Raw or Cooked? Get the Most Out of Fruits and Veggies

Reviewed on 2/26/2018

Biggest Bang for Your Produce Buck

Prep your veggies to get the maximum nutritional punch out of them.

If you're trying to work more fruits and vegetables into your diet, make sure you get the most out of them. How they're prepared can make a big difference in the nutritional punch they pack. The right type of heat can bring out the nutrients in some, but you'll need to eat others raw to get the biggest benefit.

Raw Garlic

Raw garlic is a great source of selenium.

This is one powerful plant. It's rich in selenium, an antioxidant that may help control high blood pressure and possibly lower your chances of some cancers. You can mix it into veggie stir-fries, casseroles, or tomato sauce for pasta, but you'll get more nutrients if you eat it raw or add it just before the dish is finished cooking.

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit, like blueberries, serves up lots of fiber and vitamins.

This is a healthy snack that's rich in fiber, low in fat and calories, and packed with vitamins. Some types may even make you less likely to get type 2 diabetes. The best choices are blueberries, grapes, and apples. But the same can't be said for fruit juice from the grocery store. It lacks the fiber of whole fruit and has a lot of added sugar.

Make Tomato Sauce

Cooked tomatoes give your body a good amount of lycopene.

Pasta tossed with rich tomato sauce is an easy classic that's good and good for you. Cooking fresh, diced tomatoes helps your body take in and use lycopene, a natural chemical that may make you less likely to have heart disease and some types of cancer.

Cook Carrots

Cooking carrots makes carotenoids in carrots more readily available.

These popular veggies have natural chemicals, too, called carotenoids. They're what make carrots orange, and they may help protect your eyes and possibly lower your chances of some cancers. Like lycopene, heat makes carotenoids easier for your body to use, so steam or lightly roast fresh carrots to get the most out of them.

Steam Broccoli

Steaming preserves glucosinolate in broccoli.

If you think raw broccoli is tough or tasteless, a quick steam can soften it up without killing off many of its nutrients. Unlike boiling or stir-frying in oil, steaming lets it hold onto most of a healthy compound called glucosinolate. That gives it its distinct odor and may help prevent certain types of cancer.

Use Pressure With Mushrooms

Pressure cooking mushrooms may increase their level of antioxidants.

These fungi are very low in calories and offer a unique flavor along with fiber and antioxidants. You can slice them raw to add to a salad, but if you prefer the texture of cooked mushrooms, steam them or heat them in a pressure cooker. Quick cooking can raise the amount of antioxidants in some types of mushrooms.

Bake Sweet Potatoes

Baked sweet potatoes are best, but don't slather them with butter.

These are rich in fiber, vitamins A and C, and calcium and magnesium that help you build strong, healthy bones. But how you cook your sweet potato can change the amount of starch and sugar in it. The best way to prepare one of these filling, naturally sweet gems is to bake it and serve it up with the skin in place. But skip the butter.

How You Cook Matters

Stir frying veggies helps preserve their nutritional value.

When you boil vegetables, both the water and high heat can drain some nutrients. But stir-frying or sauteeing can preserve more of those. And a quick zap in the microwave lets the veggie hold on to even more vitamins.

What About Steaming?

Steam your veggies and drink the water you steam with to maximize your nutrient intake.

This can be a good way to keep the nutrients in fresh produce without adding any fat from oil or butter. And as a bonus, you can enjoy the steaming liquid as a veggie broth that's full of all the nutrients from the veggies you cooked. But steam's intense heat can destroy some nutrients in certain veggies, like kale, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts. You might use these in a crunchy, healthy salad instead.

Watch the Timing

Cook veggies for the least amount of time possible to preserve nutrients.

When you use heat on any fresh vegetable, you want to keep as much of the flavor, look, texture, and nutrients as you can. Cook them only until they're tender but still crisp, not mushy. If you're making a lot, it can be a good idea to whip up small batches instead of big piles. That helps make sure they're all cooked over the same amount of heat.

Be Careful With Juicing

Juicing unwashed fruit may expose you to bacteria.

Juicing raw fruit is a trendy way to get tons of different nutrients in one glass, and there are plenty of places to buy one when you're on the go. But use caution with that fresh, frothy treat. Fruit skins that haven't been washed well can have bacteria that cause diarrhea. It's best to carefully clean, cut, and squeeze your own juices.

Raw or Cooked? Get the Most Out of Fruits and Veggies

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