Many find that eating enough vegetables every day can be a pain. There’s a reason First Lady Michelle Obama has to encourage kids to eat their veggies; it’s not fun, and they just don’t seem to taste as good as a bag of chips or a slice of pizza. But for many of us, an unhealthy diet is contributing to chronic health issues that may cause us problems later in our lives, so it’s important to start making positive changes in what we eat to help prevent the diseases and conditions that could be harmful in the future.

You may think it’s as easy as replacing the unhealthy foods in your diet with healthy ones. But this view may be keeping you from getting the most out of the produce you consume every day. According to an article by Dr. Brunilda Nazario, how you handle, preserve and prepare the fruits and vegetables you eat can have a big impact on the amount of nutrients they end up providing. Here is what you need to know to keep from losing the valuable vitamins and minerals in your vegetables!

  1. Rinse fresh veggies well just before using! Even those with skins need to be washed to remove bacteria, insects and as much pesticide as possible. Avoid soaking the vegetables–a quick rinse will remove the bad and retain the good!
  2. To preserve water-soluble vitamins and minerals, cut veggies into large pieces or cook them whole. Cutting vegetables into very small pieces can allow valuable nutrients to leak out, and many vitamins, like vitamin C and B vitamins, are very sensitive to oxygen exposure. For example, a baked potato retains more of its nutrients than mashed potatoes.
  3. As a general rule, keep cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid to a minimum. That’s why steaming is one of the best ways to cook vegetables. Water-soluble vitamins and fatty acids are the most sensitive to heat and light, so vegetables like leafy greens need to be prepared quickly to preserve as much as possible. Here, it all comes down to doing as little as possible to the vegetables to prepare them.
  4. According to nutrition expert Karen Collins, microwaving broccoli can actually preserve up to 80 percent of its vitamin C, as long as it’s done with very little water and for a short period of time. In fact, steaming and microwaving seem to be the best choice for most common veggies.
  5. Baking or roasting is another healthy option for most veggies, while “griddling” — cooking on a flat metal surface with little to no oil — was shown in studies to be an especially good choice for beets, celery, onions, Swiss chard and green beans.
  6. Sautéed vegetables require a bit of oil, but that’s not a bad thing if you use a heart-healthy choice like olive or canola oil. Add some spices and garlic for good flavor. To add another punch of nutrients, smash or chop the garlic first to release enzymes that discourage blood vessel clots.  
  7. Blending your vegetables appears to improve the absorption of phytochemicals in food, because it breaks down the cell walls and makes the nutrients more easily digestible. Otherwise, nutrition experts recommend very thorough chewing, so you’ll actually be able to digest the nutrients you need.

To get the most out of the vegetables in your diet, we all agree that the best option is just to eat those vegetables raw. But if you need to cook your veggies up to make them tastier, most of the nutrients in your produce can be preserved using these tips to prepare them right!

Basic take-aways:

  1. Longer cooking times, more chopping and more water cause nutrients to be lost faster.
  2. For phytochemicals, steaming is best to preserve them. However, with carotenoids, the nutrients were more accessible after they were extensively processed. So some processing or preparation methods can make nutrients easier to digest.
  3. Nutrients contained in produce degrade over time as respiration leads to moisture loss, nutrient and quality degradation and possible microbial spoilage. Where and how produce is stored matters a lot.
  4. Steam, microwave, saute, roast your veggies to preserve the most nutrients. These methods require the least contact with water.
  5. For better absorption of nutrients, pair them with some healthy fats. Things like olive oil and canola oil make the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients easier for the body. Scientists from Purdue University have gone as far as to say that salads aren’t as healthy if they’re eaten without dressing!
  6. Don’t throw away the greens of a vegetable! The dark green parts of plants have a higher concentration of phytonutrients, so you get more bang for your buck from eating them.The greens on beets have more antioxidants than the plants, and the root has phytonutrients, so eating both will give you a more complete and nutritious meal. Vegetable peels often have much higher concentrations of antioxidants as well, so be sure not to forget about them!