Are You Maxing Out Your Fruits & Veggies?
6 Ways to Strrrrretch Their Nutritional Value
It’s the stuff of late-night commercials: What if we could max out on nutrition without maxing out on food? With food prices on the rise and fruit and vegetable serving requirements firmly set in stone, extracting the most nutrition and disease prevention from our food purchases is just good sense. The key is to make the nutrients we are already eating go the extra mile. Is it possible to put the stretch on nutritional value?
It’s no dietary miracle, but we found a few legitimate ways to get more super in our superfoods and squeeze more health from our healthy eating. So go ahead –max out, don’t pig out. Here’s how:
1. Go ahead — cook it a little.
While we tend to think of raw foods as the most nutritious, it’s not always the case. Carrots and tomatoes seem to be the exception: gently cooking them actually allows more nutrients to be released, turning golden veggies nutritional gold. While a sliced tomato can appear to make the perfect nutritional plate, cooking tomatoes, as with sauces, is actually better: it breaks down the cell walls making those beneficial vitamins and phytochemicals more easily available for absorption by the body, and it increases the level of lycopene — an antioxidant thought to help prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss.
Boil your carrots? Simmer your tomatoes? Crush your garlic? You can find these and some other under-the-radar tips to Boost Your Veggie Power to get the best nutritional bang from famously healthy foods.
2. Chop it up.
While keeping food intact before you prepare it is the best advice (resist the urge to pre-slice or chop for convenience), chopping at the time of preparation can help maximize the absorption of carotenoid nutrients, like those found in carrots. Research indicates that chopping or grating breaks down the plant material: the smaller the particle size, the better the absorption of beta-carotene. That goes for squash, kale, and sweet potatoes too, all great beta-carotene delivery systems.
3. Get the Skin(ny).
Even the grape-peeling diva Mae West would balk at a request to peel a wild blueberry. Just as well, since their skins are a must-eat: their high skin-to-pulp ratio is what makes them an antioxidant powerhouse! But when it comes to fruit, some skins are quick to be removed for easy snacking; veggies like eggplant, cucumbers, radish – even potatoes – are often stripped for cooking. In most cases, resist the urge to peel – the skins hold the nutrients, especially when they are dark in color.
In fact, some nutritional information suggests that even the seemingly non-edible skins of fruits like bananas or kiwi can help combat cancer—and that dumping the stalk and the core of foods means missing out on prevention properties that could be better in our bodies. Here’s the scoop on how to eat the nutrient-dense skins of some unlikely foods.
Of course, anticipating eating the skins of fruits and veggies is another good reason to choose organic produce. But be sure to wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully before cooking and eating either way.
4. Use your fresh, or make use of frozen.
It’s a fact of life: time is the enemy. Produce that is sitting in your refrigerator is being drained of its nutrients. What’s more, food that sits on trucks during transport and then on grocery store shelves are no less susceptible to this nutritional leakage. The solution? Buy produce as fresh as possible and consume it soon afterward. But if going fresh is just frustrating, there’s another alternative for preserving nutritional value: IQF freezing of fruits and veggies preserve all the nutrients of fresh until the moment you want to use them, with no waste. And, they are frozen at their peak, which means no sitting on trucks or shelves – it gives your the best nutrition for your buck and the ultimate convenience.
Did you also know that serving foods promptly is the best way to get the most nutrition? The longer they stand, the more nutrients are lost.
5. Find your superfood’s sidekick.
Ready for an anti-anti-fat tip you can get behind? Research suggest that adding a little fat to your tomatoes helps absorption of nutrition. To get the most out of a tomato and boost your lycopene intake, you need only drizzle it with a little olive oil, or add an avocado. It might be nice to know you can forget the low-fat dressing – it’s the fat you need to enhance your plate!
The power of combining food doesn’t stop at the tomato. Certain food pairings provide more nutritional benefits and fight disease. The idea is to find the food combinations that create synergy and maximize nutrition benefit. These ideas from CBS.com present some dynamic duos that up the nutritional content. Tasty suggestions include spinach salad with mandarin oranges and fresh squeezed lemon dressing (an iron-vitamin C combo), and red wine sangria with mango and kiwi (it’s a combination of resveratrol and vitamin E).
You can find out more about synergistic foods for optimum health from our previous post, Food Synergy: Nature’s Meal Plan where we give you the background on these nutritional allies.
6. Avoid cooking culprits.
It comes as no surprise that frying food is a way of negating nutritional value. Deep frying causes continuous oxidation of oil, and that is a source of free radicals, those black hat agents that wreak havoc on healthy cells. Protective antioxidants, whether in the food or the oil, are depleted during the process of oxidation, so the benefit is lost, even for vegetables.
The best cooking method to preserve nutrients? Steaming, of course. It preserves both flavor and nutrients. Stir-frying, microwaving, broiling and high-temperature roasting are also good options, with boiling being a nutrient obliterator. (The microwave is sometimes blamed for taking the nutrients out of food, but it may be the water they are cooked in – no evidence yet suggests it’s the microwave itself.)
Eager to max out on health? While integrating these health-enhancing ideas can help put the super in your superfoods, our best advice is not to worry how you’re eating your fruits and veggies, as long as they end up on your plate.