Want to get the optimum nutritional value from your food? It's all in the preparation

You can boost the nutrients in some basic foods by preparing or eating them in a certain way. Here we look at what the research says about how to get the most from some of those foods.

Cook tomatoes

Whether fresh or tinned, cooking tomatoes improves how our body uses the chemical lycopene - a natural antioxidant that helps prevent disease. You absorb more lycopene from cooked tomatoes.

Whether fresh or tinned, cooking tomatoes improves how our body uses the chemical lycopene

"Tomato sauces and tomato pastes have been heated so they already have improved amounts of lycopene,” says Natasha Murray, an accredited practicing dietitian based in the Northern Territory. "Make a pasta sauce with canned or fresh tomatoes and that will also have more lycopene than if you eat raw tomato."      

However, she says, it's important to eat a mix of raw and cooked vegetables as over-cooking can destroy other nutrients, such as vitamin C.

Swap corn on the cob for canned corn

Scientists at Cornell University in the US believe canned sweet corn may be healthier than corn on the cob. They say heat processing boosts the amount of antioxidants called phenolics in corn. Cooking corn at 115°C for 25 minutes increased the phenolic content by 32 per cent.

Canned sweet corn

Researcher Dr. Rui Hai Liu says his research shows that eating canned vegies is just as important as eating fresh vegetables.     

"It doesn't matter if it's raw, it doesn't matter if it's cooked, it doesn't matter if it's fresh, it doesn't matter if it's processed. You simply need to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to get maximum health benefits," says Liu.

Slow cook meat

While grilling and barbecuing are seen as healthy ways to cook meat, the high temperatures can create chemicals linked to cancer in animals. Dietitians say cooking meat at high temperatures forms heterocyclic amines - linked to the development of colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancers.

A National Cancer Institute study also found that people who liked their beef medium to well-done increased their risk of stomach’ cancer threefold compared to someone who had their beef rare to medium-rare.

“We’ve known for a long time about blackening meats that it’s not good for your ‘ says Melbourne-based dietitian Terrill B. It’s better to cook meat for a longer time at a lower temperature so the meat breaks j down and softens without the blackening’.

Eat potatoes cold

Once cooled, cooked potatoes and cooked pasta contain more resistant starch, a type of fiber that improves bowel health. The CSIRO says increasing our resistant starch intake may be an important step in reducing bowel cancer In Australia. They recommend 20g a day. “When resistant starch gets fermented by friendly bacteria in the bowel it makes butyrate,” says Bruere. Butyrate helps kill potentially cancerous cells in the bowel, so have a potato or pasta salad at lunch.

Once cooled, cooked potatoes and cooked pasta contain more resistant starch

Cook carrot whole

Boil or steam carrots whole and cut them up after they've been cooked and you'll get 25 per cent more antioxidants, say scientists at Newcastle University. They found that boiling carrots whole helped them retain more of an anti-cancer compound called falcarinol - the naturally occurring ingredient that gives carrots their sweet flavor.

"Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are being cooked," says researcher Dr Kirsten Brandt. By cooking them whole and hopping them up afterwards you are locking in both taste and nutrients, so the carrot is better for you all round."

Add avocado to your salad

Eating healthy fats with your salad boosts the amount of carotenoids you absorb from the salad, according to research from Ohio State University in the US. Carotenolds help fight disease and are mostly found in colored fruits and vegetables, but the body needs fats and oils to absorb them properly. “We found that about three to five times more carotenoids were absorbed when study participants consumed a salad with avocados,” says the study’s Dr Steve Schwartz. While olive oil has many health benefits such as omega-6 fats which play an anti-inflammatory role, it’s not ideal for cooking. “Olive oil has a low smoke point, which means its nutritional benefits are lost at a lower temperature”, says Bruere. “There’s also some suggestion that heating olive oil to high temperatures may lead to the formation of carcinogens’ Seed and nut oils, on the other hand, have a higher smoke point so can be heated to higher temperatures , while retaining their goodness.

Add avocado to your salad

Add vitamin C to boost iron intake

Vitamin C can help your iron levels, explains Bruere.”If you eat a boiled egg, have a glass of orange juice and you’ll absorb more iron from the egg” she says. So add fruit to your cereal, tomato to your sandwiches, and vegetables to your chicken or steak. “Wait 20 minutes after eating before having wine, tea or coffee, as the tannins in these drinks stop Iron absorption adds Murray.

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