Cooking Vegetables for a Healthy Diet

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Hold the Cholesterol, Please

If you are reading this, you are probably looking to improve your eating habits toward healthier choices, and for that I congratulate you.

Vegetables are indeed an important part of a healthy diet. Many people feel that cooking vegetables in fats and oils adds cholesterol to their meal.

Please allow me to correct a mis-perception about that. Oils that you buy in bottled form are cholesterol-free. Cholesterol is found only in foods of animal origin, such as butter, milk, foods prepared with lard (which is an animal fat), any kind of meat (including fish and poultry) or meat by-product, eggs and cheese. So, unless you are sauteeing your vegetables in lard or bacon grease, or tossing them in with the roast or stew, you have no worries about cholesterol contamination

There is some confusion in people's minds between cholesterol and saturated fats. Of the bottled oils, some are healthier than others. Canola oil and olive oil are the best choices, while palm, coconut and peanut oil are among the worst. The difference is in saturated fat, not cholesterol.

Healthy Oils

Olive oil is, in fact, among the healthiest of oils to use, and is recommended in healthy diet plans. The key is moderation. You don't want any foods saturated and dripping in oil, no matter how "heart-healthy" the oil. It costs more, but you need less, so it balances out.

Go for the extra-virgin olive oil, and look for first cold-pressed. This means it is the first pressing of the olives, done the old-fashioned way and not by machine. It will have the darkest color and the best flavor of the assorted olive oils sold. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive of all the olive oils, but the most flavorful and healthiest. (Why is it that what is healthiest costs more? That needs to change!)

As the olive oils grow lighter in color, you are seeing the results of re-pressing the same batch of olives over and over, until there is nothing left to squeeze. These subsequent pressings are done by machinery, which introduces heat both in the mechanical process, and also by design to coax out as much oil as possible. This heat does the nutritional content no favors. Chemical solvents are also sometimes used at these late-stage pressings.

But What About Flavor?

Flavor can come from many sources; cholesterol is not one of them, as it is flavorless by itself. What you are tasting as flavor is the butter, cheese, or meat on its own merits. Each processing or cooking method also imparts flavor, so if you are worried about losing flavor by losing the cholesterol count, your worries are over.

Use a variety of spices and herbs to season things to just the right amount for your personal tastes. Some people adore garlic, and would bathe in the stuff it they could. Some dislike it completely. My mother was such an example--she'd say, "Take the garlic out in the yard and rub it on the back of the house, and that's enough garlic for me."

I, myself, love garlic, but not to the extent of using it for cologne. However, garlic is one very heart-healthy thing to eat, and there are so many ways to introduce it into your meals. It is the most potent when raw; cooking tames it down a lot. Cooked in liquid, such as in soups or stews, it becomes nearly undetectable; poked inside a roast allows its flavor to surprise you every few bites. (That's how I fix roasts for my husband--I'm the vegetarian in the family.)

Onions are another vegetable primarily used for flavoring. Use as much or as little as you want. The same is true of onions as garlic where raw vs. cooked is concerned. They do belong to the same family.

Herbs and Spices

Pepper is a great flavor to add to many vegetables, and it blends well with other things such as our famous garlic from above. Other good blends with pepper include basil, oregano, rosemary, or lemon.

You have the option of making your own blends from your own spice cabinet, or purchasing and preparing (or growing) your own fresh herbs. It is a matter of available time and interest. If you're running a hectic lifestyle, there are ready-made blends such as Mrs. Dash, that have the added benefit of being salt-free, for that extra little healthy kick.

Fresh is always better, if you have the time or inclination. But, if you do not, remember this: the dried herbs you buy at the grocery are more potent simply because they are dry; evaporating the water out concentrates the flavor, so you will use less than you would of the fresh variety.

Keep your stock of dried herbs fresh and rotated, for while they do not spoil, they do lose their potency and go stale, so that can of paprika you've had sitting there since Methuselah was a child is not going to taste like much of anything but dust.

To Microwave or Not to Microwave

Lately there has been some controversy as to whether microwaving zaps the vitamins as well as cooking the food. I'm unsure, as I have not researched that end of the question.

