• Cabbage rolls (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
Here’s just a taste of the various vegetables you can feel good about cooking (and eating).
By
Yasmin Noone

16 Nov 2021 - 10:49 AM  UPDATED 16 Nov 2021 - 12:55 PM

Cooking is a joy for those who revel in the nuanced elements of transforming humble ingredients like vegetables into delicious meals via the process of heating, frying, boiling and baking.

While it’s great to eat some veggies raw to preserve their vitamin and mineral content, cooking certain vegetables can also reveal an added benefit – one that’s going to boost your health.

Here’s just a taste of the many vegetables you can feel good about cooking (and eating, of course!).

Tomatoes

Italians have been picking tomatoes in a season when they’re at their nutritional peak, then cooking and bottling the vegetable as passata for many years. It turns out this traditional practice doesn’t just preserve tomatoes for the off-season but also helps to boost the vegetable’s antioxidant content.

Research has shown that although heat-treating tomatoes may reduce its vitamin C content, cooking may preserve many other antioxidants that may be more potent. This is because heating the vegetable could help to break down some of its tougher cell walls, enabling the body to more easily absorb nutrients.

“So just by using passata – or even tinned tomatoes or tomato paste, which both feature cooked tomatoes – you’re going to consume a high concentration of beautiful antioxidants."

In particular, studies have shown that cooking tomatoes (and other red vegetables like red capsicum) boost its lycopene content. A high intake of lycopene is linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks. Lycopene may also reduce total and ‘bad’ cholesterol while increasing your good cholesterol.

“Passata contains a lot of tomatoes that have been cooked down,” Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians Australia, Themis Chryssidis, tells SBS.

“So just by using passata – or even tinned tomatoes or tomato paste, which both feature cooked tomatoes – you’re going to consume a high concentration of beautiful antioxidants. There are certainly health benefits you can gain from that.”

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Carrots  

Although there are some benefits to be had from eating carrots raw, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002 found that cooking carrots increases their level of beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and immune system regulation.

Another report published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2008 showed that boiling and steaming carrots helps to preserve their antioxidant contents (specifically, carotenoids) in a more efficient manner than if they were just eaten raw.

Charred carrots with tahini and furikake

Carrots are criminally underrated, subjected to overcooking or supplied as an unimaginative crunch in a salad. Pre-cooking in aromatics adds more flavour and exploits their natural sweetness. 

Cabbage

Cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw as part of a multitude of cold dishes from across the world. However, some people with digestive issues including irritable bowel syndrome may struggle with diarrhoea and constipation after eating uncooked cabbage.

“Raw cabbage contains a large number of fructans, which is a type of carbohydrate that some people can't break down that wall,” Chryssidis says. Cabbage and other members of the cabbage family – like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and broccoli – are considered high FODMAP foods and, consequently, may be hard to digest if someone lives with fructan intolerance.

Cabbage rolls (niños envueltos)

These cabbage rolls are filled with rice and minced meat. The mix is wrapped in cabbage leaves and slowly cooked in tomato sauce. It's a delicious and healthy dish for all the family and can be frozen, just like spring rolls, and reheated at any moment.

“You just have to determine how much of it you can tolerate raw. If you have digestion issues, cooking or pickling cabbage may break down the non-digestible carbohydrates to make them more easily absorbed. That could potentially reduce some gut upset as well.” 

“Raw cabbage contains a large quantity of fructans, which is a type of carbohydrate that some people can't break down that well."

Potatoes

Changing the way you cook and eat potatoes could unlock additional nutritional benefits. “When a potato when it's cooked and then given time to cool down, its starch content changes slightly to create what we call resistance starch – a really awesome type of fibre that can help improve your gut health.”

Chryssidis provides the nutritional permission needed for you to indulge in a cold Serbian or German-style potato salad with cooled potatoes as the hero. Or you can serve your potatoes warm but twice-cooked in a Massaman curry or beside a roast dinner.

“Once you’ve twice-cooked potatoes, the resistant starch content will be slightly less than if you only cooked it once and allowed it to cool. But there will still be more resistant starch than if you had cooked the potatoes once and ate them warm, straight away.”

Potato salad (krompir salata)

This simple Serbian potato salad sings of the Mediterranean. If you can find them, baby waxy potatoes such as Pink fur or kipflers will add a delicious sweetness to the dish.

It's important to note that some raw food diets say it's okay to eat raw potatoes. However, raw potatoes contain a toxic compound called solanine that has the potential to make some people sick with digestive issues. This isn’t a concern once potatoes are cooked. Heat-treating potatoes have also been shown to reduce anti-nutrient content, which may help the body to absorb the vegetable’s nutrients.

Verdict: Raw v cooked? 

Chryssidis reminds us that there are so many factors at play when determining how to eat vegetables – cooked or raw. At the end of the day, he says, it's important to be aware that raw vege isn't the be-all and end-all. Cooking vegetables really can be beneficial. However, it's always best to mix it up to ensure you get the best of both worlds. 

"There'll be some nutrients that are in greater [supply] when a vegetable is eaten raw and some that will be greater when they’re cooked," he says. “Ultimately, if you adopt various ways of consuming your vegetables, you will ensure that you consume a broad range of nutrients.” 


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