5 foods you’re eating wrong

How to cut, cook and sip for the most health benefits.
© Men's Health // © Men's Health

Choosing whole foods over supplements or fresh produce instead of processed potato chips is a no-brainer. But how to cook those foods to get the most bang for your buck isn’t always as obvious. Should you make enough salad for the whole week? Is it better to blend fresh or frozen fruit in a smoothie? Which is ideal: steaming or boiling your vegetables?

The short answer is that the healthiest cooking and prep methods change from food to food. “Heat, water, storage and exposure to air can all cause certain foods to lose their nutrients,” says Mary Cluskey, Ph.D, R.D., associate professor of nutrition at Oregon State University.

--By Rachael Schultz, Men’s Health

More: 6 new foods rules to follow

1 of 7 Fresh produce (Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images)

Vegetables

Your mistake: Microwaving or boiling them.

The fix: Steaming.

Why it works: Steaming helps retain cancer-fighting nutrients in broccoli better than other cooking methods, reports a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sulforaphane—a plant compound with strong anti-cancer properties—is abundant in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and arugula. The enzyme myrosinase is necessary to release the compound, but most cooking methods destroy it. Steaming is a slower, gentler heat, and isn’t intense enough to kill myrosinase, explains study author Elizabeth Jeffery, Ph.D. Cook broccoli in a steaming basket for 3 to 4 minutes for the biggest cancer-fighting boost.

More: 14 new ways to eat vegetables

2 of 7 Bowl of steamed broccoli (Sisoje/Getty Images)

Strawberries

Your mistake: Slicing them before eating.

The fix: Eating them whole.

Why it works: Whole strawberries contain 8 to 12 percent more vitamin C than the cut fruits, according to a 2011 Brazilian study. That’s because vitamin C begins to break down when it’s exposed to light and oxygen. For the biggest C boost, store whole strawberries in the fridge—cool temperatures help retain vitamin C, too, finds the same study.

More: The fruit that improves your cholesterol

3 of 7 Bowl of strawberries (Tanyasharkeyphotography/Getty Images)

Wine

Your mistake: Letting a bottle “breathe."

The fix: Sipping a freshly opened bottle.

Why it works: When red wine is decanted for long periods of time—up to 12 hours—the organic acids and polyphenols begin to break down, according to a 2012 Chinese study. Leaving the bottle open overnight nixes the usual benefits of a glass of red, including decreased depression, increased testosterone and a healthier heart.

More: The 4 healthiest wines in existence

4 of 7 Red wine pouring into wineglass (Getty Images)

Tomatoes

Your mistake: Eating them raw.

The fix: Heating them up.

Why it works: Tomatoes have been linked to lowering men’s risk of stroke, helping fight prostate cancer and preserving brain power with age. Heating tomatoes significantly increases their levels of lycopene, the chemical that can up antioxidant levels. In fact, a recent study in The British Journal of Nutrition found that raw foodists—people who eat mostly uncooked produce—were deficient in lycopene. Cook tomatoes in olive oil for the biggest nutritional boost: Lycopene is fat-soluble, meaning you need fat in your diet for your body to absorb it properly.

More: 12 foods to make the ultimate salad

5 of 7 Cooking tomatoes in olive oil (Debbi Smirnoff/Getty Images)

Frozen produce

Your mistake: You skip right over frozen foods at the grocery store.

The fix: Hitting the freezers.

Why it works: “Most people think only fresh is healthy, but this is a huge misconception,” says Cluskey. In fact, U.K. scientists found that in two out of three cases, frozen fruits and vegetables packed higher levels of antioxidants—including polyphenols, vitamin C and beta-carotene—than the fresh kind. As produce ages, nutrients begin to change and break down, says Cluskey. It's therefore better to eat food that was frozen at prime ripeness with its nutrients intact than week-old produce that no longer has the same beneficial chemical makeup. (Don't have any fresh ingredients available? Make a gourmet meal using frozen food by following these 6 simple tips.)

6 of 7 Frozen green beans (Getty Images)