I do love my microwave oven--especially for baking potatoes in 6 minutes per potato, instead of an hour in a regular oven.

(When you reach 4 or more potatoes, however, it makes more sense to use the traditional oven for space considerations, as microwave ovens work most efficiently when the food is not too closely bunched up.)

Cooking Methods

Sauté

Vegetables can be sauteed in a healthy ways, such as in a stir-fry, using olive oil. The trick here, is to use only enough of the oil to add flavor, and not drench the vegetables. To this end, it is best to use a non-stick fry pan or wok, and keep the veggies moving, and add in your seasonings as you stir.

Steaming

Otherwise, you can use a steamer basket which fits inside a saucepan, . Steaming keeps the vitamins and other nutrients intact. Alternately, you can microwave your veggies--in fact, there are even microwave steamers available.

Boiling

When I was a kid, everything was boiled, and the water was dumped down the drain. Little did we realize we were dumping all the good stuff out with that water.The vegetables were also cooked to nearly mush consistency. No wonder so many kids grew up thinking they hated vegetables. Many are just as delicious, or more so eaten raw; they are certainly healthier that way. Otherwise, they should be crisp-tender, or as the Italians say about the pasta, "al dente," which literally means "to the tooth." In other words, you should feel something to bite upon.

Baking

Vegetables can, in many cases be baked quite successfully, and not just potatoes. Eggplant is a great candidate for this treatment. Here's why: eggplant just loves, loves, loves to soak up all the olive oil (or any other oil) you care to provide. So with pan-fried eggplant, if you are not careful, you can end up with a soggy, greasy mess.

However, if you use a pastry brush to lightly oil both sides of each slice, then add bread crumbs or seasoned flour and bake on a cookie sheet, you'll have a very tasty and very low-fat good-for-you serving of eggplant.

Save the Vitamins!

If you do prefer your veggies boiled, for goodness sakes, don't cook them until they are mush, and don't dump that water down the drain. Pour it into a large freezer container, and save it up from each batch of cooked vegetables. Before long, you'll have a nice vegetable stock to use for a soup base. Just the thing for a chilly winter's night. Since it's frozen, yes, you certainly can keep it until winter rolls around again.

Bon appetit!

© 2012 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 22 comments

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, klidstone1970 ,

Thanks so much for your comment. I'm delighted you liked this article, and that I was able to provide some new information for you. Thanks for your support.


klidstone1970 profile image

klidstone1970 2 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

Great information. I use olive oil regularly sauteing and never knew about cold-pressed. I will definitely be scouting the shelf with more due diligence. And I wholeheartedly agree with you - are healthier foods should NOT cost more to buy! Best wishes. Kim


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, cheeluary,

I'm pleased you found this article useful and enjoyed it. Many thanks for the vote!


cheeluarv profile image

cheeluarv 2 years ago from INDIA

Very informative and interesting hub on healthy diet.Good tips on oils and methods.Voted up.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Olde Cashmere,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment; I'm glad you liked the article so much. I do try to do some educating where I can. ;-)

Thanks, too for the votes and share!


Olde Cashmere profile image

Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

I loved this hub because I'm a huge fan of of healthy eating. These are great ways to change up the way we eat and I like how you cleared up some misinformation which is out there. Excellent writing and I'm voting this up and sharing. Interesting and useful :)


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, anusujith,

Thank you very much for the kind words. I, too, dislike cooking procedures that disrupt the entire kitchen and shopping routines.


anusujith profile image

anusujith 4 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

Good and informative Hub. Pleased to make a healthy diet that doesn't spoil our routine cooking strategies.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Jessi10,

I'm pleased you enjoyed and found the article useful. Thanks much for stopping to comment and for the vote!


Jessi10 profile image

Jessi10 4 years ago from Lancaster, CA

I liked this hub. Great information, and even better for new cooks like me! VOTED UP!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, alifeofdesign--

Roasting--of course! How could I forget?! I also like to do a basket of veggies over the BBQ grill...which I forgot to mention.

Thanks very much for your contribution!


alifeofdesign profile image

alifeofdesign 4 years ago from New Hamphire

Some sound advice. As a former chef, I wanted to let folks know that roasting veggies is a wonderful way of imparting tremendous flavor while maintaining healthy habits! I would also recommend investigating coconut oil-sounds scary, but it has some amazing qualities. BEst Regards-


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Om--

Thank you so very much for stopping by. I'm pleased you found the article helpful. I was a very strict label-reading vegetarian for over 15 years, and it was a time in my life when I felt the best and was in my best shape ever. I've relaxed my standards a bit in the years since, but I still prefer to be vegetarian.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

I love this hub! I'm on a vegetarian diet one day a week, just to give my digestive system a break from heavy meaty meals. All these tips are very helpful. Thanks!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, greatstuff--

Thanks for your contribution.

Unfortunately, the Palm Oil question is moot, because the labels do not usually specify which type you're getting. (This is true in large supermarkets where the majority of people shop. I don't know about organic, or specialty import grocery stores, which are out of the budget range of most folks.) Therefore, it is simpler to avoid it on general principles.

As far as the 'smoking point' of olive oil--you do have to moderate your heat, and not try to use it for deep frying. At those temperatures, it would indeed smoke, but since I was addressing minimizing the fat content, deep frying was not in my cooking methods.

At moderate heat, and carefully watched, olive oil is just fine.

You are quite correct in that it does pay to be a label reader. If the oil is a blend, it must be so labeled by law (at least that is true here in the USA). Again, it is sadly the more expensive of the choices to get the pure olive oil.

Greedy corporations fleecing the consumers? Nothing new there. I have an entire series of artcles on just that topic.

Thank you very much for adding to the discussion.


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia

Hi DzyMsLizzy, A lot of people get confused with the wording 'palm oil' as there are two types of palm oils, the palm kernel oil and the palm fruit oil. Palm fruit oil is healthier and has NO trans-fatty acids, which is the most important factor to consider when buying cooking oil.

Olive oil is healthy but is not suitable for most cooking as the smoke point is lower, hence not suitable for frying. There a few hubs written on this.

Recently there was an article in the British Guardian newspaper on the quality of olive oil available on the market, that majority of olive oil, including the expensive brands,is not 100% olive oil but mixed with other oils. It is frightening to know that consumers are being tricked by greedy entrepreneurs!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi there, RealHousewife--

Oh, yum..roasted garlic. Great on sourdough! (I wonder what happened to my terra cotta garlic roaster????)

So glad you enjoyed the article. And now I'll tell you when you use the plain vegetable oil:

When my youngest was about 10, she thought she'd surprise me by baking a cake. She did ok until the package called for "vegetable oil." The bottle did not say that in so many words, and she figured, "well, olives are vegetables, right?" Hmm... cake made with olive oil...it was ....verrryyy interesting......LOL


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Wow - pretty awesome info. I had no idea what Cold Pressed Olive Oil meant! I do, pretty much, only use olive oil. I very rarely use vegetable oil - in fact I am out of it and in no hurry to replace it because I don't know when I would even use it again. They even have a spray olive oil which is great for the grill.

I love garlic - I like to chop the top off of a whole head - drizzle it with olive oil and wrap it in a foil ball and toss it in the oven. After about 30 minutes at 400 you have a terrific spread for bread! Very healthy too and you can use it to season veggies or meat.

Loved the info on the cooking methods too - I use a steam basket most of the time and the kids love broccoli that way!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi, Peggy W,

Thanks very much; I'm pleased you enjoyed the article. Thanks very much, too, for the votes and the share!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Good hub about the various ways to enjoy vegetables in our diets. We rarely boil them...but great idea to save the water for other uses such as boiling rice, noodles or incorporating into soups. Voted useful and will share.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, L.L.Woddard

Hee hee...I'm rather a fan of puns...accidental or otherwise. That's another great idea for using the vegetable water. Thanks for adding that tip, and thanks for the vote and the share!


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

Lots of "sage" advice here. (Pardon the pun, please.) Another use for the leftover vegetable water/broth is to use when preparing rice, couscous or quinoa. It will add nutrition and flavor.

Voted up and SHARED.

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