Are You Cooking Your Vegetables All Wrong? 10 Easy Fixes, From an Expert
When you pick up a bag of carrots, do you head for the cute little minis that come pre-washed and shaved, to make your healthy snacking that much more convenient? We do, too, or did – until now.
When we learned that the so-called "baby "carrots are actually shaved down carrots sold as the cores – and that the skin, which has the most beta-carotene in it, has been removed – we began to reach for the hairy, organic-looking bunch of ugly, dirty, unwashed carrots. That's because according to one expert we spoke with when it comes to getting the most beta-carotene from your carrots, the skin is where it's at.
Even just shaving the outer skin off your carrots removes the most nutrient-dense part of the root vegetable, says Dr. Amy Sapola, Director of Health and Wellness at the Chefs Garden, a regenerative family farm in Ohio that grows and sells vegetables to restaurants and home cooks. Eat the skin, dirty spots, and all – since you'll also be getting minerals, beta-carotene, and other phytonutrients the carrot generates to stave off damage from the elements.
Dr. Sapola has made it her life's work to get the most out of every bite of vegetables, starting with the soil they are grown in – and the regenerative way of farming with cover crops and organic fertilizer enhances the minerals in the soil, which means your vegetables deliver more antioxidants and goodness. to give you more energy from your food – to the way that vegetables are stored, cooked, prepped, and ultimately served. No surprise, fresh is best.
Easy simple hacks like this are the key to getting more great nutrition out of your best efforts to eat healthily and be able to age less quickly, stave off infections that are going around, including the latest COVID strain that appears to be gaining traction, and generally have more energy form the food you eat. For every vegetable, there is a tip to getting the most out of it.
When it comes to vegetables, eat more
So other than eating dirty carrots (or rinsed ones that are still a little gnarly looking) to fresh peppers, Sapola has hacks for getting the most nutrients from every bite of your healthy habits, when you set out to eat vegetables and fruits for the sake of your health, to lower inflammation and to boost immunity.
The other somewhat daunting, task that she lays out for health-minded consumers: Eat more! The more vegetables the better. The U.S. government recommends Americans eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and only one in 10 of us manages to accomplish that.
Dr. Sapola tells us that eating six to nine servings of vegetables a day is optimal for health, and science backs her up. "There are something like 45,000 studies that have shown the benefits of vegetables on everything from cancer prevention to heart disease, the benefit to immunity and even the ability of a diet high in vegetables to help treat MS symptoms," she says.
10 Tips to Maximize Your Vegetables' Nutrients
Tip 1: Eat the colors of the rainbow
"You should aim for more than just the five servings recommended by the USDA. Go for 6 to 9 cups of vegetables a day, to get the full therapeutic effect. And the more different types of vegetables you eat the better since each one delivers a different lineup of phytochemicals, to add vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help boost immunity, fight inflammation, and help combat the aging process.
How to eat more vegetables
"Eat all the colors of the rainbow, from green to orange (as in peppers) to red (tomatoes or beets)," Dr. Sapola adds. "Upping our antioxidant intake is the best way to fight aging on a cellular level in the body."
- At breakfast, add berries to your oatmeal, and have half a banana as a snack mid-morning, or make a smoothie full of mixed vegetables and fruit. \
- For lunch, have a big grain bowl or salad and include as many vegetables as you can.
- At dinner, make a big vegetable-filled pasta sauce with everything from mushrooms to peppers to beets to carrots. Or you can make a veggie wrap and use cabbage leaves, she suggests
"The more vegetables you eat, and the less your diet includes saturated fat (which is only in animal products) the better your health, and the lower your risk of chronic diseases, including, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases, including certain cancers," she adds.
Tip 2: Each vegetable has superpowers
Think of your vegetables as superheroes, Dr. Sapola suggests, and how you prepare them as a key to unlocking each one of their individual superpowers, just like the kids of Sky HIgh. Each young superhero has to wrangle his or her own powers and learn how to use them for good. Those are your vegetables, and you are the teacher. Here's the curriculum guide to getting the most out of each vegetable in your basket and on your plate.
Betacarotene, for instance, converts in the body into vitamin A or retinol, which is vital for good vision and eye health, helps build a strong immune system, and helps skin regenerate healthy, youthful-looking cells. It also makes your mucous membranes do their job of being the first defense against nasty bugs that you may inhale, which keeps you from getting sick.
How nutritious your vegetables are starts with nutrient-rich soil, which infuses the plant, and eventually your body with bio-available phytochemicals to help you fight disease and thrive. Dr. Sapola, who has a Doctor of Pharmacy with a B.S. in Nutrition, shares her tips and easy hacks for growing, cooking, and eating vegetables to get the most out of their natural bounty.
Tip 3: Eat vegetables soon after they are picked
Another amazing tip to get the most nutrients from your vegetables: Eat them right off the vine. Vitamin C is most potent when it has just done its job of protecting a fruit or vegetable from the sun's harsh rays.
That means, the longer your citrus-packed peppers sit off the vine (and on the market shelf, or on your counter, or in your fridge) the less active and effective the vitamin C is when it enters your body. So if immunity-boosting active Vitamin C is the goal, pick that pepper and eat it, right then and there, or get as close to that situation as you possibly can, since few of us live on a farm or grow our own produce in your backyard.
Tip 4: Eat the Skins, Just Wash Them First
When it comes to carrots and turnips, or any root vegetables or even fruits, don't peel. In the case of carrots, most of the betacarotene is in the skin. the closer to the surface the more nutrient the carrot cells have. But in many cases, fruit such as apples, pears, peaches, and nectarines, if you can eat the skin, do it, but wash it to get most of the dirt off.
