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Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 55 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

There is definitely a lot of confusion about how we can get the most nutrients out of our fruits and veggies. I mean, we’re making the effort to consume them so we definitely want to make sure we’re getting all the wonderful vitamins and minerals they have to offer! If you know someone following a “raw-food” type diet, definitely keep reading…

It’s true that some nutrients get lost when they’re heated. But in some cases, heating can actually bring out other nutrients. Let me give you an example…

How Heating Vegetables Can Actually Be a Good Thing

There’s an antioxidant called lycopene that’s found in a number of fruits and vegetables—basically if the flesh or skin is a shade of red, it’s probably got lycopene in it. Tomatoes for example, are full of lycopene. But, what’s interesting is that the form of lycopene in raw tomatoes is not very bioavailable meaning it is difficult for the body to use this form. If we heat the tomatoes and turn into, let’s say, pasta sauce now the lycopene is more easily absorbed and used by the body. This is a good thing because lycopene has been associated with a reduced risk of some forms of cancer.

While that’s all well and good for tomatoes, what about other fruits and veggies? Sadly, it’s difficult to say which method is truly best for ALL forms of produce, but in general light and oxygen tend to be produce’s worst enemies. Microwaving, however, is effective for nutrient preservation. The trick is to be sure your vegetables are heated with water. For example, adding ¼ cup of water to your frozen vegetables when heating them in the microwave can still preserve many of the nutrients. The vitamins that are typically lost when microwaving are vitamin C, thiamin (B-1) and folic acid. Vitamin C is a wonderful antioxidant and helps keep our immune systems healthy. Thiamin (B-1) has a number of important functions in the body – too many to list here. And, folic acid is important for protecting your DNA and for the health of your gut.

Even after the vegetables have been cooked, don’t throw out that water. Instead, use it to flavor some of your other dishes or make a soup out of it. This is because any nutrients lost during the heating process get submerged in the water. So, if you end up consuming that water you will still get those nutrients!

If you don’t like the idea of microwaving, steaming, stir-frying and boiling are also good alternatives. In fact, steaming leafy greens can make their vitamins and minerals more absorbable, too. I realize that steamed vegetables may bring up images of hospital or cafeteria food, but that’s only because those places didn’t get creative with their cooking methods. For example, instead of using water as the source of steam, use vegetable, chicken or beef stock. This will help bring in some extra flavor. Don’t forget, you are allowed to season after your vegetables are done cooking, too! One of my favorites is to give them a little drizzle of olive oil and a generous dusting of dried Italian herbs on top.

How Light Affects Food

I mentioned light causing damage a minute ago. Like heat, light can either degrade some of the nutrients or make them more available to the body. Spinach actually likes light! So, when you’re at the supermarket, go ahead and choose the spinach that’s getting the most light from those fluorescent bulbs. Why would light, especially white light, be beneficial? Remember from grade school science class the term, “photosynthesis”? It basically refers to the process of light helping plants create more nutrients. Same thing happens even with artificial white light. So, if we choose those greens that have been sitting under those lights, we get the benefit of that extra photosynthesis and those wonderful, health promoting nutrients! If you want even MORE nutrients when choosing spinach, buy the baby spinach varieties. Older, more mature spinach has fewer nutrients when compared to younger leaves. Same for microgreens.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 55 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.