The way you select, store and prepare your fruits and vegetables can go a long – and will help you get the most nutritional benefit from the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Today, I’m looking at how you can lock in the nutrients in fruit and vegetables.
In order to keep the most nutrients in your fruits and vegetables, it’s sometimes helpful to understand how those nutrients can get lost in the first place. Fruits and vegetables can lose some of their nutritional value if they’re not properly handled. For example, exposure to heat, air, light and water can cause the loss of some nutrients, while short cooking times at moderate temperatures helps to keep nutrients in. And, in some cases, the way you prepare your foods can even make nutrients more usable by the body.
How to Shop
- Which to choose?
Choosing the freshest fruits and vegetables is the first step in making sure the nutrients are locked in. The freshest fruits and vegetables are easy to spot – they’re free of blemishes and soft spots, they’re firm, and their colours are bright rather than dull. The freshest fruits and vegetables will have had the least exposure to air, light and water – all of which can contribute to nutrient losses.
- When to buy?
Buying fruits and vegetables in season is a good idea as buying fruits and vegetables that are out of season means they’ve had a long way to travel from the farm to your fork – time in which valuable nutrients can be lost. If you’re fortunate to have a farmer’s market available to you, try to take advantage. In most cases, the fruits and vegetables are fresher and more locally sourced, which means less chance of nutrient losses.
- Frozen is fine too!
When fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t available, keep in mind that frozen fruits and veggies actually retain their nutrients quite well – in some cases, frozen can actually offer as many nutrients as the fresh options. For one thing, fruits and vegetables to be frozen are usually picked at their peak of ripeness – a time when they’re most nutrient-packed. Unfriendly bacteria are inactivated at freezing temperatures as a result, freezing is a safe preservation method.
How to Prepare
When it’s time to prepare, lightly wash – but don’t soak – your fruits and vegetables. If the first utensil you tend to grab is your peeler, you might want to reconsider. The skins and peels of fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. There’s no need to peel foods like apples, potatoes, carrots and cucumbers – and even foods that we usually do peel, like eggplant or kiwifruit – have edible skins. With citrus fruits, grate some of the tangy zest into salads and cooked vegetables. Don’t pare away the spongy white interior of the citrus peel – it’s full of water-soluble fibre.
Watch what you cut away, too. There can be more vitamin C and calcium in broccoli stems than the florets, more nutrients in asparagus stalks than the tips.
The carotenoid lycopene for example – which gives tomatoes their red colour – is more readily usable by the body when it’s obtained from cooked tomatoes than it is from raw. And your body will take up more lutein (a carotenoid that gives the yellow-green colour to foods like spinach and kiwifruit) from chopped spinach than it will from whole spinach leaves.
How to Cook
The key to retaining nutrients during cooking is to use methods that require the least water and the lowest temperatures. Steaming is one of the best techniques since the food never comes in contact with the water, meaning it helps to preserve precious water-soluble B vitamins and vitamin C.
Microwaving also uses very little water and – despite popular misconception – microwaving does not destroy more nutrients than any other cooking methods. With either method, use as little water as you can. The other advantage to these methods is that they’re quick – shorter cooking times help to preserve nutrients. For this reason, stir-frying your vegetables is also a good option to lock nutrients in.
Pairing nutrient-rich seasonings with your vegetables can increase the nutritional content even further, so add garlic to your broccoli, lemon peel to your green beans, or parsley to your carrots. You’ll get a nice flavour boost too!
Written by Susan Bowerman, Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife.