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Preventing Nutrient Loss During Cooking

Wednesday, December 02, 2009
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Cooking is not only a culinary art but also a source of nutrition, taste and good health.

Though we all try to eat healthy and cook healthy, we often overlook or forget that all foods must be had as freshly and with as little handling as possible to retain their maximum benefits. Becoming aware of what happens to the food when it is over-handled, will enable you to adjust how you prepare your food and how best to retain its nutrients.
  • The most easily destroyed nutrients are the water soluble ones. E.g. Vitamin B complex and C are lost by exposure to excess water, air, heat, and light.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins on the other hand e.g. A, D, E, and K are more stable. Cooking in acid media has a protective effect against vitamins.
  • Proteins are not lost much in daily cooking. They may get denatured if overcooked.
  • Minerals leach out from boiled legumes but their loss is lesser then vitamins.

Amongst the various cooking methods, microwave and pressure cooking are usually best at preserving nutrients in vegetables because food cooks faster and requires no added water. There is little nutritional loss when reheating leftovers or cooking frozen foods in the microwave.

Whichever cooking method is chosen, some care is necessary.

DO'S AND DON'TS FOR RETENTION OF NUTRIENTS

  1. When peeling the skin of vegetables do peel as thinly as possible.
  2. The nutrients in vegetables and fruits are concentrated just below the skin, so peeling before boiling increases the loss of Vitamin C, Folic Acid and other B vitamins. The peels of carrot, radish, gourd and ginger can be scraped instead of peeling. Peel only when absolutely necessary.
  3. Do not cut vegetables into very small cubes as each small part comes in contact with oxygen, destroying vitamins.
  4. Do not soak vegetables in water to prevent discoloration. Almost 40 %  of the water soluble vitamins and minerals are lost in the soaking water. If you must soak, use up the soaking water to knead dough, prepare soups and gravies.                                                                                               
  5. Root vegetables should be boiled with skins on and then peeled after boiling. This helps the nutrients to migrate to the center of the vegetables, helping better retention of its nutrients. Do eat with skin on whenever possible.
  6. Certain amount of minerals and vitamins are lost even during preliminary washing before cooking. Washing may remove as much as 40% of the thiamine and nicotinic acid. Thats why it is preferable to wash rice with minimum amount of water.
  7. Salads should be prepared just before serving and should be served in closed dishes to avoid excessive exposure to air.
  8. Do not throw away the excess water drained after boiling rice or vegetables. When preparing cottage cheese, the water left over after curdling is called whey. It is extremely rich in good quality proteins and vitamins and should be used up in preparing gravies, kneading dough or simply had as a refreshing drink after flavoring with lemon juice and salt and pepper.
  9. Do not keep milk open or exposed to light, as considerable destruction of riboflavin can occur.
  10. Baking soda makes cooking water alkaline and thus helps retain the color of vegetables as well as speed up the cooking process, BUT  it destroys thiamin and vitamin C.
  11. Cooked vegetables when exposed to the atmosphere before serving may also result in loss of vitamin C. It is preferable to cook vegetables in minimum amount of water keeping the vessel covered and to consume it as soon as possible. Reheating cooked vegetables further destroys vitamins.
 Such extra care can save precious nutrients. Instead of cooking only for taste and relish, we should try to get the most from our food.

By Ms. Janki Patel
Dietitian, www.NutritionVista.com

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User Comments

14 July, 2011 | Katey | Reply

Katey Hi.Can you pls help me to know how long after cooking must we eat cooked vegetables before they lose nutrative value. In terms of nutrative value what is the maximum time that they can be kept & still eaten. TQVM

15 July, 2011 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar
Hello Katey,
It’s very difficult to put a number or percentage of loss in the nutritive value of vegetables while or after cooking or storing post cooking as there are too many parameters at play. For example it depends on various issues like
1. How fresh was the vegetable before cooking.
2. How and to what size the vegetable is cut.
3. What cooking method is employed and length of cooking etc
4. What was the method of storing and for how long?
At best we can say that it should be consumed as soon as possible be it harvesting, storing, cooking or stored post cooking. Adopt practical methods to ensure vegetables are eaten as healthy as possible and overcooking of vegetables leaches out all nutrition.
In the case of some vegetables, cooking can actually increase the variety of nutrients that get released inside our digestive tract. Eg onion & garlic
Kindly refer to our article on some hints to Good practices-http://www.nutritionvista.com/NutritionBuzz/10-best-tips-on-cooking-the-right-way-to-retain-nutrition-freshness,266.aspx?pId=1

26 January, 2011 | sham | Reply

sham hallo friends, i would like to know is it correct white basmati rice is ok to eat as whole foods....even though husk is not there for good health.
i wonder how can basmati can be good it is like white starch..

could any boda explain ..

thank you

13 December, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar Vegetables should be cooked covered to retain maximum nutrients, however the first few minutes it should be uncovered to let volatile gases out and then it should be covered.
They should be cooked till just done to retain the crispness, unique taste and nutrition. Overcooking kills taste, texture and most important loses maximum nutrition.
Children shoule be taught to appreciate flavours and taste of vegetables from the begining so that they acquire taste ane enjoy eating them.

19 October, 2010 | Geeta Singh | Reply

Geeta Singh I would like to know whether toasted bread has the same nutrition value as is of untoasted bread?

15 December, 2010 | Poonam | Reply

Poonam Hello Geeta,
On a gram by gram basis, toasted bread has more concentrated nutrients than untoasted bread. eg: 25 gms of toasted bread contains 78 calories as compared to 66 calories in 25 gms of untoasted bread.
There is loss of moisture while toasting and the starch gets converted into dextrins- which is similar to digesting the food in the body. This makes it lighter on the digestive system.

10 July, 2010 | Shailesh Raghevendra | Reply

Shailesh Raghevendra When we were in Gujarat my wife learnt to make Dokhlas, as my kids like it a lot. Unlike the idlis we make in South India, it is made almost instantly using soda with besan.Is it a healthy dish? DO you recommend we eat it regularly as you have said use of soda leads to loss of some nutrients.

12 July, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy Dear Shailesh,

The variation for the regular dhokla is to make it by soaking channa dal and tuvar dal and grinding it to Idly batter consistency and let it ferment for two or three hours. Once fermented add curds and set aside for sometime,to this you can add green leafy vegetables, carrot, capsicum etc and steam cook it. Also, the same thing can be done with idly batter too to get a healthy snack.

Thank you for your query,

Regards,
Sangeetha Narayana Swamy,
Senior Dietitian,
NutritionVista.com

04 June, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain Hi,
As aptly written in article, it is preferable to wash rice with minimum amount of water. Apart from that we can utilize the water used for soaking rice for cooking it too, to prevent loss of water soluble vitamins.

Kanika Jain
Dietitian
NutritionVista

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