All that good fiber and folate may not matter if you're dousing your spinach in butter or ghee.

By Isadora Baum
January 30, 2021
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Eating your daily vegetables is a great way to boost your health and protect your heart, as your ticker needs antioxidants, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals to fight disease and work its best. Greens in particular, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach, as well as some starchy veggies too, are all high in these protective antioxidants and healthful properties.

Plus, when you have more vegetables on your plate, you are likely cutting back on carbs and meats, simply due to plating swaps. (Think: a salad instead of mozzarella sticks as an appetizer, or a side of greens over the fries to go with your chicken.)

But you might be defeating the whole purpose of making these wholesome dietary swaps just by using the wrong cooking technique or adding ingredients that are not good for your heart's health. Here are a few mistakes to avoid making when you are cooking veggies at home or dining out.

1. You Use Coconut Oil as Your Go-to Oil

"Though it has a health halo, coconut oil is high in saturated fat and is known to increase cholesterol levels, so don't drown your veggies in coconut oil for that reason," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

If you love the flavor of coconut oil, use a little bit in moderation, but stick to oils with higher ratios of unsaturated fat, like olive, canola, or avocado oil when roasting or sautéing your vegetables.

2. You Add in Extra Salt

You might make a great veggie stir-fry or a side dish of mashed cauliflower rice, but if you're using that salt shaker excessively, you will defeat the purpose of all those plants and raise your blood pressure and cholesterol. That can ultimately put your heart health at risk for disease, says Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD. "Too much salt can raise blood pressure and high blood pressure is linked to conditions like heart failure and heart attack," she says, so go with spices and herbs over salt instead.

3. You Don't Deep-Fry but You Do Pan-Fry

While pan-frying vegetable side dishes can be a good way to cook them quickly, you might increase the calories and fat by taking in too much oil. "Veggies can be great when sautéed, but actually, in some cases, you may cook them at too low of a temperature, which can lead to them absorbing too much oil," says Schapiro. If this is the case, consider a non-stick pan and using an oil spritzer for a fine coating of oil (don't use a non-stick spray on a non-stick pan), or just be super careful to only use a small amount of oil when sautéing.

4. You Boil Your Vegetables

"Boiling veggies strips them of their nutrients, removing any heart-healthy benefits," says Schapiro, so you're not really getting those nutrients you're expecting, and it defeats the purpose of eating them altogether. Instead of boiling, you should grill, bake, roast, sauté, or try a method that retains more nutrition in the cooking process. Steaming is OK, but you should be careful to not cook them too long, or you'll destroy the nutrients just as you do with boiling.

5. You Dress the Foods in Butter or Ghee

Don't slather those greens in butter or ghee, as both are high in saturated fats and can be bad for your heart over time if consumed in excess. "Ghee is 50 percent saturated fat, and not only can this raise your bad cholesterol, but cooking with ghee can lead to weight gain and put you at risk for a heart attack," says Schapiro.

Same with butter. Cooking veggies in butter may taste good, but there can be health risks, too. "Butter is high in saturated fat, which can clog your arteries and raise LDL (bad cholesterol)," Schapiro says. So, use these sporadically and go with a heart-healthy oil instead. If you do want to add butter, make it the last thing on your food so you need only a little when it touches your tongue.

6. You Cook When the Pan Is Too Hot

Sautéing vegetables with oil that has begun smoking can mean ingesting oxidized and altered fatty acids. Those may impact inflammation and heart health. "You want vegetables to hit the pan just before smoke point is reached so you get the sear and texture you desire, without the composition of the fats being altered," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. "Higher heat oils include avocado, sesame, and almond oil, so using them can lessen the chances of hitting the smoke point if you easily are distracted while cooking," she says.

7. You Use Pre-cut Veggies Only

Pre-cut vegetables can be a handy shortcut when you're crunched for time, but those vegetables may not be as healthful as the fresher options you cut yourself. "Once fruits and vegetables are cut, their cells are exposed to oxygen which exhausts vitamin C of its antioxidant potential in your body," says Jones.

Keeping natural vitamin C-rich foods plentiful in your diet can be helpful to protect your body. Both smoking and frequent illness impact risk of other chronic diseases, like heart disease, Jones says. So only get pre-cut when you're really short on time, or for super challenging veggies or fruits you need help with, like pineapple.

8. You Charred Your Vegetables

While risk is much higher for meats, charred grilled vegetables can develop "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons," cancer-causing substances that may form when liquid drips from your vegetables onto the grill. "While research is still investigating the impact of grilled vegetables themselves, eating vegetables grilled with meats can result in ingestion of PAHs as well," says Jones. For now, cook them separately, and be vigilant of how well done your vegetables are if you're worried.

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