It’s an inconvenient truth of dieting: the discovery that many of the wholesome, healthful foods in the produce section are more costly than items in the junk food aisle. So when you’re investing in fresh vegetables, you want to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. Will microwaving them zap out lots of nutrients? Not necessarily, but as with all cooking methods, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
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You’re probably so used to “nuking” foods — at home and perhaps at work — that you don’t give much thought to the process. A Harvard Medical School article explains that microwave ovens use waves of electromagnetic energy to cook your foods quickly, energizing water molecules that speed cooking by heating up the surrounding molecules. This speed can be a big advantage when preparing vegetables, letting them cook tender-crisp rather than limp.
Cooking and Nutrients
Yes, microwaving can vaporize some nutrients. But so can any other cooking method — especially if you boil veggies in water and then toss the water down the drain. Chemistry professor and avid home cook Robert L. Wolke advises that any cooking technique can deplete nutrients such as antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamins B and C. To conserve as many nutrients as possible, he recommends microwaving vegetables as briefly and with as little water as possible. For instance, he says, three to four minutes may be plenty of time for Brussels sprouts, which are water-rich on their own.
Tips on Timing
How long should you microwave vegetables for maximum nutrition? Timing can vary with freshness and with the power of your oven, but here are some guidelines from the Washington State University Farmers Market Nutrition Program: Wash veggies, slice if necessary and cover in a microwave-safe dish with a couple of tablespoons of water. Figure on about three to five minutes for hardy greens or snap peas, up to 10 minutes for carrots or beets, five to seven minutes for a potato, up to six minutes for cabbage or sweet corn, five or six minutes for zucchini and just two or three minutes for fresh spinach.
More Veggie Ideas
Chances are you could benefit from having more vegetables on your plate – regardless of how they are cooked. So take advantage of what’s in season, and go ahead and use your microwave for convenience. For a vegetable medley, use veggies of similar types and sizes so that they will cook evenly — for example, mixed florets of broccoli and cauliflower. An especially fun and easy vegetable to microwave is spaghetti squash. Slice it in half, remove the seeds and microwave covered for about 10 minutes. When it’s tender, use a fork to pull out delicate, spaghetti-like strands, ready for sauce or seasoning.