until grill marks are visible. This is a delicious way to enjoy the flavors of grilling on a salad! Dress and serve as you would normally, I like cut strawberries and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  • Grilled Peaches with Sweet Cashew Cream
  • Cauliflower Steaks with Mint Chutney
  • Blissed Out Black Bean Burgers
  • Campfire Banana Boats
  • Vegetable Skewers: to a wooden skewer, add chopped vegetables of your choice brushed with olive oil and sea salt, grill for about 10 minutes or until tender.


Sautéeing requires a small of oil in a pan like extra virgin olive oil, which a 2015 study showed increases the number of antioxidants in the food. Sautéing helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, but it decreases the amount of vitamin C in vegetables. On the plus side, sautéing is a great way to enjoy flavors like garlic and healthy fats from cooking oils and ghee infused into the foods. The following NS recipes use sauteeing to prepare vegetables that are tender and delicious:

Steaming usually doesn’t pack as much flavor as other heated cooking methods, but it does allow for the item to cook in its own juices and retain a lot of its natural benefits. Studies suggest that steaming is the best way to maintain the nutritional quality, i.e. TAC, carotenoids, glucosinolates, sulphorane, folate, and phytochemicals and water-soluble Vitamin B. Additionally, when you steam a vegetable, you’re most likely not adding a lot of other filler ingredients to prepare it that may take away from the original integrity of the vegetable.

Let’s Hear It

What other questions do you have about making the most of your foods while cooking? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation and help others in the NS community, and connect with me on Instagram @NutritionStripped and #NutritionStripped.