We don’t eat purely for taste and enjoyment—we also eat to fuel our bodies with the nutrients needed to survive and thrive. But it can be difficult for most people to know if they are getting enough of each necessary vitamin and mineral in their diet, especially because food preparation can impact the nutrient value of some foods.
So, even if you eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables, the way you prepare them may destroy some of the delicate nutrients they contain. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of eating those fruits and vegetables.
After a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins to lose some of its nutrient value. Exposure to light or heat can degrade certain vitamins, so the process of picking, packaging, shipping and stocking produce on store shelves can strip away some nutrients. Ideally, we would all eat fruits and veggies harvested at the peak of ripeness from our own home gardens, trees and shrubs, but this is not realistic for many.
Instead, consider purchasing some of your produce from local farms and farmers markets and try to verify that it was picked in the last day or two.
Refrigerate or Freeze
Foods spoil and lose their nutrients faster when exposed to air. Nutrient loss can be decreased by storing fruits and vegetables immediately in the refrigerator. This helps slow down the loss of vitamins a bit and helps preserve the food longer. Chopping your fruits and vegetables ahead of time, although it can save valuable minutes for meal prep, can further degrade the vitamins, so wait to chop until you are ready to cook.
Try to eat the produce as soon as possible after purchase for maximum nutrition. If you know you are not going to use your produce right away, consider freezing it, which helps preserve the vitamins and minerals. Simply defrost when you are ready to prepare or eat the food.
Reconsider Cooking Methods
Cooking food increases the availability of certain nutrients, helps increase the flavor of food and breaks down some of the hard-to-digest fiber in many fruits and vegetables. However, certain cooking methods can decrease the amount of nutrients in food. For optimal vitamin and mineral absorption, consider eating a balance of both raw and cooked foods.
Vitamins that are particularly sensitive to cooking are the water-soluble vitamins, including the B-vitamins and vitamin C. Since they are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water, boiling causes the vitamins to leech into the water. If you are making a soup, you can still get the benefit of all the vitamins from the broth.
But if you throw the water away, just know you are also throwing away many of those important vitamins. These vitamins are further destroyed when food is kept hot for an extended period of time.
Keeping the skin on vegetables when cooking may help maintain some nutrients. Cooking larger pieces rather chopping vegetables up into smaller pieces may also help retain some of the nutrients.
It can be a challenge to know the exact quantity of nutrients in your food, since there are so many variables that can impact the vitamins and minerals. Do your best to eat any fresh, local produce you purchase as soon as possible and eat a variety of both cooked and raw foods.