OWN

How To Prepare Healthy Foods Without Ruining Their Benefits

2012-10-11-omaglogo.jpg

Just buying healthy foods isn't enough. How you prepare them matters, too.

By Jessica Migala

While many people believe that stocking your kitchen with the right stuff -- from kale to mixed nuts to a colorful assortment of veggies -- is the key to a solid diet, that's not entirely true. If you don't prepare these foods the ideal way, you might be missing out on many of the nutrients that make them so potentially healthy. Researchers have tested a range of foods and cooking methods, from boiling to microwaving, to discover which yield the most nutritious results. Here's your cheat sheet -- don't cook without it!

Cooked Veggies

steamed broccoli

Best: Microwaved

"Properly cooking vegetables in the microwave can go a long way toward reducing nutrient loss," says registered dietitian Sandra Bastin, PhD, who uses the method in her own kitchen. Microwaving limits the need for heat and water, both of which can cause vegetables to lose nutrients. And when Spanish researchers looked at the impact of cooking techniques on 20 different veggies, they discovered that microwaving ranked higher than boiling when it came to preserving antioxidants. Place veggies in a glass container with one to two tablespoons of water, and microwave on high until they are crisp and bright in color.

Kale

healthy food kale

Best: Raw

Here's why you should enjoy this leafy green uncooked: According to one study, boiled kale lost 89 percent of its vitamin C, and its polyphenols (compounds that may lessen your risk of disease) were reduced by more than half. If raw kale is too tough for you, registered dietitian Julieanna Hever suggests massaging the leaves with avocado or olive oil.

Cashews

roasted cashews

Best: Roasted

As long as you're roasting chestnuts on an open fire, throw some cashews on there, too. Cooking cashews at around 265 degrees for 33 minutes produces nuts that not only are tastier, but also have a higher antioxidant level than their uncooked counterparts, according to research. Roasting helps in two ways: It may free nutrients that are bound together in the raw nut, and it may also cause a chemical reaction responsible for increasing antioxidant activity.

Tomatoes

tomatoes

Best: Simmered

A 2013 study found that tomato paste had more than double the lycopene (a chemical that may help fight heart disease and cancer) of raw tomatoes; heat breaks down the insoluble fiber in the fruit, releasing lycopene. To make your own paste, simmer chopped tomatoes with salt on the stove until they reach a pureelike consistency. Run the puree through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Spread the puree in a baking pan and place it in the oven at 300 degrees. Stir every 30 minutes until the paste is thick and deep red.

Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoes

Best: Dried

Move over, sweet potato fries. A recent study looked at where the spuds fell on the glycemic index (GI), which measures how food affects your blood sugar (the lower the number, the better). The results: Sweet potatoes that had been dehydrated (a drying method that turns taters into chips) had a GI score of 41, better than when they were steamed (63), baked (64), or microwaved (66). You can buy a dehydrator online for about $40. Once your sweet potato chips are dried, add salt for flavor.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

  • Thai: Sweet And Salty Noodles Done Light
    Pad Thai is one of the tastiest noodle dishes in Asian cooking, but most renditions are also swimming in oil, <a href="http:/
    Ann Stratton
    Pad Thai is one of the tastiest noodle dishes in Asian cooking, but most renditions are also swimming in oil, which means the typical takeout box will contain 1,140 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat. Make it yourself so you can pile on the vegetables and use fewer rice noodles. This recipe offers other tweaks to lighten the dish. Get the recipe: Pad Thai
  • Mexican: The Dairy-Free, Fresh-Tasting Taco
    While Mexican restaurants in the United States often serve enchiladas covered in melted cheese and then topped with a dollop
    Thinkstock
    While Mexican restaurants in the United States often serve enchiladas covered in melted cheese and then topped with a dollop of sour cream, tacos are a much lighter -- and authentically Mexican -- dish. This sautéed shrimp version is especially healthful, punched up with fresh tomatoes and lime juice. Get the recipe: Chipotle Shrimp Tacos
  • French: Delicious Fish That Isn't Battered And Fried
    The French may be known for their masterful ways with butter and cream, but they've also figured out one of the tastiest ways
    Christopher Baker
    The French may be known for their masterful ways with butter and cream, but they've also figured out one of the tastiest ways to prepare salmon, letting a light and savory broth do most of the work. This oven-poaching method is impossible to screw up. Get the recipe: Poached Salmon Fillets
  • Indian: A Filling Vegetarian Stew
    Indian cuisine is known for its vegetarian-friendly options, and this curried soup is a terrific example, brimming with lenti
    Photo: John Kernick
    Indian cuisine is known for its vegetarian-friendly options, and this curried soup is a terrific example, brimming with lentils, chickpeas and Swiss chard. Lots of curry powder lends deep flavor without adding extra calories or fat. Plain Greek yogurt, thinned with some water and drizzled on top, is a cool counterpoint to the spice. Get the recipe: Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup
  • Japanese: A Superfood Soup
    In this twist on classic chicken noodle soup, miso, chard and buckwheat noodles stand in for bouillon, peas and pasta. Leeks
    Sang An
    In this twist on classic chicken noodle soup, miso, chard and buckwheat noodles stand in for bouillon, peas and pasta. Leeks and scallions add cancer-fighting phytochemicals to the magnesium- and folate-rich dish. And since miso and edamame have a lot of protein, you can even omit the chicken and still have a nutritious soup. Get the recipe: Miso Noodle Soup
  • Italian: Guilt-Free Comfort Food
    Pasta gets all the glory in Italian cuisine, but white beans -- aka cannellini -- are the unsung heroes: creamy, filling and
    Anna Williams
    Pasta gets all the glory in Italian cuisine, but white beans -- aka cannellini -- are the unsung heroes: creamy, filling and good for you. This soup, reminiscent of the well-known pasta e fagioli, skips pasta but is no less satisfying, thanks to croutons made with whole wheat bread and roasted garlic. Get the recipe: White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Roasted Garlic Croutons
  • Asian: The Egg Roll Alternative
    Spring rolls can be a healthy substitute for the deep-fried egg versions, since they're often stuffed with raw vegetables and
    Thinkstock
    Spring rolls can be a healthy substitute for the deep-fried egg versions, since they're often stuffed with raw vegetables and lean protein and don't require a dip in hot oil. Plus, the rice paper wrapper is gluten-free. (And while they're technically not a dinner, we could eat a whole plateful.) A simple trick to prevent tearing: Use a piece of lettuce as the first layer. Get the recipe: Crispy Shrimp and Vegetable Spring Rolls
CONVERSATIONS