Excerpted from a Judy E. Buss article, first published in the Sun Coast Media Group Newspapers.
Maximize the Nutritional Value of Your Food!
Buying quality ingredients is only the first step in a healthy diet. How long ago were the groceries purchased, or the methods used to prepare meals, greatly impacts the nutritional value of the resulting fare. Being aware of a few basic facts can go a long way toward assuring that you fully benefit from the nutrients in your food.
Some vitamins are especially fragile, therefore diced vegetables and fruit should be consumed as soon as possible. Chopped produce, particularly unrefrigerated, or left too long in open air (as in salad bars), quickly lose a great deal of their nutrition. The solution: You can wash them, make the salad dressing in advance and refrigerate them. Immediately before a meal, peel and/or chop as needed. Do not buy precut vegetables, including onions, grated potatoes, salad veggies, and fruit.
Avoid using canned and other precooked vegetables, fruit, and grains. They are dead on arrival. That includes rice, and mashed potatoes. Frozen, chopped (uncooked) vegetables and fruit contain some of the original nutrition, however, they should be considered your second choice after fresh ones.
When making a vegetable salad, first place (or make) the dressing in a large salad bowl. While dicing veggies and adding them to the bowl, mix frequently with the dressing. The oil in the dressing coats and seals them, thus limiting vitamin loss.
Cooking vegetables is best done by steaming. When they are cooked in immersed in water, nutrients leach into the fluid and are lost when drained. Soups or stews are the exception, since the liquid in which the veggies are cooked is consumed as well.
Prolonged, intense heat destroys a great deal of the produce’s healthful nutrients. This is one of the reasons why frying, baking and grilling should be limited or avoided, including – sorry friends – casseroles and grilled veggies. Steamed vegetables (and fruit) can be eaten plain, or transformed into numerous mouth-watering dishes. Other preferable cooking methods are stir-frying and sautéing.
When possible, do not peel. In most veggies and fruit the skin, and the area immediately beneath the skin, is where a large concentration of protective and health-enhancing compounds are located.
When selecting groceries, read labels. The ingredients appear in the order of their amount present in the product. For example, in quality bread, cereal, or pasta, the list should begin with the words “whole wheat”, “whole grains”, or” durum flour” and/or “semolina”. Other beneficial ingredients can be barley, spelt, or oats. Any grain product using the words “enriched” or “unbleached” should be left on the store shelf; no amount of CPR can restore its wholesomeness.
Whole grains are, by far, a healthier choice than processed ones: brown rice is superior to white rice. Old Fashioned rolled oats (oatmeal) are better than “instant” ones or sugar-bomb-breakfast-flakes of all kinds.
When possible, use fresh herbs, whether in raw vegetable salads or cooked dishes. Fresh herbs are nutrient-dense and taste infinitely better than dried ones. If you are so inclined, grow some herbs of your own. They are easy and fun to grow, and provide you with a constant fresh supply of these flavor celebrities. Please note: When using fresh herbs in cooking, they must be added in the final 5 – 10 minutes of cooking. Dried herbs, on the other hand, are added early in the process.
If you cook a double batch of a dish for consumption at a later date, eat the second half no later than 2 – 3 days after it was cooked. The same applies to leftovers. Waiting longer diminishes nutrition and flavor: don’t wait until the food begins to grow penicillin…
“Smashing” food in a blender, food processor, or juicer, also reduces its nutritional value. Eat whole fruit, rather than juice, consuming the skin and pulp where appropriate. Soups do not need to be homogenously smooth, unless someone is on a liquid diet for medical reasons. Soups can be partially and gently mashed with - horrors! - a HAND masher… and some lumpiness allowed to remain for a more robust culinary experience.
Using whole foods and fresh, unprocessed ingredients offers an additional bonus: better taste, texture, and natural color. To your health!
Keep the doctor away – deliciously!