Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is It Bad to Cook Your Vegetables?

We all know the powerful benefits of regular vegetable consumption. Vegetables of all types are packed with vitamins and minerals, cancer fighting phytonutrients and a good amount of essential dietary fiber. And they are a great way to fill you up without packing on the calories – i.e. great fat loss tool. You may have also heard that certain cooking methods affect the ‘active’ content of nutrients in vegetables. I have been asked before, “You’re a trainer and you cook your vegetables?” What…. Are you kidding me? Cruising the aisles of Whole Foods I have even heard some hardcore raw foods advocates say that cooking vegetables is the equivalent of murder,... “you take the life out of them”. Seriously?, Am I a bad person for torturing vegetables in our Stir Fry pan? But I digress. Me personally, I can handle a good salad with raw vegetables (thanks to the fatty dressing), but you will not find me snacking on good, old raw vegetables like it was a handful of my favorite salted nuts. I definitely like to cook my vegetables, especially stir frying them. So what is the effect of cooking on vegetables and is one cooking method better than others?

There have been many studies on the effect from cooking vegetables. And although there is some reduction in nutrients, especially from boiling and crock potting, the good news is you are not ‘killing’ the value of these foods.

Boiling vegetables or making your favorite soup loaded with vegetables can cause about an average 30-50% reduction in nutrients. For example, boiling broccoli has a 38% reduction in Vitamin C. The longer you boil or ‘crock pot’ the vegetable the higher the percentage loss. And the more you reheat these vegetables the more the percentage loss. I suppose if you make a good vegetable soup and let it sit for hours on the stove top (I wonder if my wife is reading this… she makes a ‘mean’ soup) you could potentially kill all the nutrients in the vegetables. I think the bottom line is to try and not boil your vegetables, and if you are going to make a soup try to consume it near its completion and not allow it to sit for hours.

Steaming and quick stir frying with a moderate amount of oil were shown to be the best choices. Steaming retains about 90 to 100% of the nutrients. Stir frying retains about 80 to 95% of the nutrients. Baking retains about 60 to 75% of the nutrients. Sautéing, which typically uses more oil than stir frying, retains about 60 to 75% of nutrients.

So yes there is some reduction in nutrients when cooking vegetables. But I look at all this cooking stuff in a different way, kind of the same way that I have always looked at everything related to good health and wellness choices. Consistency is king… Not perfection! If cooking your vegetables makes you enjoy them that much more and if cooking allows you to make them part of your diet more often - then do it. If adding a little bit of oil and spices and stir frying works better for you – then go for it. Yes, you might not want to consider the vegetables in a soup the best way to get them, but that doesn’t mean it is a horrible food choice.

So go ahead, torture those little guys. You are going to eat them anyways!

What is a Greens Supplement and Why Should You be Taking One?

I have to admit something… A couple of years ago I started talking to all of you about a supplement/nutraceutical company that a very close friend of mine started. What I have to admit is that although I was very proud of the three products he had formulated (a Joint formula, Multi-vitamin-mineral-omega pack and a Phytonutrient Greens formula) I really didn’t stick with the Greens product. My friend Travis convinced me of its benefits, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I have stuck with his multi-vitamin-mineral-omega daily pack, but I just let the Phytonutrient Greens sit in our fridge. Only recently have I been researching the explosion of Greens products in health food stores and their proposed benefits.

The bottom line is this: Although I eat a pretty good diet and take a high quality mulit-vitamin-mineral-omega (fish oil) I still don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables. As a matter of fact, I work hard to keep my sugar content down to stay lean and that naturally limits my fruit intake. Nevertheless, what I am missing is a huge array of phytonutrients (nutrients beyond vitamins and minerals found in food) that nutrition scientists are just starting to learn about. The main benefit of these phytonutrients is their ORAC value. ORAC value is the National Institute of Health’s way of measuring a particular foods ability to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals within our body, which increase with age and within the conditions we live (pollution, toxins, etc..), cause oxidative damage and can contribute to cancer, age related degeneration and other diseases. Some high ORAC valued foods are blueberries, spices like cinnamon and pecans. Although I will continue to try and get high ORAC valued foods in my diet I am going to get back with the Greens formula (DC Greens) my friend Travis formulated. There are also plenty of other great Greens powders sold at stores like Henry’s and Whole Foods. Some of the ingredients in the DC Greens formulation are carrot juice, blueberry leaf, spirulina, red wine extract… I simply mix the powder in water and drink. My wife says she is not very fond of the taste, while I love how it tastes…..you say, “Tomahto” and I say, “Tomato”… Again you can try many different brands out there, hopefully you get it right on the first try. Pretty much most of what is sold at Whole Foods is a good product. And yes I highly recommend that you all work to try and get your disease fighting foods up (fruits, vegetables and nuts), yet I now recommend using a Greens formula as an insurance policy for high ORAC valued foods.

I do carry the DC Greens product at the gym so you can ask me about it. I do this because for one I think Travis made a great product (www.DCnutra.com ), and secondly it creates a level of convenience for my clients. But again there are plenty of other good brands out there. One other high quality brand is NanoGreens by Biopharma Scientific (www.biopharmasci.com) I think it is a no brainer now that we should all be taking one. Better late than never!