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Bad Habits #9 – Why Are You Eating That Compost Pile?

I’m about to commit heresy against the kind and compassionate vegetable eaters of the world.  The eaters of plants who insist that theirs is the One True Diet who endlessly shower the Internet with evidence of their latest #crueltyfree meal.  By that I mean vegetarians.  And their somewhat more orthodox and fundamentalist cousins, the vegans.  It’s a heresy I’ve discovered in my research on how best to maximize the micronutrients I get while minimizing calories.  This blasphemy is as follows: We should never eat salad.

I realize that this seems like an unforgivable affront in the eyes of God and man and Mother Nature.  I could be beset by rabid vegan inquisitors for uttering such sacrilege.  It’s very possible that Clifton Collins and Thomas Jane could break down a wall and punish me for a veganity violation.  But no matter how many mean tweets I might receive from the swarms of high and mighty eaters of green things, I stand by this.

For starters, salad is sort of bland.  The only way to make non-bland salad is to top it with stuff that has actual flavor.  Like dousing it in cheese, which, as I’ve noted before, can be a bad idea.  Or covering it with sauce or dressing or whatever, which can also be a bad idea.  So, just about the only way to make a salad not bland is to cover it with stuff that breaks your diet.

Nothing made the general lameness of salad more clear than old episodes of Iron Chef.  The original Japanese one, not the Food Network knockoff.  Whenever one of the chefs made a salad, the commentators would describe it as a “subtle” salad.  That was literally the only adjective they could come up with.  The fact that they could come up with no more enticing adjective than “subtle” demonstrates just how dull salad is.  Why would anyone want to eat something that was merely “subtle”?  Air and water are pretty damned subtle too.  With only slightly less flavor than salad.

But there’s another, more practical reason not to eat salad.  Cooked vegetables frequently have more nutritional value.  It’s basically because plants’ cell walls are harder than animals’ and…jeez, I’m boring myself with this biology lesson.  The regular guy’s way of saying this is that certain types of cooked vegetables are broken down somewhat, allowing you to absorb more of the good stuff.  So let’s walk through the various salad ingredients and see the differences between cooked and raw.

Let’s start with lettuce.  Actually, bad example.  Lettuce is basically useless.  It’s like slightly crisp, green water.  There’s almost no nutrition in lettuce.  And there’s no information on the nutritional value of cooked lettuce that I could find.  Probably because only a lunatic would cook lettuce.  

So let’s start with green, leafy things that aren’t lettuce but go well in a salad.  For starters, there’s Popeye’s favorite.  Spinach.  I’ve mentioned before that Popeye was on to something with the spinach.  

Spinach may be the healthiest thing there is. It’s got almost every micronutrient that doesn’t require ending the life of another member of the animal kingdom. And even in its raw form, a handful or so of it will provide virtually all of your daily needs in Vitamin A, and all of the Vitamin K. But it only provides bits and pieces of the rest.

But sauté, steam, or otherwise lightly cook it, and the vitamins provided will increase by anywhere from 400–700% in most cases. Instead of getting ten or so percent of your iron and manganese, you’ll get more like 75%. Instead of getting a small bit of vitamin B2, vitamin E, and potassium, you’ll get over 25%. And those are just a few examples.

And I know you’re thinking spinach is bland and lame and maybe even gross.  But that depends on how you spice it.  Add some salt and pepper and maybe something with a little bite to it. Or, you could cook some up with your scrambled eggs and bacon each morning, like I do.  

Or you could admire the genius of the 19th century pizza master Raffaele Esposito and eat his masterpiece, the Margherita pizza.  His ingredients matched the colors of the Italian flag. White cheese, red tomato sauce and green spinach.  It’s super patriotic if you’re from that place that thinks pasta is it’s own food group. It’s also the easiest way to sneak spinach into a meal without making the process of eating it feel like a chore.

And if spinach doesn’t fit your taste or personality, there are other options. If you like kombucha and don’t like bathing (I.E., you’re a hipster), there’s always kale.  Or if you like your cousins in an unholy way (I.E. you’re a redneck/hillbilly), you could go with collard greens or turnip greens.  These have many of the benefits of spinach, although not quite as much.  Cooking them increases these benefits by anywhere from 200% to 500%.  So if you’re bored with cooked spinach, these are good alternatives.

And if you’re more of a basic, boring person, there’s always cabbage.  The slightly more useful cousin of lettuce.   In both it’s red and green forms, it’s still a good source of vitamin C and K when eaten raw.  But cooking it will increase most of the nutrients available by 50-100%.

