There is a major debate in nutritional circles as to the benefits of raw against cooked vegetables and greens. However, there is no simple answer. It all depends on our personal health objectives and the nutrients we require.
Certain vitamins and nutrients that are water-soluble (i.e. that dissolve in water), like Vitamin B, Vitamin C and some minerals, lose nutrient values when cooked. The method and time of cooking also affects the quantum of nutrient loss.
On the other hand, when you cook vegetables, their cell walls become less rigid and this allows greater absorption of certain other nutrients. Carrots, tomatoes and spinach are more nutrient rich when cooked.
However, this is a discussion for another day. To eat your vegetables raw or cooked depends on what your nutritional goals are. In this instance, we are talking about iron absorption. For that, cooked is better.
Most green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek leaves (methi) and mustard leaves (sarson), etc. that are high in iron content, give you more iron when cooked. For example, 1 cup of raw spinach will give you 0.8 mg of iron; whereas cooked spinach will give you 6.5 mg of iron.
As the problem of iron deficiency is greater in vegetarians, we will look at increasing the bioavailability of non-heme iron for the body. To maximise iron absorption, the first thing we need to do is cook it in your iron kadai. Food cooked in the kadai absorbs iron from it, to supplement its own iron content.
Acidic food like tomato based curries or tomato chutney absorb the greatest amounts of iron from your kadai when cooked in it.
Adding an ingredient, rich in Vitamin C, like tomato, red capsicum, orange or lemon juice, will increase the amount of iron that the body absorbs.
However, the best vegetarian source of iron is moringa leaves. The Moringa or Drumstick tree is often called the Miracle Tree, as its leaves, flowers, fruit and root can be eaten – all of which have immense health benefits.
The Moringa leaves and the Drumsticks themselves have high iron content. The leaves have 3 times more iron than spinach. When dried, the leaves have 25 times the amount.
Many of us no longer know how to cook either the leaves or the drumsticks themselves. To help you I am sharing 3 simple recipes.
Recipe 1 – Stir Fried Moringa Leaves
Ingredients: 1 bowl of young moringa leaves; 2 small onions chopped fine; ½ green chilly; ½ red chilly; juice of 1 lime; ½ tsp. salt (to taste); 2 tbs. vegetable oil; grated coconut to garnish.
Method: Heat oil and fry the onions and chilies in your iron kadai. Add the moringa leaves. Add salt to taste. Keep stirring. Add lime juice and cook until soft. Garnish with grated coconut.
Recipe 2 – Moringa with Toor Dal
Ingredients for Dal: 1 cup Toor Dal (washed and soaked); 3 handfuls of young moringa leaves; 9 cups water.
Method: Bring water to a boil in your iron kadai. Add toor dal, stir and bring to a boil again. Add moringa leaves. Cover and simmer until cooked (about 35 minutes) and water almost totally evaporated. Remove from flame. Transfer to another utensil or bowl. Clean kadai.
Ingredients for tadaka (seasoning): 7 cloves garlic unpeeled; 7 curry leaves; 1 chilly (deseeded); ½ tsp. turmeric (haldi); ½ tsp. cumin seeds (jeera); 1 tomato quartered, 2½ tbs. toor dal; 2 tbs. vegetable oil. 1 tsp salt.
Method: Heat oil in your cleaned iron kadai. Add garlic, toor dal and curry pata for 1 minute. Add dry spices and chilly and fry. Add quartered tomatoes and 1 tsp. salt. Stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the cooked toor dal with 1 cup of hot water and cook for 5-7 minutes until well mixed and heated.
Recipe 3 – Drumstick Curry
Ingredients: 1½ onion chopped; ½ inch ginger; 4 pods of garlic; ½ green chilly; 1 tsp. chilly powder; ½ tsp. cumin powder (jeera); ½ tsp. coriander powder (dhania); ½ tsp. tumeric powder (haldi); 2 small tomatoes chopped; 4 drumsticks cut into 4 inch pieces; grated coconut; salt to taste; 2 tbs. vegetable oil. Fresh coriander for garnish. Hot water.
Method: Heat oil in your iron kadai. Add ginger garlic and onions. Fry. Add all the dry spices, grated coconut and tomatoes and cook. Add salt to taste (less than a tsp.), and the drumsticks. Mix well. Add 2 cups of hot waters and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until or until drumsticks cooked. Add more water if required. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
Clean your kadai immediately after use.
Try and eat Moringa in some form at least thrice a week. Avoid having tea or coffee with these meals, as they contain a compound called Polyphenols, that inhibit the absorption of iron and can reduce iron absorption by 60-70%. Keep a gap of a few hours after your meal.
I hope you will use your iron kadai every day to cook 1 vegetable or meat dish, and let me know what happens to your hemoglobin level in 3 months time.