9 Ways To Preserve Vitamins and Nutrients While Cooking

9 Ways To Preserve Vitamins and Nutrients While Cooking

When we cook with ingredients rich in the vitamins and nutrients that support our bodies, we may feel like giving ourselves a pat on the back. After all, the most effective way to consume vitamins is through our diet, and cooking with fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-packed ingredients is a great way to do exactly that. 

But did you know that the way we prepare our meals may be causing us to lose out on key nutrients? It’s true - and that’s why when it comes to cooking vegetables and fruit, we need to stay aware of which cooking methods maximize our nutritional intake and which methods result in vitamin loss.

Vitamins are sensitive to heat, air and water, which means they can get destroyed while being cooked. However, we can minimize their exposure to these forces by storing food properly and heating them differently.

So if you’re ready to maximize the amount of nutrition you’re getting from your diet, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled a list of 9 ways you can reduce vitamin loss and enhance the nutritional value of your meals.

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1. Cook with fresh, local produce

Vitamins are sensitive to air, which means the longer our fruits and vegetables sit out, the more vitamins and nutrients they’re going to lose. That’s why it’s important to use fresh ingredients picked straight from the ground to ensure maximum vitamin intake. We can obtain fresh fruits and vegetables by going to local farmers markets or growing them ourselves.

2. Store fruits and vegetables properly

If we aren’t planning on using our produce right away, that doesn’t mean we should just leave our fruits and veggies sitting out on countertops, exposed to the air. A much better option is to freeze them. In fact, in a study testing the vitamin retention of eight fruits and vegetables, it was concluded that the vitamin content of the frozen commodities was often comparable to and occasionally higher than that of their fresh counterparts.

This means that not only are frozen vegetables just as good as fresh veggies, they can actually offer even more nutrients and enhance the healthiness of our meals.

3. Eat fruits and vegetables raw

Because vitamins are sensitive to heat and can become destroyed when cooked, it’s best to eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible.

In fact, one study found that an intake of raw fruits and vegetables is associated with better mental health when compared with the intake of processed fruits and vegetables. This showcases just how effective eating uncooked ingredients can be in providing us with the nutrients that support our bodies and minds.

4. Do not remove skins

Studies have shown that fruit and vegetable skins are highly rich in valuable bioactive compounds such as carotenoids, enzymes, polyphenols, oils, vitamins and many other compounds. This means that when we remove the skins from our produce, we’re missing out on all of these valuable nutrients.

That’s why we should resist peeling our fruits and veggies whenever possible to ensure we’re getting the highest intake of vitamins that we can.

However, if removing skins is an important step in whichever recipe we’re following, we can always save the peels and use them for soups, compost, or even veggie face masks. This way, we aren’t letting their supply of valuable nutrients go to waste.

5. Cut fruits and vegetables into large pieces

The vitamins in fruits and vegetables are sensitive to air and heat, which means we want to reduce their surface area as much as possible. 

We can do this by cutting our fruits and veggies into larger pieces as opposed to smaller chunks. The large pieces will be better able to retain nutrients as they cook, meaning we’ll be able to intake more nutrients as we eat.

However, if the recipe specifically calls for smaller pieces, we can always chop any fruits and vegetables up after they’ve been cooked to follow the recipe while maximizing its nutritional value.

6. Steam ingredients instead of boiling

One study tested the effects of different cooking methods on vitamins and nutritional quality in food, and found that boiling significantly decreased the amount of important nutrients. Meanwhile, a study from the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science found that steaming is one of the best methods in preserving the nutritional quality of vegetables.

But why do steaming and boiling have such different effects on our fruits and vegetables? It’s because when we boil these foods, they’re fully covered in water. Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) dissolve in water, which means they’re stripped from our ingredients and absorbed by the water in which they’re boiling.

That’s why steaming is more effective than boiling. When we steam our ingredients, they don’t come into direct contact with water, and are able to retain more of the important nutrients that keep our bodies healthy.

7. Use the microwave

It may sound surprising, but microwave cooking is one of the best ways to minimize nutrient loss.  With the utilization of low-power techniques, studies showed equal or better retention of nutrients for microwaved foods when compared with conventional, reheated foods. 

So if you want to try  steaming your veggies in the microwave, just add just a few tablespoons of water, pop them in, and wait a couple of minutes. You’ll have steamed veggies that are rich in vitamins and nutrients in no time at all. 

8. Don’t overcook

We know that heat significantly reduces the amount of vitamins in our fruits and vegetables, so it should come as no surprise that longer cooking times play a role in higher nutrient loss. 

One study explains that heat-sensitive vitamins are particularly known to lose nutrients from being overcooked, especially vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant our bodies need to protect cells against free radicals.

That's why to avoid vitamin loss and maintain vitamin C content, it’s best to avoid cooking fruits and vegetables at high heat to make an extra effort in preserving nutrients.

9. Conserve water that ingredients are cooked in

Although boiling fruits and vegetables in large amounts of water causes a great deal of vitamin loss, there are some recipes where we can simply not avoid this method of cooking. 

If you’re making a dish that requires boiling, consider saving the water that the ingredients were cooked in for future use. Because the leftover water is now filled with the vitamins and minerals your fruits and vegetables were stripped of, it could be used to make a healthy soup or stew.

Final thoughts

It’s great to incorporate fruits and vegetables into our diet as much as possible, but we need to make sure we’re doing so in a way that offers maximum health benefits. 

By following some of the tips we’ve mentioned here, you can enhance the nutritional content of your meals and reap the benefits of intaking more vitamins.

Trusted sources

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  2. Brookie, K. L., Best, G. I., & Conner, T. S. (2018). Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 487. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00487
  3. Kumar, H., Bhardwaj, K., Sharma, R., Nepovimova, E., Kuča, K., Dhanjal, D. S., Verma, R., Bhardwaj, P., Sharma, S., & Kumar, D. (2020). Fruit and Vegetable Peels: Utilization of High Value Horticultural Waste in Novel Industrial Applications. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(12), 2812. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25122812
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  7. Hoffman CJ, Zabik ME. Effects of microwave cooking/reheating on nutrients and food systems: a review of recent studies. J Am Diet Assoc. 1985 Aug;85(8):922-6. PMID: 3894486.
  8. Rumm-Kreuter D, Demmel I. Comparison of vitamin losses in vegetables due to various cooking methods. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1990;36 Suppl 1:S7-14; discussion S14-5. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.36.4-supplementi_s7. PMID: 2081989.
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