The nutrient value of food is almost always altered by the kind of processing it undergoes. The water-soluble vitamins are the most vulnerable to processing and cooking. Careful cooking and storage will help retain the nutrients in your food.
Almost all food is processed in some way before it is eaten. Commercially, the main reasons to process food are to eliminate micro-organisms (which may cause disease) and to extend shelf life. Simply cooking or combining a food with other foodstuffs to create a recipe is also considered a form of food processing. Whatever the case, the nutrient value of any food is often altered by the processing.
Some vitamins are more stable (less affected by processing) than others. Water-soluble vitamins (B-group and C) are more unstable than fat-soluble vitamins (K, A, D and E) during food processing and storage. The most unstable vitamins include:
- vitamin C.
More stable vitamins include:
- niacin (vitamin B3)
- vitamin K
- vitamin D
- biotin (vitamin B7)
- pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).
Most vegetables are peeled or trimmed before cooking to remove the tough skin or outer leaves. But most nutrients, such as vitamins, tend to lie close to the skin surface, so excessive trimming can mean a huge reduction in a vegetable’s nutrient value.
Some vitamins dissolve in water, so you lose your vitamins to the cooking water if you prefer to boil your vegetables. For example, boiling a potato can cause much of the potato’s B and C vitamins to migrate into the boiling water. It is still possible to benefit from these nutrients if you consume the liquid, for example, by turning the potato and the liquid into a soup. Alternative cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, steaming, stir-frying or microwaving generally preserve a greater amount of vitamins and other nutrients.
It would be inaccurate to say that cooking food always lessens the nutrient value. Cooking can be advantageous in many ways, including:
- making the food tastier
- breaking down parts of vegetables that would otherwise be indigestible
- destroying bacteria or other harmful micro-organisms
- making phytochemicals more available, for instance, phytochemicals are more available in cooked tomatoes than in raw tomatoes. (Phytochemicals are chemicals produced by plants).
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