You have some vegetables that you want to cook for dinner, and you want your body to get the most benefit from them. What should you do?
You probably know that boiling them in water can leach some of the nutrients into the water. You may even know that sautéing them in good olive oil may add nutritive benefits like additional phenolics from the olives. But did you know that cutting vegetables may cause some nutrient loss when their cells are sliced straight through? (That's why tearing leafy vegetables and herbs is often recommended; their cells stay more intact.)
A recent report on NPR reveals that cutting may have an upside, though.
Polyphenols, also known as phenolics or simply phenols, can increase when foods are chopped, sliced or cut with a knife. When the vegetable is sliced and the cells are cut, it creates more polyphenols to "defend the vegetable tissue from further damage." Polyphenols are considered beneficial because they are antioxidants that help ward off inflammation in the body which can lead to various diseases.
The bitter truth about polyphenols
This sounds like a sweet deal, right? Actually, it's a bitter deal — and a complicated one.
Polyphenols are slightly bitter, and they can alter the taste of a vegetable that's been chopped. Chopping may also alter a vegetable's texture because the damaged cells release enzymes that can make the vegetable softer and mushier.
Another downside to chopping is that chopped vegetables brown more quickly, and the browning can break down the polyphenols. So unless you're cooking and/or serving your chopped vegetables immediately, there may be no nutritive benefit to cutting. Storing them in the refrigerator after chopping will slow down the browning process, but not completely.
Plus, the creation of polyphenols uses up vitamin C, so the vegetable will lose some of that nutrient.
To make it more complicated, the knife you use can make a difference, too. A blunt knife causes more cell damage than a sharp knife. When the vegetables come in contact with copper (found in steal knives) the browning process may increase. So, ceramic or plastic knives — as long as they aren't too dull — may be your best bet.
Just eat your veggies
The best way to get the nutrients in vegetable is to simply eat them. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)
To be honest, trying to figure out if you're better off cutting or ripping your vegetables to gain a few extra polyphenols sounds incredibly complicated and unrealistic. Worrying about whether you should rip or chop your vegetables could keep you from doing either. It could definitely keep you from doing meal prep when you have time (don't want to cut those vegetables too soon!), and end up sending you to the fast-food drive thru on a hectic night instead of eating a healthy, home-cooked meal.
Getting back to the original question: What should you do to get the most nutrients out of your vegetables? It seems like the best advice is to eat them.
Just eat your vegetables — a lot of them, every day. If you're eating at least three servings a day in various colors, you can chop or tear without worrying about a little potassium leaking out or fewer phenolics getting in.
Go ahead and chop or rip. Just don't do this: