Unprocessed and uncooked organic produce has earned status as the gold standard in health food, but when it comes to vegetables, less (cooking time) isn't always more. In fact, several varieties actually pack a bigger nutritional punch once they've been heated up above 115 degrees.
Compared to their raw counterparts, cooked tomatoes deliver more lycopene, an antioxidant that can lower the risk of prostate cancer, heart disease, and lung cancer. Likewise, heated carrots deliver a bigger dose of beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. Spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, and cabbage also supply maximum antioxidants and nutrients when cooked, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It and nutrition expert in New York. To lock in peak nutritional value, Taub-Dix recommends steaming vegetables to avoid overcooking, and adding flavor with fresh herbs and spices, rather than drowning them in rich sauces or fat-loaded batters. That means tempura is out and your easy, cheesy broccoli recipe was overdue for retirement, anyway.
But if summer temperatures are keeping you away from your stovetop, opt for veggies that fare better fresh. Beets' brain-boosting folate, broccoli's cancer-combating myrosinase, and red peppers' immunity-improving vitamin C are all at their highest levels in their natural state. Other raw standouts include coconut, cacao, lettuce, cucumbers, nuts, and seeds.
Eating slices of plain beets or a handful of unsalted nuts not your style? Taub-Dix suggests tossing vegetables, fruit, nut milk, and nut butter in a blender for a nutritious, protein-rich, and surprisingly satisfying smoothie. Drizzling raw veggies with a little oil-based dressing is another way to add flavor without defeating your clean-eating efforts.
Here, Taub-Dix shares her favorite smoothie recipe, a trio of refreshing fruit, cholesterol-lowering kale, and heart-healthy chia seeds.
Fruit, Kale, and Chia Smoothie
Handful of kale leaves
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 cup water
2 ice cubes
Blend ingredients until smooth.