We're constantly fed so many new facts about what's best for our diet that it's easy to experience information overload. Gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb, alkaline—it's hard to keep it all straight sometimes. Moreover, it's difficult to follow all of these guidelines when they're so complex, compelling us to want to throw in the towel and live on a perpetual diet of pizza and wine. However, we recently learned a very simple tip for improving our daily nutrition that's as easy as raising the temperature in the kitchen. Allow us to explain.
You may have heard a debate in recent years that eating raw food is better for you because cooking food over a certain temperature could reduce the food's nutritional content. Turns out that in most cases, the opposite is true. Take, for example, the ancient medical system of Ayurveda, where digestion is the pinnacle of your health. In this practice, your digestive system is thought to be like a fire, so if you eat cold food, it will essentially "extinguish" the fire. Ergo, cooking your food "pre-digests" the food for you so your internal digestive fire can thrive and your body won't have to work as hard to break the food down for the nourishment your body needs.
As for your veggies, many of them become exponentially more nutritious once cooked. Says Maria Bella, founder of Top Balance Nutrition in NYC, "Cooking vegetables by roasting or steaming them can make the cell walls less rigid, making it easier for people to digest them and to absorb the nutrients." However, Bella advises against certain cooking methods, which can actually hinder the nutritional content you're trying to amp up: "I would avoid boiling food for a long time or heating to very high temperatures for prolonged periods to avoid the loss of water-soluble vitamins."
Bella says tomatoes are best served cooked as this helps to absorb more cancer-fighting lycopene. Same goes for spinach: "This is much better cooked, because more iron, magnesium, and calcium is absorbed. To increase the iron absorption even further, pair with a source of vitamin C." Additionally, cooking mushrooms increases their potassium content, and cooked carrots have a higher level of beta-carotene.
As for the vegetables that are beneficial to eat raw, Bella says beets, broccoli, peppers, and onions see high rates of nutrition in their raw state. However, again, even if these veggies lose some nutritional value in the cooking process, heating them helps improve the remaining nutrients’ bioavailability for better absorption in the body.
All in all, Bella suggests aiming for six colors of produce every day and incorporating fruits and veggies into every meal and snack.
Sneak more veggies into your diet with Elson Haas and Patty James' book, More Vegetables, Please! ($17).
Want to learn more about eating healthy? Check out how the Microbiome Diet can balance out your body.