Cooking up some warmth!
Here in Pennsylvania, February brings us to that time of the year when our winter wonderland usually becomes a winter wonder-when-it-will-be-over. At some point, the refreshing feel of crisp, winter air and the novelty of a freshly powdered white landscape wear off and the cold wears us down. Luckily, as with all things, the bad comes with some good, and in this case the good often involves relaxing nights staying in with warm blankets, a cozy fire, and a nice hot meal.
While we enjoy eating raw meals every so often as a nice reminder that whole foods are loaded with scrumptious flavors and satisfying textures in their most natural state, sometimes a home-cooked meal to warm our bellies is just what the winter months call for. In these times, it’s nice to know that there’s an impressive body of evidence that the nutritional profile of several vegetables improves through the process of cooking them. While many vouch for raw food diets by noting that some nutrients will degrade when you cook your vegetables, it is also true that steaming or boiling your plants helps break down their thick cell walls, which can make other nutrients more accessible and more readily absorbed during digestion.
For those of you who need to see some facts before you can take our word for it, here’s what the findings suggest.
The Pros of Cooking:
Call out the antioxidants! Cooking tomatoes for a half hour at slightly under 200°F can boost the amount of the antioxidant lycopene available by 35 percent.
Cooking increases the levels of carotenoids, another class of antioxidants, particularly found in colorful vegetables such as carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage zucchini and broccoli.
Some studies suggest that cooking foods, especially starches, gives your body more energy for a given serving than eating raw; this is in addition to the fact that cooking usually makes a food easier to digest, so that you can also eat more of it!
The Cons of Cooking:
Now you “C” me, now you don’t… Tomatoes cooked for a half hour at slightly under 200°F decreased their amount of vitamin C by about 30 percent. (The consolation to this is that in a diet with plenty of fruits and veggies, vitamin C is easy to come by.)
Cooking has been found to denature some enzymes in the food that are health-promoting for our bodies.
While it’s good to keep some of these findings in mind, it’s more important not to get hung up on trying to keep tabs on individual nutrients – that’s a hopeless and unnecessary task. You’ll never need to monitor your ratio of beta carotene to vitamin C, nor stick a meat thermometer in your zucchini to make sure you’re cooking it at just the right temperature to maximize its lycopene value. Rather, here’s a list of foods that we encourage you to cook up from time to time, in order to take advantage of that little extra nutritional punch that cooking provides them.
Leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, etc.)
In general, if it’s a leafy green, if it’s brightly colored, or if it’s too tough to eat easily without cooking (like zucchini or asparagus), then you can bet there’s some good to be had by cooking it. And on the flip side of the coin, there are indeed benefits from eating raw from time to time as well! As long as it’s plant-strong, you really can’t go wrong! The bottom line is, as always, eat a wide variety of plant-based foods in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors and preparations. Mixing it up not only keeps life vibrant, but gives your body access to the full spectrum of plant power.
Keep warm and cook up some love,
-The College Greens
P.S. – Here are a few ‘stay-warm’ soup recipes to help you get started!