Research shows that cooking vegetables can increase some nutrients, but not all methods are the same. Choosing the healthiest ways to cook your vegetables will help you boost nutrition and improve health.
Microwaving not only provides a quick cooking option, it may also help foods retain more nutrients. Studies show that steaming vegetables in the microwave may be the best way to preserve most vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C which rapidly decreases with other cooking methods.
Steaming vegetables in a metal or bamboo steaming basket is another ideal option. One study showed that steaming helped to retain the cancer-fighting glucosinolates found in broccoli. It also retained the carotenoids in zucchini and significantly increased carotenoids in carrots and broccoli. Additionally, it was found to best protect the polyphenols (a group of antioxidants) in these vegetables when compared to boiling and frying.
In one study, sauteing (stir-frying in a small amount of oil) helped to retain nutrients (especially vitamin C) when compared to boiling and stir-frying without oil. While sauteing uses high heat, food is cooked quickly which helps reduce nutrient loss. A small amount of oil also adds flavor to the food, unlike steamed vegetables which are bland when unseasoned.
Boiling is often considered a poor method for healthy cooking because nutrients are pulled from the food and into the cooking water. But boiling may not be as bad as we thought. Studies show that boiling produced results similar to steaming for preserving carotenoids in zucchini, and increasing them in broccoli and carrots. It retains vitamin C content better than frying, but not as well as steaming and sauteing.
Roasting vegetables exposes them to high heat for longer periods of time which can decrease vitamins, but not all nutrients are lost. The benefit of roasting is that it brings out the best flavors in vegetables making them much more delicious without adding unhealthy fat and sodium. If you find steamed vegetables bland, a few roasted vegetables mixed in can improve the flavor while still providing plenty of nutrients.
Studies support that frying is the worst cooking method for preserving the nutrients in vegetables. High temperatures quickly degrade even the most stable vitamins. Vitamin C, carotenoids and polyphenols all decrease in foods cooked by frying. Fried foods can also contain saturated fats, trans fats, and excess sodium making frying the least desirable cooking method for health.
There is nothing wrong with choosing a few special treats during the holidays, but going overboard can undo weeks of healthy eating and exercise. Before you make the decision to cave into a craving, use this guide as a reminder of how hard you will have to work to offset the extra calories.
Candied Sweet Potatoes (1/2 cup)
Burn it off: Walking at 3.5 miles per hour for 60 minutes.
Lighten it up: Serve baked sweet potatoes topped with 5 mini-marshmallows. 172 calories
Gingerbread (1 slice)
Burn it off: Fast ballroom dancing for 45 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose 1 to 2 small gingerbread cookies instead. 150 to 200 calories
Peppermint Mocha (12 ounces, made with 2% milk and whipped cream)
Burn it off: Weight training for 50 minutes.
Lighten it up: Ask for skim milk and no whipped cream. 220 calories
Eggnog (1 cup)
Burn it off: Shoveling snow for 52 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose light or low-fat eggnog and cut your serving to ½ cup. 140 calories
Homemade Pecan Pie (1 slice)
Burn it off: Jogging 5.2 miles per hour for 48 minutes.
Lighten it up: Have only half a slice or choose a slice of pumpkin pie instead. 228 calories
*All calorie expenditures are based on a 150 pound female.
Often it’s not the holiday foods, but the portions that send calorie intake through the roof. Instead of using large casserole dishes, use oven-safe ramekins that hold ½ to 1 cup of food. Fill them with baked side dishes like sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, or stuffing. When your servings are pre-measured, it eliminates the temptation to scoop large portions onto your plate.
Go heavy on the vegetables.
Adding extra vegetables is a good way to fill up and improve the nutrition of your meal with fewer calories. Add extras to salads like chopped broccoli, sliced bell peppers, and sliced cabbage. Add diced mushrooms or shredded carrots to stuffing, and mix finely chopped cauliflower into casseroles.
Limit your choices.
When there are too many choices, it is tempting to try a little of every dish. This results in an overflowing plate of generous bites. Plan a holiday meal like you would any other. Select two vegetables or fruits, a protein source, and a grain. Of course, these dishes may be dressed up for the holidays, but stick with only four to five separate dishes. You will be able to taste all of the options and still keep the portions and calories under control.
