Eating your veggies is vital to your overall nutrition. They provide vitamins and minerals, like folic acid, fiber and potassium. They're low in calories and have absolutely no cholesterol. By eating them, you're giving your body the tools it needs to maintain a healthy blood pressure and heart. With so many different ways to prep them, is there a wrong way? Not necessarily, but there is a best way.
Go raw. Any time you can eat your veggies raw, go for it. Crunchy carrots and broccoli, cold cucumbers and zucchini, bell peppers, celery and more. When you add heat, the nutrients begin to "cook off." Many times, they are cooked with a marinade or other juices that overpower the structure, making them too soft. Try dipping them in a light vinaigrette to help with the taste. Make sure you wash and scrub them well before putting them on your plate. Click here to make your own light balsamic vinaigrette!
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Steam 'em. Even though going raw is always thought of as the healthiest option, research supports the fact that heat actually enhances some of the nutritious benefits. Throw them over a pot of boiling water and cover with a lid to steam. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry published a study that showed the level of antioxidants actually increases with heat. Antioxidants help your body fight disease, even cancer. Take carrots, for example; raw carrots are high in vitamin C, but steamed carrots are higher in beta-carotene and are completely wiped of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.
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Stir it up. Heat a large skillet on high and brown some slices of steak, chicken or pork. Toss in a mix of your favorite veggies, like red bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots and mushroom. Stir it up, cover it and let it go. The meat will cook faster than the veggies in this setup so you know you won't overcook them. The goal is to keep the veggies just crunchy enough to still enjoy, also known as "al dente." If your meat turns out too tough, you need higher heat. Ready to try it? Click here for the Skinny Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry.
Just sauté. Along the same lines as stir-fried veggies, you want to sauté them by cooking them quickly. The French word "sauté" actually translates to "to jump." Slice them up and lay them over high heat, turn and remove. As long as each piece is making direct contact with the bottom of the skillet, you don't need to cook them longer than one to two minutes, total.
Cooking your veggies gives your body an easier time when it comes to digesting them. There's a reason people don't chew on raw potatoes or Brussels sprouts. Softening them will allow them to move through the gastrointestinal tract quicker.
Another option for veggie prep includes roasting, which is absolutely delicious. You want to know why? Some of the starch in the veggies turns into sugar when heated. That's the sweet truth. Roasted veggies are usually drizzled in a light oil or butter and seasoned to taste. The oil and heat provide a moisture that makes the outside crispy and the inside perfectly soft. Make sure you roast your veggies with limited oils and time to keep the fullest integrity of the produce.
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Parallel to the dry method of roasting is boiling. Immersing the veggies into a boiling pot of water will cook off a lot of the water-soluble nutrients, like B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and and folic acid. Those nutrients end up floating around in the water. Whoops. However, you can reclaim them if you're creating a soup or veggie broth to use in the same recipe or store for later.
If you're grilling veggies through foil or on a kabob, same idea. Try to reduce the time spent over heat and maintain the crunch factor. However you decide to cook your veggies, you really can't go wrong. Fill your plate with a variety of raw, steamed, stirred, roasted and grilled veggies throughout the week, and you can't lose!