Written by: Ava Elliott, Marketing Intern & Future Dietitian
Reviewed by: Devon Kroesche, MS, RDN, LDN
A common question registered dietitians receive is: does how we cook food alter its nutrient content and absorption? The short answer is, yes – the way food is prepared can maintain or decrease nutrient absorption, and in this article, I’ll explain why.
The six main nutrient groups consist of carbohydrates, lipids/fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. All of these nutrients are essential to our bodies, and it is vital to maintain the highest nutrient content during the cooking process.
Vitamins and minerals function as antioxidants and provide many essential nutrients. Foods with a high vitamin and mineral content include meat, dairy products, egg yolk, fermented foods, and plants. There are certainly many others, so it is important to eat a variety of foods during the day.
Cooking methods and preparation time are priorities you may have while cooking. Nutrient-breakdown is another important factor to consider during cooking because not all cooking methods are created equal. The goal is to maintain the most nutrients. For a lot of vegetables, it is necessary to cook them to improve digestibility; the softening of cellulose structure increases nutrient absorption (like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.) Boiling and cooking reduces the nutrient content, but about 75% is retained. As you know, cook the veggies until they are softened and have a bright color.
Keep in mind, the nutrients most susceptible to nutrient loss are water-soluble vitamins. Instead of cooking, you can buy/prepare frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables that retain water-soluble vitamins. If you are trying to shop on a budget, frozen or canned produce are budget-friendly and still provide many nutrients. Frozen fruits and veggies undergo blanching (boiling and steaming for a short period of time) prior to freezing, which helps maintain the vitamin and mineral content. The USDA has a table of Nutrient Retention Factors if you are interested in the exact amount of 16 vitamins and 8 minerals maintained for around 300 foods.
Other foods like meat and eggs are cooked to eliminate bacteria. Make sure you follow proper food safety methods and cook food to the correct temperature. For example, chicken and poultry should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. When frying, roasting, or boiling chicken, 40% of folate is lost. Many other nutrients are retained, so it is not a concern. On the other hand, eggs on the stove (fried or scrambled) lose folate the most from the heat process as well as a few other vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin B12. About 75-85% of these nutrients are retained, however.
Overall, the cooking process does alter nutrients because of the heat. But, as long as you prepare food safely and for the correct time, you can maintain the most nutrients. If you’d like to speak to a dietitian about the way you prepare your food, schedule an appointment by emailing email@example.com.