Healthy living is in!
But where to start? We have all heard generic statements and words of advice such as “eat more fruit and vegetables” which are nice but lack the specificity that modern consumers need to work on their diet. After all, we can’t just buy more fruits and vegetables and expect that to reduce belly fat in an instant or solve all our dietary problems. There are considerations to be made such as what type of vegetables and how best to prepare them to make sure that the nutritional value we’re aiming for is actually doing its job. Modern consumers require information that is clear and unambiguous. Even though there are no universally accepted conventions regarding which foods are included in health advisories for fruits and vegetables.
Regular people need advice that is clearer and less ambiguous. Advice to “eat more fruit and vegetables” gives consumers no guidance on the quantities involved, which vegetables to eat, and how to prepare them. The Popular advice is to eat “five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.” But not all fruits and vegetables are equal. A bowlful of salad, for example, is needed to make up a portion but an apple or banana on its own will count. A portion of starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes while healthy to consume on its own when boiled or steamed may have a different effect on your diet altogether when fried like french fries or taken in as baked potatoes with all the fixings of sour cream, cheese, and bacon. So it is not just important to eat the right vegetables, it is important to keep in mind their manner of preparation as well. Some may be healthy cooked one way but extremely unhealthy or filled with calories when cooked another.
Government agencies like the FDA and nutrition specialists provide consumers with information on the amounts of fruit and vegetables, bread and cereals, and fish recommended for a healthy or weight loss diet. It set up a subgroup to advise on simple and practical messages on the consumption of these foods. But simply saying which food ingredients are recommended for a healthy diet and not may be enough. (1)
Until recently health advice about fruit and vegetables from government organizations has tended simply to recommend eating “more.” This advice is open to different interpretations concerning which fruit and vegetables are included (does it include potatoes or fruit juice?) and the amounts.
But not all vegetables may be as good for you as you think they may be. So some people may be deluding themselves that they are eating something healthy when in fact, they are not. It depends a lot on the vegetable they are eating, its manner of preparation, and what they are eating with to really experience the healthy effects of vegetables.
No universally accepted convention exists on which foods should be included in health advice on fruit and vegetables. When different definitions are used misleading conclusions can be drawn about current levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, and the interpretation of dietary surveys can be conflicting. (2)
Corn, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and yams
These products tend to contain fewer vitamins and minerals and less fiber than other types of vegetables. Plus, they often contain two to three times as many calories per serving as their non-starchy vegetable counterparts. One recent study from Harvard University found that eating leafy green vegetables resulted in significantly more weight loss than potatoes, peas, and corn. “These leafy greens are best eaten earlier in the day as they’re higher in carbohydrates,” says Roger Adams, PhD, a Houston-based nutritionist. (3)
In general, Canned vegetables are full of excess salt and “flavor enhancers.” Fresh vegetables should always be preferred over canned vegetables whenever they are in season. The sodium already present should also be considered as it may lead to an excess in salt for the whole dish.
Not only canned vegetables may contain more salt and more calories, they may also contain more sugar per serving than initially thought. (4) You should also be wary of canned bean soups. “Any kind of bean soup is full of fiber and protein, but if you’re choosing a canned black bean soup or lentil soup, be sure you check the label,” says Brandeis. “Many of these canned soups are loaded with sodium, well over 900 milligrams per serving.” Look for low-sodium versions with less than 500 mg per serving. (5) For canned vegetables, check the per serving nutrition facts and make sure you keep in mind how many servings there are per can to know the accurate caloric value of a can of veggies.
Eggplants are a beloved substitute for meat because it easily soaks up flavor. Unfortunately, this also leads to its downfall; because they act like sponges, eggplant not only picks up flavor, but soaks up all the fat, calories, and sodium as well. They are extremely popular in Eastern food and are batter-fried, deep-fried, or stir-fried. The use of oil in its preparation and the Eggplant’s extremely absorbent nature makes that an unhealthy combination, basically making your eggplant a vessel for cooking oil.
In western food, it is a component in many dishes like ratatouille. In middle eastern food, it can be used as a dip like a baba ghanoush or with minced beef as keema. This humble vegetable is more widely used than some people may think, however, it is not really as nutritious as you might think. Eggplants can add volume to any dish but add little else.
Potatoes are more starch than vegetables. While white potatoes do have health benefits, many people consider them to be more of a starch and, when compared with their green counterparts, they don’t really stand up to the nutritional punch.
They’re also on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of vegetables that contain the highest amount of pesticides, which are harmful to our nervous system and liver, one of the hardest-working organs. On the same list, we have spinach, tomatoes, and celery. (6) The vegetable is widely loved by people but doesn’t make a great option for those trying to lose weight. It’s high in starch and carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain over time. There are a lot of ways to cook potatoes which while may increase their flavor and palatability, decrease their health benefits. French fries, baked potatoes, creamy mashed potatoes, and potato salad are all very popular and loved dishes because so much fat and salt are added to complement the natural creaminess and starchiness of the potato. Unfortunately, this does not make it any healthier, in fact, it makes it less so.
If you got on the sweet potato bandwagon to avoid eating white potatoes, you may want to start reconsidering how many sweet potatoes you eat. They are still very high in calories and carbohydrates and can lead to weight gain, especially if you eat more calories than you burn. Sweet potato fries have been increasing in popularity and though it has a lower glycemic index than regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes remain one of the starchier vegetables and fall prey to the same cooking methods and recipes that the regular potato suffers from, baked, fried, stuffed and mashed, the additional calories from sour cream, cheese, milk, butter and salts that make sweet potatoes in restaurants so delectable make it just as calorie-dense as the regular potato.
