Vitamins or vital molecules are nutrients that are extremely important for our body to function. For a substance to be named in the distinguished list of vitamins it needs to play a valuable role in at least one chemical reaction or process in the body. Vitamins are nutrients which have no calorific value and are required in very small quantities usually micrograms or milligrams.
Vitamins are lost very easily during preparation of food be it washing, chopping etc or while cooking.
Here are some simple ways with which we can try and retain as much vitamins as possible (1)
- When you want to clean thick skinned vegetables and fruits, use a soft brush and water. But do not soak them for long because of water soluble vitamins.
- If the skins of the fruits or vegetables are edible such as carrots or pears, trim as little as possible. The skin acts as a barrier and stops nutrients from being lost. Vitamins are mostly in the out layers not at the center.
- Eat fruits raw. And the vegetable which can be eaten raw do so. But not all vegetables can be eaten raw and need to be cooked.
- Wash before chopping not after. Always chop vegetables into large pieces and not fine unless the recipe demands it. Large pieces will have less surface area exposed to air and water, therefore less chances of losing vitamins.
Ways to cook to retain as much vitamins as possible
- Cook vegetables in as little water as possible. Steaming also retains good amount of nutrients because vegetables do not come in contact with the cooking liquids. In case you have water left after cooking vegetables use that broth for soup or in some other dish to save the vitamins which would have leached out into the liquid.
- Cooking vegetables is necessary but keep the cooking time as short as possible. The longer the cooking time the more vitamins are lost.
- Cook vegetables and fruits in a covered pan. Steam stays in the pan and the cooking time will be less.
- Do not add baking soda to cook vegetables as it causes loss of nutrients.
- Microwave cooking is quick, therefore retention of vitamins is more.
- The cooking methods that were evaluated in a study were blanching, boiling, microwaving and steaming on the content of vitamins in vegetables (2). In case of vitamin C the highest retention was with microwave cooking and lowest with boiling. In case of fat-soluble vitamins cooked vegetables occasionally retained higher content of fat-soluble vitamins, including α-tocopherol and β-carotene, than their fresh counterparts. But it depends on the type of vegetables and cooking methods.
- In another study it was demonstrated that steaming had minimal effects on chlorophyll, soluble proteins and sugars, and vitamin C as well as glucosinolates. And stir frying resulted in most losses (3).
We can probably say that steaming and microwaving are better for retaining nutrients compared to boiling and stir frying.
- To retain light sensitive riboflavin keep milk in opaque containers even in the refrigerator.
- Duyff, R.L. (2002) American Dietetic Association: Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Safe Kitchen 274/ Second Edition. Safe kitchen 275. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
- Lee, S., Choi, Y., Jeong, H. S., Lee, J. and Sung, J. (2017). Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food science and biotechnology, 27(2), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049644/
- Yuan, G. F., Sun, B., Yuan, J. and Wang, Q. M. (2009). Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 10(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722699/