Mushrooms are yet another salad thing that is better cooked, if you like eating alien fungus that grows in the waste of animals.  Raw mushrooms are a decent source of vitamins B2, B3, B5, copper, and selenium, with smaller portions of the other things.  But cooking mushrooms increases the nutrients you can absorb by 200% to 700%.  And since this is yet another thing that goes well with eggs and bacon, it’s easy to mix them in and cover up for the fact that they don’t actually have flavor.

And what about cucumbers, another ubiquitous salad ingredient?  Well, they’re not much better than lettuce.  And they’re also something only a maniac would cook.  I haven’t had either of these in months.  There’s no point.

But there are it’s exotic cousins, the zucchini and the squash. These are decent sources of vitamins A, B2, B6, and C, as well as manganese and potassium. And, overall, cooking them increases the nutritional value by 50–100%. Although it can actually reduce the vitamin C.

And I know you’re thinking “but they’re gross”.  Not necessarily.  I once had the pleasure of visiting one of Enola Prudhomme’s restaurants in Lafayette, Louisiana.  They made both of them edible by attacking them with Cajun spice.  Sure, my eyes watered a bit, but I could wash that down with various libations of questionable origin only available in Louisiana. Like bowel-burning moonshine apparently distilled in the most disreputable part of the bayou.  Or chase it with some alligator bites, which, as I noted in a previous piece, can be pretty good for you.

And then there’s the only thing in a typical salad that has flavor…tomatoes.  As is typical of things that taste good, it’s nutritional value is not so great, although it does have a decent amount of Vitamin C in its raw form.  And I never thought of cooking them, until my wife made me a full English breakfast.  Yes, they cook their tomatoes.  Which I thought was weird.  But now I know that cooking them will double the iron benefit, amongst other things.  Although it can reduce the vitamin C.

This doesn’t count for fried green tomatoes.  That’s something those of us from the exotic lands of sweet iced tea and inbreeding do to make tomatoes unhealthy.  We cover the tomatoes with “breading” (flour, usually) and add so many carbs that even the most stoic Keto bro would flee in terror.  I’ve noted before that there’s a reason Georgia is so obese.  So cook the vegetables, but don’t add unhealthy stuff.  That defeats the purpose.

Although now that I think about it, I guess you don’t have to pass on salad.  Just cook it first.  I’ve put a few pictures on my (admittedly underused) Instagram page of my attempts at cooked salad.  Which have actually turned out well, considering my mediocre cooking abilities.  

Add some (or all) of the leafy greens above, mushrooms, tomatoes, and maybe the zucchini and squash too.  And maybe some of the best of all salad ingredients: bacon.  Then season with a little salt and pepper, stir fry in olive oil for five minutes and add some balsamic vinegar.  It’s a salad, except with flavor and more nutritional value.

Now, it should be noted that cooking some vegetables can actually reduce some of the nutrients in them.  And I’ve noticed that certain fruits are actually less nutritious when cooked.  And boiling anything tends to pull out the water soluble vitamins, so steaming or grilling is best.  Cooking isn’t always a good thing.  But, in general, if something has no real taste in its raw form, cook it.  It’ll probably make it healthier.

Having said that, it’s important to remember not to overcook the vegetables.  Cooking them too long can actually destroy the nutrients.  Well, it destroys the vitamins.  You can’t destroy the minerals.  Unless you’re somehow having a thermonuclear reaction in your kitchen.  If you are, you should stop cooking immediately.  

Personally, I’ve never done this.  I may have unintentionally produced biological or chemical weapons in my kitchen (some of which are on my Instagram feed), but I can proudly say I’ve never created nukes in my kitchen.  I’ve never crossed that line of international law.  Along with…over 99% of the human population.  Or maybe 100%.  I don’t think Oppenheimer was doing what he did in a kitchen.

But my culinary violations of international law are beside the point.  The point is, I don’t eat raw salad.  Unless someone makes it for me. Free food changes my mind in a hurry.  Even if it’s just a free salad.  But cooking veggies, for the most part, allows your body to absorb higher levels of micronutrients.  And you can cook them in ways that aren’t merely “subtle”.

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Published by drilldowndiet

Formerly obese CPA/health humorist using Cronometer and FitBod to lose weight. Sharing assorted life hacks to squeeze nutrition and exercise into a busy schedule. Also on Twitter at @drilldowndiet and Facebook.

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