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Answered 2014-03-25 22:34:50

Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.

For spinach specifically, sauteing before cooking further may lessen the nutritional value but would not totally deplete the value. Here is one tip for getting the most nutrients from spinach: Iron and calcium in plant foods are not highly absorbed by the body. Spinach contains a chemical called oxalic acid, which binds with iron and calcium and reduces the absorption of these minerals. To improve iron absorption, spinach should be eaten with vitamin C-rich foods such as Orange Juice, tomatoes, or citrus fruit.

This does not always hold for all vegetables, however. For guidelines on cooking techniques to preserve the most nutrients in most vegetables and greens, consider these rules of thumb:

  • The less time spent cooking, the more nutrients are preserved.
  • Avoid boiling, but if boiling is the only option, be sure to use the minimum amount of water and put the vegetables in the water only after it is briskly boiling.
  • Soaking in the pan of water before the boiling point is reached (or even soaking during pre-cooking cleaning processes) will allow some losses of nutrients into the water. After boiling, reserve the cooking liquids where many of the nutrients have leached, for use in other ways, such as in stocks or soups and gravies.
  • Most studies indicate that steaming vegetables is the best cooking method to preserve nutrients, and second best is to stir fry.
  • Generally, fresh greens like spinach, contain the most nutrients when eaten raw.
  • The longer the time period between harvest and use, the more likely nutritional value has decreased even before cooking. Always use the freshest vegetables available; choosing those 'in season' can help assure freshness.
  • Cooking can deplete the available nutritional content, especially when prepared in certain ways. Boiling, for example, can leave behind many nutrients in the cooking liquid (see above). If you must boil vegetables, reserve the cooking liquids for use later (refrigerate for short term or freeze for longer term storage). Freezing the left over liquids in ice cube trays and then storing in zipper bags in the freezer can provide convenient small amounts of valuable vitamin-rich liquids to use to substitute in other recipes as needed.
  • Quick cooking, like in stir fry or steaming, will deplete less than boiling, braising or other longer methods of cooking. Some believe that the quick cooking at high heat, like stir fry, of some vegetables (not including tender greens like spinach) will seal in juices to prevent them from leaching along with their vitamins and other nutrients as they cook. However, if you stir fry and then later continue to cook for long periods, especially by boiling or braising after the quick fry, there will still be a loss of nutrients.
  • With some vegetables, you can blanche first for a few seconds in boiling salted water and then remove from the boiling water and immediately plunge in ice water and that will 'set' some of the nutrients. This works especially well for broccoli (and will allow it to maintain its bright green color like you see in Asian cooking). You can then reheat quickly in a stir fry to provide crisp cooked pieces that retain more nutrients.
  • Specifically with broccoli and foods in the grouping with broccoli (cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) which are rich in cancer-preventing nutrients, there is evidence in very recent preliminary studies to suggest that the availability of the cancer-preventing qualities is enhanced by cooking rather than the reverse that has been the previous conventional thinking. More studies are continuing on this finding.
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