Vegetables are loaded with lots of vitamins and minerals. They also serve as a source of other nutrients such as fibres and phytochemicals. Because of their delicate nature and the nature of the vitamins contained in them, most nutrients in vegetables are easily lost. This loss occurs mostly during the pre-cooking and cooking operations such as, washing, cutting, boiling, blanching, etc. To begin with, let’s examine the types or classes of vitamins that we have;
- Water-soluble vitamins; These are vitamins that can leach out or dissolve in water. They include the B vitamins (B1- thiamine, B2- riboflavin, B3- niacin, B5- pantothenic acid, B6– pyridoxine, B7– biotin, B9– folic acid, B12- cobalamine) and vitamin C. The B-vitamins are found in a variety of foods such as cereal grains, egg, poultry, milk, fish and fresh vegetables. Oranges and other citrus fruits are good sources of vitamin C.
- Fat-soluble vitamins; These are vitamins that can leach out or dissolve in fat or oil. They include vitamins A (retinol), D (calciferol), E (tocopherol) and K (phylloquinone and menaquinone).
Water-soluble vitamins are the most unstable nutrients as they are easily destroyed or leached out during food storage or preparation. On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins are more stable and they fare better during cooking.
While all cooking methods alter the nutrient composition of vegetables, some destroy particular nutrients completely while some only reduce them a little. When it comes to nutrient loss during cooking, water is the greatest enemy. You see your water turn greenish after washing or blanching your green vegetables, that’s a sign that the water-soluble vitamins have leached into the water only to be poured down the drain. Let’s see how we can get the best out of our vegetables.
- Wash before side reduction.
Wash your vegetables before cutting, slicing or chopping. This is to minimize the leaching of water-soluble vitamins into the washing water. Even leafy vegetables should be washed before slicing.
- Cut vegetables moderately.
Vegetables, especially the leafy ones, should be cut into large chunks to reduce surface area. Too tiny cuts allow for easy loss of nutrients during preparation and storage.
- Use little or no water.
Cook or blanch your vegetables with as little water as possible for a minimal amount of time. You can even steam-blanch i.e using steam instead of water for vegetable blanching. If you use hot water for vegetable blanching, ensure that the blanching water is used to cook your soup.
- Choose steaming instead of boiling.
Boiling vegetables can further diminish the water-soluble vitamins present in them, especially when you boil them for a long time. Instead of boiling, you can simply steam your vegetables for a short period.
Proper storage and preparation of vegetables can reduce vitamin loss. To minimize vitamin loss, always refrigerate fresh vegetables if you’re not going to use them right away. Even with that, they should not stay too long in the refrigerator because their nutritional value decreases as the storage period increases. Although vegetables are very beneficial to our health, but, in order to reap their maximum nutritional benefits, you need to cook them right.