Maintaining a healthy diet has a lot to do with the types of food you choose in order to get your daily recommended intake of nutrients. Creating an optimum diet doesn’t stop there, however. Getting the highest amount of nutritional value from the foods you choose involves all aspects of how you treat your food, from choosing to preparing to storing it.
There a few tips that you can employ in your daily nutritional routine that can save so many of the nutrients that you may be wasting on improper storage and preparation.
Picking Your Food
When you are choosing your food, your initial instinct is probably that fresh, organic food is going to be the healthiest choice. It might surprise many to learn that canned or frozen foods may in fact retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Exposure to air, light and water, as well as the length of time that elapses between the time a fruit or vegetable is picked all affect how many nutrients have been lost before food even make sit to your kitchen.
In the best case scenario, we could all eat fruits and vegetables that are picked fresh locally. Even better if you have your own garden and you can pick your food so it is straight from the garden to your dinner table. Second best are fruits and vegetables that come from local growers so that they don’t have to endure a long travel period before even reaching your grocery store. If your fruit is traveling many miles to be with you, chances are that it is picked slightly under ripe. Fruits and vegetables that are ripened on the vine, and grown outdoors instead of in a greenhouse, are highest in nutrients from the outset.
Nutrients are not lost in food that has been frozen, although the processing that happens before the freezing may affect the nutritional value of the food. Many fruits and vegetables are blanched before they are frozen or canned (boiled briefly in water), and some nutrients are lost in that process. The fact that fruit and vegetables are often frozen soon after they are picked may make up for nutrients lost during blanching.
Finally, canned foods can be a good choice if you want to keep certain foods on hand. Canned foods will retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts left to sit out for too long. Another interesting, and somewhat surprising fact is that preservatives may not be all that bad. For example, sulfites can lend to retaining Vitamins A and C, and ascorbic acid can help retain Vitamins A and E as well as some minerals.
Certain processing that food endures can strip nutrients from your diet. A good example is in the milling of grains. Most of the fibre contained in grains are found in the husks, which is removed during milling. Try to choose whole grains (such as brown rice) and starches made with whole grains (such as whole wheat pasta and whole grain bread). Foods that are re-fortified with fibre are not as nutritious as those made with whole grains and their nutrients intact.
There are three Rs when it comes to cooking food for high nutritive value: reduce the amount of water used in cooking, reduce cooking time, and reduce food’s surface area exposed to heat and water. There are many people in the raw food movement that maintain that any cooked food is a nutritional waste of time, and that only raw food will give you the highest nutritional value, but this is not necessarily true. In fact, some foods, such as onions, garlic and tomatoes actually increase their nutritional value if cooked properly. Cooked food is also often easier to digest than raw.
Of the ways to cook food so as to retain the maximum nutritional value, the best are steaming, pressure cooking, grilling and stir-frying. The microwave seems like a good way to go, but in fact some studies have shown that the radiation used to cook in microwaves actually changes the molecular composition of the food, leaving the nutritional value altered. Boiling water is one of the quickest ways to leech foods of their nutrients. The longer and hotter the process of cooking in water, the more stripped of nutrients your food will be when it comes time to eat. Boiling your food can strip a good half of the nutrients, while steaming food quickly loses only about 10%.
The exposure of food to water in the washing process is also one place where nutrients can be leeched away. This is not to say that your shouldn’t wash your veggies, just do so quickly instead of letting food soak in water.
The manner in which you store and prepare your fruits and veggies as well as how they are prepared for cooking also affect the nutritional value. Foods that are high in water-soluble vitamins (C and the B complex) are the most likely to lose nutrients with improper storage and high temperatures. When you store food, place it in an airtight container when possible in the fridge. It is better to shop more often and consume food faster than store food for longer lengths of time. Once food has been cooked, it is okay to freeze it, but the more often you freeze and defrost food, the more nutrients are lost.
When preparing food, cut it up as close to the meal as possible. When cooking and serving fruits and vegetables, leave them in larger pieces. Because so many of fruit and vegetables’ nutrients are in the skin, or directly below it, it is ideal if you can leave the skin on when cooking. Instead of peeling veggies, scrub them with a brush or scrape the thinnest outer layer with a sharp paring knife. This allows the nutrients to sink into the flesh of the food. When possible, eat the skin, or else peel it after the cooking process (especially for root vegetables like potatoes and beets).
Proper storage and preparation of food is simple, and it can make a big difference in your body getting all of the nutrients that you believe you are consuming. In this health-conscious era we are living in, it makes sense to maximize your food’s potential rather than have to consume more to recover the wasted nutrients.