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Fresh is best, frozen is next. Fresh, ripe produce in season will usually be highest in nutrients—but you need to eat fruits and vegetables year-round, even in the middle of winter. Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that freezing produce immediately after harvesting retains 95 to 100 percent of most vitamins and minerals, with the exception of vitamin C, which diminishes by up to 30 percent in frozen produce. Keep several varieties of fruits and vegetables in your freezer so they’re always available.
Cut cooking times for vegetables. As a rule of thumb, the longer foods are exposed to heat, the more nutrients are lost. To reduce cooking times, cover the pot to retain heat and avoid evaporation, place vegetables in already boiling water, and enjoy vegetables with a crunchier texture.
Keep canned on hand. Canned fruits and vegetables that contain little or no sodium or added sugar are easy and convenient; keeping a variety on hand guarantees you immediate access to important nutrients. And, research has shown that people who include more canned produce in their diets have overall better diets that are higher in important nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and less saturated fat.
Be water-wise. USDA data show that up to 50 percent of the vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6, and folate content in food can be lost to the water it’s cooked in. To retain water-soluble nutrients, use cooking methods like steaming or stir-frying that use little or no water, reduce the amount of water used in steaming and boiling, and reuse cooking water in soups or sauces to capture escaped nutrients.
Don’t ditch the peel. Keeping peels on foods such as potatoes, carrots, apples, and pears preserves more nutrients, which tend to concentrate near the surface. In place of peeling, opt for a good vegetable scrubber.
Chop less. Chopping foods into smaller pieces increases the surface area exposed to light, heat, and water—three factors that degrade nutrients. One exception is garlic and others in the allium family; chopping these foods and allowing them to sit for 10 minutes before cooking increases the availability of their active components.
Make the most of your microwave. Since it cuts cooking time and water use, the microwave is a nutrient-friendly kitchen appliance. Microwaving preserves higher antioxidant activity in a majority of vegetables better than other cooking methods, according to research. Also, choose glass or ceramic plates and bowls for microwave use; harmful chemicals can leach out of plastic into your food, and some plastics actually begin to break down during microwaving.
Keep it cool. The nutrient content in many fruits and vegetables can be maintained with cooler temperatures, high humidity, and less air contact. Store produce in airtight containers in the fridge.
Use it all. Next time you are getting ready to throw away those carrot or radish tops, think again. Many vegetables are entirely edible and rich in nutrients, so using the entire plant, from root to stem, is a sure way to add nutrients to your day. Or, toss vegetable scraps into a pot of water and make your own flavorful stock, which can be stored in the freezer and used as a base for soups, stews, and sauces.
To learn more healthy food prep and cooking tips, purchase Superfoods at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.