You are what you eat, so the saying goes. But did you know how you prepare what you eat can make your food more — or less — nutritious?
In fact, many health-conscious Americans who are making the effort to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, probiotics, and other healthy foods are making critical mistakes in the way they cook them.
Too often we boil, steam, or fry vegetables in oils that cut their nutritional value, explains Robert Newman, a certified nutritionist and wellness expert from East Northport, N.Y. And even something as simple as cutting certain vegetables can reduce their vitamin and mineral content.
“Broccoli and all cruciferous vegetables including kale, Swiss chard, escarole, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and others should be lightly steamed to release the healthy phytonutrients,” Newman tells Newsmax Health.
“Tomatoes will have greater amounts of [cancer-fighting] lycopene when cooked compared to eating them raw and cold. But, of course, there are no ill effects from eating cold tomatoes.”
Here are six nutritious foods that should be prepared, cooked, and eaten in specific ways to maximize their nutritional punch, based on comments from Newman, various food studies, and Health.com.
Strawberries: These sweet and juicy fruits are a summer picnic staple — and are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C. But slicing berries exposes certain nutrients — such as vitamin C — to oxygen, which saps them of their health value.
Tip: Eat berries whole, or wait until the last minute to cut them. And here’s a surprise: flash-frozen berries may be better than sliced, because the process locks in their fresh-from-the-farm nutrients.
Garlic: While cutting or mashing many fruits and vegetables reduces their nutritional value, the opposite is true with garlic. This pungent Italian food favorite contains an anti-cancer enzyme known as allicin that becomes activated when exposed to oxygen.
Tip: Cut, chop, or crush garlic — then let it sit for 10-15 minutes before adding it to food — to boost the health benefits of allicin.
Greek yogurt: You’ve probably noticed Greek yogurt usually has a liquid that collects at the top of the container. You’ve also probably poured it down the sink. But you shouldn’t. That watery stuff is whey, and it’s packed with protein, vitamins D and B12, calcium, and phosphorus.
Tip: Stir the watery whey into the yogurt to boost its health profile. Also: Yogurt is best eaten cold; cooking it kills the live healthy bacterial cultures (probiotics) that are good for the gut and have even been found to reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Broccoli: This cruciferous veggie is packed with anti-cancer compounds, vitamin C, chlorophyll, and beneficial antioxidants. But boiling, stir-frying, or sautéing broccoli can cut those nutrients dramatically.
Tip: Eat broccoli raw or lightly steam it to get the biggest nutritional bang for your broccoli buck.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a healthy source of lycopene — a phytonutrient that has been found in clinical studies to combat prostate cancer and boost heart health. But, unlike broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes offer greater health benefits when cooked, which increases and concentrates their lycopene content.
Tip: Eating raw, fresh tomatoes in salads and other foods is still a healthy option, but to kick up the nutritional value of the fruit — yes, tomato is a fruit — cook into pasta sauce, with your favorite fish or chicken dish, or try adding it to soups or omelets.
Grilled meats: No summer barbecue would be complete without hamburgers, steak, and other meats cooked over an open flame. But grilling meat at high temperatures — to the point that it becomes charred — increases the production of cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Tip: You’re better off cooking meat slowly on the grill, taking care not to burn it, and keeping flames from touching it directly. You should also be aware that undercooking meat can allow E. coli, salmonella, and other foodborne bacteria to survive the grill and make you and your fellow diners sick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using a food thermometer that shows that meats are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to avoid food poisoning.