Take a water break.
Put the focus on the special food and skip the high calorie drinks. Sipping on water instead of sweet tea and soda can drastically reduce your calorie intake. Drinking water between courses and between cocktails can also help to fill you up and keep you hydrated, lessening the effects of the alcohol and excess sodium.
Don’t pass up true treats.
"Eat and enjoy" is advice not shared often enough during the holiday season. The holidays bring special foods that you eat only once a year. Pass on more common items like rolls and mashed potatoes. Take one serving of special holiday foods and enjoy every bite. Forcing yourself to pass up on true treats will only make you feel deprived and that is no way to spend a healthy holiday season.
Practice mindful eating.
Planning, tending to guests, and bustling conversations can be distracting. When it is time to join the table, keep mindful eating high on your priority list. Eat slowly and focus on the flavor of the food. Put your fork down between bites and take sips of water. These small changes will slow your eating, help you enjoy your meal, and keep you aware of your hunger level.
Take on new traditions.
Special family recipes will always be part of the holidays, but making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle may mean that it's time to start a few new traditions. Delicious food doesn't have to be loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. While the average Thanksgiving meal contains 4,500 calories, the 3-course healthy holiday meal listed below is under 710 calories. It also has a fraction of the fat and sodium of a typical holiday meal, but with all of the traditional flavor.
Heat can destroy some of the valuable nutrients in vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat only raw produce. Research shows that both cooked and uncooked vegetables boost nutrition and improve your health.
Benefits of Raw Vegetables
When raw vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and eaten soon after they are harvested, they supply a significant amount of essential vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients (vitamin C and B vitamins) are sensitive to heat and they degrade quickly when foods are cooked. They can also leach out off food and into the cooking water. Raw vegetables are better than cooked vegetables for getting these sensitive vitamins.
Benefits of Cooking Vegetables
Research shows that while cooking may decrease some nutrients, it also increases and improves the availability of others. The results depend on the vegetable and the cooking method. When carrots are steamed or boiled carotenoid content increases, especially lutein which is important for eye health. Steaming and boiling broccoli increases carotenoids, but steaming also increases the cancer-fighting glucosinolates common in cruciferous vegetables. Research also shows that heating tomatoes increases the total antioxidant activity and makes lycopene (associated with a reduced risk for some cancers) more available to the body. Spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, and peppers are examples of other vegetables that have higher antioxidant levels after being cooked.
The Bottom Line
If you eat only raw vegetables, you miss out on specific nutrients that are released during the cooking process. If you eat only cooked vegetables, you may not be getting enough heat-sensitive vitamins. Variety in both the types of vegetables you eat and how they are prepared is the key to getting the most nutrients from your food.
Carbohydrates are a major fuel source for exercising muscles, the brain, and the central nervous system. When you drastically lower your carb intake, your body lacks the glucose necessary to produce energy. Without adequate carbohydrates, the body enters a state of ketosis where it begins to burn its own fat for fuel. This may sound appealing at first, but the process also produces ketones, a byproduct of breaking down fat stores. Ketones have been linked to gout, kidney stones, and kidney failure.
How will a low carb diet affect my exercise?
The side effects of ketone production include nausea, headache, and mental fatigue, which may disrupt your exercise routine. Research results are mixed from studies analyzing a low carbohydrate diet, exercise, and fatigue. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that a diet low enough in carbohydrates to cause ketosis resulted in increased fatigue in untrained, overweight adults. The study suggested that this could lead to a reduced desire to exercise. In athletes, however, studies have shown that after a two to four week adaptation to ketosis, exercise performance can improve.
Should I eat a low carb diet?
The goal of nutritious eating and exercise should be improved health without unnecessary dangers. The build-up of ketones in the body is not without risks, and it is especially dangerous to those with diabetes. Most health professionals agree that carbohydrates are needed in the diet to adequately fuel the body.
According to Mayo Clinic, daily diets with fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates can cause ketosis. Consuming 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day helps prevent it. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrate intake make up 45 to 65 percent of your total calorie intake. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends choosing healthy carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of aiming for a no-carbohydrate diet.