Like potatoes and corn, they are really starchy and glycemic vegetables, which can lead to weight gain, increased blood sugar levels, and high hunger levels. (7)
When you were a child, having to eat peas may have been the worst thing ever. Peas are rich in nutrients that your body needs, but they are also high in carbohydrates, and the calories can add up quickly. Some nutritionists believe that eating starchy vegetables should be treated differently from eating starch vegetables. A distinction has to be made due to their caloric and nutritional values.
Beans and legumes
These have a lot of protein and are densely rich in other nutrients too. But one cup of beans has around 227 calories, compared to broccoli, which has just 31 calories. So, if you are on a limited calorie diet, you need to watch your intake of beans and legumes.
Sweetcorn is full of starch and has a high glycemic index, which can raise your blood sugar levels, resulting in a drop in glucose levels only after a few hours and making you feel hungry quicker. If you want to keep yourself fuller for longer, avoid having sweetcorn.
Method of Cooking
Despite their varying nutritional value, there is no such thing as a bad vegetable. It all can boil down to how you prepare them.
How you cook your vegetables may actually matter just as much as which vegetables you choose to cook. Consideration also has to be made with regards to the manner of preparation vegetables go through. Scientific studies have shown that the method of preparation for food has a direct effect on the nutritional values that vegetables have. By cooking vegetables, heat is able to increase the absorbability of some nutritional values but at the same time, this is a tradeoff, with some nutrients being more susceptible to being destroyed. Nutrients such as beta carotene (usually found in carrots and generally yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables) and lycopene (primarily found in tomatoes and generally all-natural foods with a rich pink to red color) are more easily digestible when cooked. (8) (9)
Unfortunately, it can get confusing fast with different types of vegetables responding to heat and different types of preparation differently. The general rule for preparing vegetables is – the fewer times vegetables are exposed to heat, the more nutrients it can retain.
A quick point of note when it comes to vegetable preparation is to limit the amount of water that vegetables are prepared in. Folate and Vitamin C are common water-soluble nutrients that are usually drained away when exposed for a prolonged period to water during preparation. If you notice that the liquid you’re boiling your vegetables in is taking in a green hue, then most likely your nutrients are getting drained out as well. (10)
A quick summary of nutrients generally affected by cooking are the following:
- water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins — thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12)
- fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K
- minerals: primarily potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium
Don’t forget to cut your vegetables into uniform pieces to make sure that during cooking and preparation they are done at the same time. Give your vegetables some acid, we put vinaigrette on salads all the time, and a splash of lime or lemon in a stir-fry with minimal oil and salt can make them more complex and flavorful. (11)
1. Fried Vegetables or Stir Fry
Best to save fried vegetables on your cheat day!
When it comes to vegetables, frying them is hands down one of the worst ways of retaining any nutritional value. Exposing vegetables to massive amounts of heat and oil is a surefire way of removing nutritional value. Let’s not pretend eating a crunchy fried vegetable is in any way helping us lose weight.
Besides the general understanding that fried foods make us gain weight, the oils used in frying vegetables are usually high in trans fats. A major no-no for any weight loss regiment. A satisfying substitute for anyone who still wants to have that satisfying crunch while eating would be to eat them raw instead of frying them, this suggestion works especially well for zucchinis!
A healthier alternative would be stir-frying. Stir-frying is when you cook your ingredients in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred – and sometimes tossed if you’re daring or proficient enough – in a wok – hence the name. Preparing your vegetables thru stir frying will yield that tender-crisp vegetable but with less fat given the minimal oil usage. Surprisingly enough, this method also allows your vegetables to retain more of their nutritional content compared to boiling them. (12)
The difference between a regular frying pan and a wok may spell the difference between an oily, greasy stir-fry and one that is just as healthy as it is delicious. Typically, you use the minimal amount of oil in the wok, make it just enough so that you coat the wok with oil, it is more difficult to do this on a western frying pan. A workaround may be to use spray oil to minimize oil saturation in your stir-fries.
2. Boiling or Steaming
Boiling a vegetable is done by submerging the vegetables in water in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil until the vegetables are tender. As brought up earlier, boiling can primarily affect water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C and several B vitamins such as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and folic acid (B9).
It is generally considered bad to boil vegetables especially when an alternative such as steaming is just as effective in preparing your vegetables and is better in retaining nutrients. (13)
Steaming is usually done with the use of a large pan and metal steamer basket. Fill the pot with a few inches of water and put the metal steamer basket with the vegetables on top of the water. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pot so as to steam the vegetables. Since the vegetable is not directly boiled in water, the vegetables are still exposed to the heat but prevent the nutrients from affecting water-soluble nutrients.
When it comes to choosing and preparing your vegetables, try to cook them so as to retain as many of their nutrients as possible. Steaming is a great way to do this, stir-fry can be just as good and a little more flavorful.
Not all vegetables are created equal and or may promote weight loss. Some will help you more than others. To eat vegetables for the sake of eating vegetables is probably not a good plan that will result in weight loss.
The best vegetables for weight loss are those that were cooked correctly and healthily. Factor in your cooking method whether steamed, boiled, fried, stir-fried or even grilled, your vegetables should never be boring. You can mix things up to keep them tasty and healthy. Just remember to minimize the water use and length of cooking time to make sure that the nutrients are preserved as much as possible.
Also, eat fewer calories. Even if you always include cruciferous vegetables in your weight loss journey, you’ll never achieve a healthy weight loss if you do not do a low carb diet.