5 Ways to Enjoy Your Greens (Without Cooking Out the Nutrients)
These are my 5 favorite ways to prepare greens without cooking the vegetables to death. The most popular way of eating vegetables is canned, which are almost always boiled or microwaved (eek!). When we boil foods, many of the nutrients are leached into the water, while the vegetables are virtually dead.
Now, there is bound to be nutrient loss in vegetables no matter how you prepare them. As soon as you pick a vegetable off the vine, it starts slowly deteriorating. This is one reason why I advocate trying growing some vegetables at home, or to choose local farmers, to get the highest nutrition quality possible.
Blending, steaming, baking, dehydrating – all methods will result in some nutrient loss. We can’t avoid that. Some 100% raw foodists have said that if you don’t cook your food, you will receive 100% of the nutrients — but this just isn’t true. That being said, here are my favorite ways of preparing greens for the maximum nutrient intake possible.
1. Green Smoothie
I bet you knew this was coming. I have longed advocated the benefits of the green smoothie. True, our ancestors would not have consumed vegetables in this state; however, they are still raw and even more digestible in smoothie form. In order to receive the nutrients from vegetables, we have to break open their fibrous cell walls through chewing, to release the nutrients for absorption. Chewing isn’t always that great at doing this, especially for today’s culture who is always on the go.
Blending helps break open these cell walls so that you can receive the maximum nutrient absorption possible. The fruits and vegetables are still considered raw, even if you have to blend for 30-60 seconds to break everything down into a smooth drink. You can also juice your vegetables; however, this removes the vitamins from the fiber, which our bodies need, making it not a completely natural way to consume vegetation (at least in my mind). Read more about my take on juicing here.
If you still want raw vegetables, but you don’t want to cook them, then why don’t dehydrate them? This may result in a little more nutrient loss than blending or juicing, as you are exposing the vegetables to high temperatures. I still love dehydrating kale out in the summer sun for raw kale chips.
You can use a dehydrator to make softer carrots, spinach or tomatoes, to resemble their cooked counterparts. I don’t dehydrate often, but I can say from a nutrition standpoint that it is one step lower than vegetables in their natural, raw state, and one step higher than their cooked state.
Steaming is perfect for vegetables like green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. These foods may contain goitrogens, compounds that interfere with thyroid function (which can interfere with metabolism), and the only way of removing them is through cooking. Steaming cooks these vegetables through steam produced when boiling water.
Unlike boiling the vegetables in water, which can leech the nutrients from the food into the water, you are cooking the vegetables by retaining more of their nutrient content. Folic acid and vitamin C seem to be the most affected nutrients during cooking, and a 2007 study showed that steaming only reduces the nutrients by 15% and 15% (respectively), compared to boiling which reduces the nutrients by 25-35% (respectively). 
What is interested that I have discovered is that some vegetable’s vitamin A content increases through steaming and cooking, especially carrots. Compare the two nutrient labels (setting them both to 100 grams) to compare raw vs. cooked carrots. Cooking also seems to make this vitamin more bioavailable, making an argument to the raw food diet. Despite this, cooking degrades most of the other nutrients (vitamin C is oxidized during prolonged cooking), making raw the best choice at leas 85-90% of the time.
4. Sneaking Greens into Baked Items
This one is lower on the list, simply because I do not cook much of my vegetables, especially in the oven. Although, if I was wanting a picky eater to consume more vegetables without having that eater know that they are eating vegetables, I would bake it into a recipe. Meatloaf is a popular choice, as the meat (hopefully grass-fed and organic) and the sauce helps to disguise some of the flavor of the vegetable. Spinach is a popular choice for “sneaking” into meatloaf, as it has a mild flavor that actually enhances the flavor of the recipe.
When you are baking vegetables in something like meatloaf or grain-free breads or cakes, you are not directly exposing it to high temperatures like you would be if you were frying or boiling. I think it may be a step down from steaming; however, if this is the only way you can get a child (or adult) to eat more vegetables, this will still provide absorbable nutrients. Raw is best, but you can always work up to that by starting somewhere.
Stir-frying is a great way to have a meal full of vegetables. Although cooked, you are not leeching the vitamins out of the vegetables into discarded water. Instead, you are stir-frying everything together and eating it as is. True, you will lose a significant amount more of nutrients than you would in the above 3 methods, but, it’s still an enjoyable way to consume many different vegetables in one meal. I often like to stir-fry in organic vegetable, chicken or beef broth, and let that cook down, as oil and other fats can get quite hot. Too high temperatures from the heated oils results in greater nutrient loss. If you decide to use oil, choose organic coconut oil or palm shortening (trans-fat free).
Remember that many of the vitamins in vegetables, like vitamins A, E and K are fat soluble. This means you should add a little organic butter, olive oil or coconut oil to your vegetables to help increase the absorption rate of these beautifying, anti-aging nutrients.
I hope I have given you a few ideas for enjoying your vegetables, or for getting others to eat theirs! The green smoothie is really enjoyable, even by picky eaters, so I suggest starting from there and see how it goes. If you are dealing with children, perhaps growing some food may be helpful, if you have the space. Children tend to eat more vegetables and fruits when they grow it themselves, as it’s super exciting for them to see the “fruits of their labor”. This is also true for adults, too.
I wanted to leave this blog post with a couple of announcements. First, I wanted to give a shout out to Katie at Chocolate Covered Katie for her Vitamix giveaway. Already 12,000+ entries are in, and I suggest that you enter too, if you don’t yet own a Vitamix. They’re fantastic machines that will give you a green smoothie like no other.
Secondly, I want to hear from YOU, either in the comment section, on Facebook, Twitter or through email, if you would like to see more videos from me. Cooking segments, gardening segments, grocery store segments – whatever! I would love to have another way of interacting with you beyond behind a computer screen.
Until next time, this is The Healthy Advocate.