Many of my patients struggle to get in the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables a day. They tell me that “fresh produce is too expensive to buy” or “I don’t like the taste of raw veggies”. I review with them that some vegetables are actually healthier if they are heated up! The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reported that cooking various vegetables (specifically steaming them for 3-5 minutes) can actually increase their cancer-fighting compounds!

Naturally occurring disease fighting chemicals in plants are called phytochemicals. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain a popular phytochemical called sulforaphane; this compound has been shown to have strong cancer-fighting ability in lab studies. But, in order for sulforaphane to form, the enzyme myrosinase found in broccoli is needed. Unfortunately, boiling and microwave cooking tend to destroy much of the myrosinase and researchers concluded that steaming these veggies is the best way to retain myrosinase and help the phytochemicals form. Steamed broccoli may even be healthier than eating it fresh.

There are other vegetables that can be manipulated to best retain and allow us to absorb their disease-fighting chemicals. For example, chopping or crushing garlic before cooking can allow its phytochemical called allicin to form. Mildly steaming carrots may increase the bioavailability of healthy beta carotene in the vegetable and cooking tomatoes (and other foods containing lycopene) may help our body to best absorb this phytochemical. Finally, boiling produce for long periods of time is not a good cooking method, as many of the water soluble vitamins are leached into the water. So unless you are going to drink the boiled veggie water, I suggest you steam some of these healthy vegetables!

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