If you consider yourself a health foodie, chances are you are consuming a lot of fresh fruit and veggies. Great! But have you considered how much nutrition is actually still left in those greens by the time they’ve been picked, primed and peddled from field to fridge?
It’s a sad truth, but fruits and vegetables loose a portion of their nutrients each day after they’ve been pulled from their root, tree or vine – essentially their life supply. During storage and transport, exposure to heat, light, and oxygen can destroy valuable nutrients and phytochemicals. In fact, research reveals that produce can lose up to 15% of its Vitamin C content daily when kept at room temperature! That means that even before cooking, nutrition is lost.
Of course, there are some nutrients that are more unstable than others, namely Vitamins C, Thiamin and Folate. While eating fruits and vegetables is never a waste of time (you will always obtain some nutrition, and of course, dietary fiber), there is a lot we can do to get more bang for our buck.
Minimize farm to fork time
Shop local at smaller grocery stores or farmers markets where produce has likely been stored for less time and travelled less distance. Where possible, grow your own, even if just in a small herb garden. Prepare your own meals from whole foods as much as possible and use packaged food sparingly.
Keep it cold and sealed
Put your fresh produce in the refrigerator as soon as you are back from the market. Utilize your fridge drawers, as this is usually the coldest part of your fridge. Where appropriate, store them in airtight glass containers/jars, or well-sealed paper bags to minimize exposure to plastic while retaining freshness.
Use your freezer
Consider freezing some of your fresh fruit and vegetables or buying frozen produce. Frozen food without any additives has been proven to maintain its nutrition better than fresh food, as it is generally frozen at the time of picking. The freezing process preserves the vitamins and minerals at their peak levels. Even when cooked, frozen vegetables have been found to be more nutritious then their fresh, cooked counterparts.
A little planning
To maximize the nutrients still present in your food, it is best to consume your produce as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean shovelling your face with raw broccoli as soon as you get home. It may just require some planning ahead. Work out your meals for the next 3-4 days and write a list of the produce you need for your menu. This might mean 2-3 shops a week. That being said, it’s important to find a routine that suits your lifestyle.
Include raw fruit and vegetables into your daily diet to maximize nutrients. That means saying no to pre-cut vegetables! They are not only more expensive, but cutting them increases nutrient loss. When preparing food, cut only right before use and do not chop before storage.
Scrub not peel
Try washing and scrubbing certain vegetables rather than peeling, as much of the water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C) are concentrated in the outer layers.
Don’t overdo it
When cooking, opt for light blanching or steaming as opposed to boiling. Steaming retains significantly more vitamin C and antioxidants than other cooking methods. If boiling, save and use the water for stock, as nutrients leach into the water.
From good to great
Include fermented, cultured, and pickled food in your diet, as these processes actually enhance nutrition in food. Evidence suggests that the presence of organic acids like citric acid in lemons increases the availability of calcium from vegetables, so include lemon juice in dressings.