Choosing Veggies for Flavor (and Health)

Don’t eat vegetables simply because they’re good for you…eat them because they taste great!


If you grew up with slimy Brussels sprouts, mushy broccoli that smelled of sulfur, or the same peas and cubes of carrot week after week, you may have learned to eat vegetables because they’re good for you, not because you enjoy them. The fact is, how veggies are prepared can ensure they are both nutritious and delicious!

Nutritional Impact. Raw or cooked, vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. Dietary patterns high in vegetables (and fruits) have been associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Yet 90 percent of U.S. adults don’t eat the recommended two to three cups of vegetables a day.

There is a huge array of veggie options to choose from and consuming a variety of vegetables is the best way to ensure you are exposed to a wide range of nutrients.

To Cook or Not to Cook. Eat your veggies however you enjoy them most! Raw vegetables provide more of some nutrients than their cooked counterparts, but less of others.

“Cooking helps break open the cell walls to release some nutrients and phytochemicals,” explains Diane L. McKay, PhD, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. For example, the availability of lycopene in tomatoes and other carotenoids in veggies like carrots, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, cabbage, and peppers will be higher when these vegetables are cooked.

In contrast, heat sensitive nutrients can break down as the temperature rises and water soluble nutrients can leach out into cooking liquid. “Shorter cooking time, lower heat, and less water can help limit nutrient loss,” says McKay. Keep in mind that, although there may be some losses in cooking, plenty of nutrients still make it to your plate.

Take Charge!

Try these tips for nutritious, delicious veggie dishes:

  • Eat Your Veggies! Choose vegetables you and your family like and prepare them in a variety of ways you all enjoy.
  • Mix it Up: Eat a wide range of veggies, both raw and cooked, and be sure to include vegetables in a variety of colors.
  • Make it Quick: Some nutrients are sensitive to heat. When sautéing, boiling, steaming, blanching, or microwaving, cook only until brightly colored.
  • Keep them crisp: Overcooking tends to make vegetables less appealing.
  • Limit Liquid. Steamed and microwaved veggies retain more water-soluble nutrients than boiled.
  • Use Timesavers: If prep time impacts your veggie intake, invest in pre-washed, pre-cut, spiralized, frozen, and other conveniences.

Here are some nutritious ways to enjoy delicious veggies throughout your day:

Uncooked: “A great way to eat vegetables is raw,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor at the Friedman School and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. “Salads are an obvious choice, whether the classic base of leafy greens or a mixture of chopped fresh items. Raw veggies are also a great nibble if you are overcome with hunger while preparing dinner or at any time of day. Keeping them visible and ready to eat can mean the difference between consuming or not.”

Cooked with Moist Heat: Steaming and microwaving are better choices than old-fashioned boiling. Keep veggies covered to shorten cooking time and conserve even more nutrients. These methods also keep veggies crisp and brightly colored. Let the natural flavor shine through, or toss with herbs and spices before serving. (See our August 2021 Special Report, Flavor!, for more ideas.)

Cooked with Dry Heat: Roasting, sautéing, stir-frying, grilling, and broiling are also excellent options for preparing veggies. Roasting at high heat allows the sugars naturally present in the vegetables to caramelize, intensifying their sweetness and changing flavor and texture.

The oil used in sautéing and roasting facilitates the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients—vitamins A, D, E, and K and some bioactive compounds. (Eating raw veggies with a plant-oil based dressing or other source of healthy fats, like some nuts, fish, or avocado, will do the same.)

“Unless the preparation method is extreme, cooked vegetables remain an excellent source of many essential nutrients,” says Lichtenstein. “Whether raw or cooked, however, smothering vegetables in cream sauce or adding butter, salt, or bacon should be avoided. Consuming vegetables in a minimally modified form, relying on herbs, spices, and perhaps some acid like citrus or vinegar to complement their natural flavors is the best approach.”

A Note from the Executive Editor

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSCEating more vegetables is a great way to improve the quality of your dietary pattern. We here at Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter hope advice and information like that presented in the article on this page helps you make good dietary decisions, even in challenging times.

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we procure, prepare, and consume food. In general, we shop less frequently and purchase food remotely more often. We may have tried meal kits, eaten out less, and perhaps prepared more food at home. These changes opened opportunities to revamp and improve our dietary habits.

As we celebrate some return to normality, or at least a new normal, we should be mindful of the changes we made during the past year-and-a-half. How can we maintain and perhaps ramp up those improved dietary habits while adapting to the post-COVID environment? What less-than-desirable habits did we slip into that we should work to roll back? Start by recognizing and celebrating the positive changes you’ve made, and mindfully adopt them permanently.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to do things in different ways. What worked for you, and what didn’t? Think about how to maintain good habits and let bad behaviors fall by the wayside as a distant memory of quarantine. We will be here, as always, to support you.

—Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter

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