Cooking vegetables can increase nutritional value

Published 10:40 am Friday, August 7, 2015

Think cooking your food always destroys its nutrients? Think again. Some foods are actually more healthful, if they are cooked properly.

First of all, cooking helps soften vegetables’ tough fibrous coatings, actually increasing some nutrients. Tomatoes, for example, contain a cancer-fighting phytonutrient called lycopene, but cooked tomatoes contain as much as 171 percent lycopene as raw ones. That means tomato sauces are great, and one of the best ways to increase a tomato’s lycopene is to bake it. This also adds lots of flavor to sandwiches, salads, pastas, and other dishes. Studies show a correlation between consumption of tomatoes, and reduced cancer risk, particularly prostate cancer.

Other red fruits and vegetables like red carrots, papayas, peppers, and watermelon also contain lycopene. Watermelon, though, should not be stored in the refrigerator, because leaving a whole watermelon at room temperature for five days increases its lycopene and beta-carotene content by as much as 20 percent.

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Broccoli, if cooked properly is more healthful too. Steaming broccoli increases glucosinolates, which are compounds that fight cancer. Cooking broccoli in other ways like baking or boiling reduces these compounds, though.

When cooking meats, use the “slow method.” Meats like chicken that are cooked in liquid at moderate to low temperatures develop fewer cell-damaging compounds know as AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Compounds). These compounds are thought to be one factor in aging and some age-related chronic diseases. Grilling and broiling increase these compounds, but the “slow, wet” method of cooking can reduce AGEs by 50 percent. Research also shows that if you do grill meats, marinating them in tea, wine, or beer can also reduce those cancer-causing compounds by up to 50 percent.

While we all know garlic is healthful, there are ways to maximize its benefits too. Garlic contains an organosulfur compound called allicin. Some studies show that allicin has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. It’s also been shown to help trap cell damaging free radicals in our bodies. These attributes also make garlic good for your heart, and whole cardiovascular system. By crushing garlic cloves and letting them stand for thirty minutes, before cooking, these heart-protecting compounds are activated and preserved. Don’t cook garlic too long though. Cooking as little as six minutes can completely suppress garlic compound’s strength.

If you’re having a fatty fish like salmon for dinner, roast it with a bit of olive oil. According to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, this doesn’t increase the fish’s fat content, and preserves the fish’s omega 3 fatty acids, as apposed to frying fish in the same kind of oil. Frying fish increases its fat content up to 10 percent, while adding unnecessary calories.

By the way, here’s another nutritional tip. When fixing leafy greens in a salad, add olive oil, nuts, or avocado. This increases the absorption of disease-fighting compounds called carotenoids. These help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.

David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 28 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Spartanburg baseball team, S.C. tate champion girls gymnastic team,  and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety consultant to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.