Nutrition Tip of the Day: Cook food as little as necessary, with one caveat
I decided to begin this Tip of the Day series with a really simple one. You might say this concept is self-intuitive, blatantly obvious or even understandable to the average waterfowl. A Canadian Aspara-goose for example …
To be clear, mainly what I’m talking about is vegetables. Generally speaking, I prefer cooked vegetables to raw vegetables, but you know those obnoxious people with ridiculous tans and veins bulging from the sides of their neck who drill us ad nauseam with the fact that raw, alive veggies are more nutritious that cooked, dead veggies? Well, they’re right. At least on that central point. I would disagree that lightly and skillfully cooked vegetables are “dead,” but LESS nutritious, sure, that’s a fact.
You see, it’s not so much the vitamin and mineral content that’s destroyed by the cooking process — the main exception being vitamin C, which has very low heat tolerance — but other substances called phytochemicals or phytonutrients, under which there are many subcategories. You may have heard some of these terms bandied about: polyphenols, sterols, flavones, catechins … the list goes on. The bottom line is that we (vis a vis SCIENCE) are just beginning to grasp the myriad benefits of these plant-derived compounds to the human species. For a good overview of the major categories of such compounds and where they occur, read this.
If you’re planning to sautee multiple veggies for example, say garlic, onions, yellow (summer) squash, swiss chard and cherry tomatoes — don’t throw them in the pan all at once. Think about the nature of each ingredient and how you prefer them cooked. Personally, I would go in the following order, with maybe a minute or so in between:
2. Garlic and onions
Why the tomatoes first? Well, that brings us to one noteable caveat to this advice — again, with the exception of vitamin C content, cooked tomatoes are more nutritious than raw ones. Specifically, a phytochemical called lycopene (also found in watermelon, grapefruit and even asparagus!) can be significantly increased by cooking tomatoes — and this is no small matter, considering that lycopene is the most devestatingly effective singlet oxygen (free radical) quencher known to mankind. Which is to say, it’s one of the best antioxidants available. Which is to say, it can help you become healthier and live longer. Some recent studies even show potent anti-cancer benefits from lycopene.
So the next time you wolf down half a pizza, at least you can rest assured knowing your singlet oxygen free radicals are well quenched.