Another carrot tip: Do cook them instead of eating them raw, she adds, since heat releases the betacarotene. "The amazing fact is that cooked carrots have betacarotene than raw. And this is important for eye health, skin health, and any cells in the body that benefits from antioxidants. Also, have carrots with a little fat (like olive oil) since it helps the body absorb the vitamins," she tells us. Purple carrots are even more full of phytonutrients, so choose round or deeply colored carrots to get the most nutrition per bite.
Tip 5: Eat the Greens, Which Are Loaded with Nutrients
Beets are high in phytochemicals called betalains which are some of the most powerful antioxidants around since they help fight inflammation that can be helpful to everything from injury healing to lowering the risk of heart disease.
Still, when it comes to beets, even more nutritious than the beetroot are the greens! Beet greens are the dark green leafy tops of the plant. So while the root is a healthy ingredient to make pasta swirls out of, add the greens to the pasta sauce or a soup, since they contain even more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than the beets themselves. Plus they are high in fiber and help your gut microbiome to be healthier, which is a win for overall health.
By the same measure you can eat the greens of most vegetables, and treat them as you would Swiss chard, says Dr. Sapola, and instead of composting these, use them in a stew, soup, or smoothie, to add even more fiber to your diet.
Tip 6: Cook Your Tomatoes, the Longer the Better
If you grew up in an Italian household, you probably already know that the longer you cook the tomato sauce the better. This isn't just to let the flavors and spices emerge and soak through, but to release the lycopene in the tomatoes, the active ingredient that makes them red and that helps your body by lowering inflammation and boosting immunity as well as fighting other diseases in the body.
Lycopene is a specific type of antioxidant shown in studies to do a number of things. It has been "found to be efficient in ameliorating cancer insurgences, diabetes mellitus, cardiac complications, oxidative stress-mediated malfunctions, inflammatory events, skin and bone diseases, hepatic, neural and reproductive disorders," according to one such scientific review.
"For anyone with a sensitivity to tomatoes, try the yellow or light orange kinds," says Dr. Sapola, since they have less acid in them, to begin with. Also to cook a long time. releases lycopene. Also, eat tomatoes with a small amount of healthy fat because they contain Vitamin C and other fat-soluble vitamins.
If you have acid issues, choose less acidic ones that are yellow
Tip 7: Choose the Spicy Radishes
When it comes to radishes, most people skip these because of the spice. If you don't love how spicy they are, choose the lighter pink ones, which have less spice, Dr. Sapola suggests. But if you can endure or enjoy spice, then go for the black Spanish radishes which are darker in color and for health reasons contain the most antioxidants.
"They are high in glucosinolate," she explains, "which are beneficial metabolites for human health." The spicier the better when it comes to the amount of GL in a radish, so go with Spanish Black radishes for the best nutrient value. For twice the health value, pickle them and add them to your meals since the fermentation process adds even more probiotic benefits.
Tip 8: Broccoli is Best Barely Cooked
You may know that a compound called sulforaphane is the active ingredient that makes broccoli so good for you, and is what gives it that pungent smell when cooked. As you cook the broccoli, the sulforaphane gets released, so the magic is to cook it just enough to "injure" it but not to kill it, meaning you don't want to cook your broccoli too much. Just steam it.
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound found in several cruciferous vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, and kale, but broccoli delivers the mother load. When it is activated as glucosinolate, this compound fights off bugs. It works to fight off organisms in your body, too, so keeping it active is a way to boost your immunity and lower inflammation. Choose brightly colored. broccoli, and eat the leaves, and all of the richly colored relatives of broccoli, including romanesco or broccoli rabe.
Tip 9: Choose Purple Cabbage
Purple is the best type of cabbage to eat, but all the different colors – green, red – are great for you because of the high fiber content. Use these leaves as wraps, or make coleslaw, she suggests, but don't throw out the extra since they are so good for you.
The anthocyanins are the phytochemicals that give cabbage its purple hue, and they possess "antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-obesity effects," according to studies, and have been shown to help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases "Therefore, anthocyanins extracted from edible plants are potential pharmaceutical ingredients," researchers have found.
Depending on what you are making, if you end up with a lot of leftover cabbage just get out the mason jars and fill them with fermented cabbage is a great addition, since it can act as a garnish and add more probiotics to your meals for weeks and months to come.
Tip 10: Go for Red Peppers
All types and colors of peppers are great for you since they are high in fiber and vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, folic acid, and betacarotene. But the red ones are the champs, with almost 11 times the betacarotene and 1.5 times the vitamin C as their green cousins.
Plus hot ones have capsaicin which is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to boost metabolism and suppress your appetite. It's being studied as a possible anti-obesity therapy. But just don't get it in your eye since it can burn your skin and eyes. Instead, wash hands when done handling peppers and keep a glass of non-dairy milk nearby to neutralize the sting if you need to.
Remember that for the greatest benefit, eat peppers as soon off the vine as possible since the longer they sit and don't need to activate the C to protect them from the sun, the less vitamin C is active when you go to eat your pepper-filled pasta.
Bottom Line: Eat More and Different Types of Vegetables Every Day
Eating more different types of vegetables is the goal, rather than always choosing your go-to favorites like green beans, since diversity is better for our bodies. All of the different vegetables deliver slightly different beneficial phytochemicals, so choose the colors of the rainbow.
You can order your Box of Rainbow Vegetables from The Chef's Garden for delivery nationwide.
For more expert advice, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition category.