Should You Steam, Stir-Fry, or Boil Your Veggies?

For maximum health benefits, should you stir-fry, steam, or boil?

It’s actually an important question to consider, because the cooking method you choose has a significant effect on how much of a veggie’s nutrients your body receives.

Researchers in Murcia, Spain, discovered that just by boiling celery, the veggie lost 14 percent of its antioxidants — powerful nutrients that help fight cancer. [i] Food scientists in England measured the glucosinolates — another cancer-fighting nutrient — in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and green cabbage after boiling. Boiled broccoli lost 77 percent of these key anti-cancer ingredients; cauliflower, 75 percent. When the English researchers tested the boiling water, they found the missing health-boosters— 90 percent of the missing glucosinolates ended up in the cooking pot.[ii]

Clearly, boiling and draining your veggies isn’t the best way to go. Soups and stews are good options, because you eat the veggie liquid as well. But you’ve still got a variety of other options — from microwave to steam to stir-fry. All of these methods work just fine, but here are a few facts to keep in mind as you choose the best way to cook up your daily dose of plants:

  • Steaming is good.

Vegetables cooked in a steam basket — out of contact with hot water that drains their cancer-fighting properties — retain nutrients and also taste delicious.

  • Stir-frying or sauteing is better.

Not only does this cooking method preserve more nutrients than boiling, it also offers cardiovascular perks. Researchers in Spain found that compared to a low-fat diet, eating a Mediterranean diet (in which sauteed vegetables are common) supplemented with nuts and olive oil had a beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk factors.

  • Olive oil is best.

The Spanish researchers also evaluated the effect of stir-frying broccoli with different oils: refined olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil. Compared to all the oily options, broccoli stir-fried with extra-virgin olive oil retained the most nutrients.[iii]

At the end of the day, all veggies are good for you and we want you to eat more of them. We’re discussing good, better, and best in this post. So choose the method that works best for you! The longest-lived people in the world eat a diet that’s nearly 100 percent plant-based.

[i] Jiménez-Monreal, A. M., García-Diz, L., Martínez-Tomé, M., Mariscal, M. and Murcia, M. A. (2009), Influence of Cooking Methods on Antioxidant Activity of Vegetables. Journal of Food Science, 74: H97–H103. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01091.x

[ii] Song L., Thornalley P.J., Effect of storage, processing and cooking on glucosinolate content of Brassica vegetables, (2007) Food and Chemical Toxicology, 45 (2), pp. 216-224.

[iii] Moreno, D. A., López-Berenguer, C. and García-Viguera, C. (2007), Effects of Stir-Fry Cooking with Different Edible Oils on the Phytochemical Composition of Broccoli. Journal of Food Science, 72: S064–S068. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2006.00213.x

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