What's the Most Nutritious Way to Eat Vegetables?

How to select and prepare vegetables for maximum benefit? Nutrition Diva explains.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #252

Tip #1: Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit each day.  This alone would put you ahead of 95% of your fellow Americans. You can eat more than that if you want. But as I said in my recent episode on juicing, "While there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that 5 servings of vegetables a day keeps you healthy, there's little evidence to suggest that 50 servings a day keeps you any healthier." 

Tip #2: Go for variety. Resist the temptation to eat the same "superfoods" day after day. You get a lot more benefit from eating a wide variety of vegetables. (See my episode on the Importance of a varied diet.)  Be sure your repertoire includes some dark leafy greens, orange/red veggies, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts). And while brightly colored vegetables often signal potent nutrition, there's great nutrition to be had from garlic, onions, and mushrooms as well! It's not important to hit every category every day; just try to work them all in over the course of a week.

(See this short video for more produce shopping tips.)

Tip #3: Buy the freshest produce you can and eat it promptly.  People worry a lot about the nutrients that get lost when they cook their vegetables. But a vegetable can lose just as much nutrition in storage as it does on the stovetop. To maximize the nutritional value of your veggies, buy produce that's local and in season whenever you can. Try not to let vegetables languish in the crisper for weeks on end. And don't discount frozen vegetables. Because they're usually processed within hours of harvest, they can be even more nutritious than unprocessed vegetables that have been around for a while.  

Finally: relax. Even when nutrients are lost through processing or storage, there are still plenty left!

Tip #4: Eat some of your vegetables raw and try not to overcook the rest.  Heat degrades some nutrients while others are prone to leech into cooking water. On the other hand, cooking can make certain nutrients more bioavailable.  Cooking can also reduce oxalates and phytates--compounds found in greens, grains, and beans that can interfere with absorption of certain minerals.  My advice is to hedge your bets.  Enjoy a variety of both raw and cooked vegetables. I have some advice on cooking methods that minimize nutrient losses in my episode How Cooking Affects Nutrition. In my opinion, however, the best way to cook vegetables is the way you like them the best--because those are the ones you'll eat. 

Have you subscribed to my free, weekly newsletter? If not, you recently missed two great ideas for preparing vegetables: One involves cooking a vegetable that's almost always served raw. The other is a raw salad using a vegetable that's almost always cooked! Click here to see those recipes and here to subscribe, so you don't miss another issue!

Tip #5: Enjoy vegetables as part of healthy, balanced meals.  Vegetables are essential to a healthy diet but a plate full of steamed veggies doesn't constitute a complete or balanced meal!  Accompany those veggies with foods that provide healthy fats and protein: nuts, olive oil, avocados, whole grains, legumes,  eggs, dairy, fish, and or meat.  You'll get a more complete range of nutrients and you'll also benefit from the natural synergies between various nutrients. No spreadsheet required!

If you have a topic you'd like me to address in a future podcast or newsletter, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page. I always love to hear from you!  

Vegetables image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.