How to cook your vitamins

We all are aware that fruits and vegetables should be an important part of our diet. Most of us try to ingest as much as possible. Yet we don’t see positive results, we don’t seem to be really getting all the nutrients from the food. This may be because of many reasons – the food is not fresh, and hence has lost most of the nutrients; we lack knowledge about how a particular vegetable should be cooked, so that we can absorb most of the nutrients;  Should the vegetable be eaten raw or cooked? Most of the time, we lose a lot of vitamins during the process of preparing, storing and cooking food.

First of all it is necessary to know our vitamins. For instance, we all know that tomatoes, red capsicums, spinach are rich in vitamin C. So we cook them and eat them, thinking we have had a very nutritious diet. But the truth is that vitamin C is water soluble and when we cook it, it leaches out into the water, and if you don’t drink the water or use it in a soup, you didn’t really get vitamin C from the food you ate. So its best to eat them raw or steamed. But wait a minute, there is something called Lycopene in tomatoes, that is not available all that much in raw tomatoes. Lycopene increases as the tomatoes are cooked more and more. Also, when eaten with oil, it increases lycopene absorption by the body. Spinach has quite a good amount of calcium. But it also has oxalic acid which can interfere with the absorption of calcium by the body. Since spinach offers a lot nutritionally, you cannot stop eating spinach. The answer is to eat yogurt to get calcium and spinach to get all the other nutrients like vitamin C, Iron and vitamin A.

The secret here is to know your vitamins and minerals, and how to cook them. There are water soluble vitamins and fat soluble vitamins. We can avoid specific types of vitamin loss, by cooking them right. Vitamins A, E, D and K are fat soluble vitamins, therefore the food has to contain some fat, to be a good source of one of these vitamins, and to get the most from them. In general, fat soluble vitamins are fairly well retained while preparing food, largely because they don’t dissolve in water. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. They are used by the body as required and eliminated more slowly than water-soluble vitamins. So an overdose of these vitamins could lead to toxic results.

Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body and as such have to be replenished every day. The water soluble vitamins are the B vitamins, vitamin C and folates. These vitamins are also easily excreted by the kidneys. Water soluble vitamins readily dissolve into the water used in cooking. This is one reason why you should cook with just enough water or use the liquid from cooking to make soups. Heat is another problem for many water soluble vitamins.

Following these tips will help cut down the nutrient losses from foods while preparing and storing food.

Use fresh fruits and vegetables, as soon as possible after purchase, as nutrients get destroyed with the passage of time. Avoid soaking vegetables in water for long periods of time. Keep the skin intact whenever possible, as in some vegetables and fruits the nutrients are often just below the skin. Do not wash the vegetable after cutting it and try to cut it into larger pieces as there is less loss of nutrition. Vitamin C also evaporates into air, hence keep juices covered tightly in the fridge. Riboflavin is destroyed by exposure to light, hence keep food with riboflavin, covered and in the fridge as soon as possible. Serve cooked vegetables immediately, as it starts losing nutrition after 24 hours in the fridge.

Where cooking vegetables is concerned, it is better to steam vegetables than to boil them. Don’t cook for long and avoid high temperatures. To avoid stickiness in food like pastas, adding some oil is a better alternative than to rinse them, as some vitamins will also be washed off. The key is to cook vegetables gently, without a great deal of water. This will help protect the water-soluble vitamins. Blanching the vegetables will also help preserve the color and nutrients in the food we eat.