In a perfect world we would pick organic, biodynamic in-season foods straight from the tree or out of the ground and eat them immediately to get the most nutrients. But times have changed and most of us are lucky to be able to get to Farmer's Markets once a week for fresh organic produce. Since the vitamins and minerals in foods do start to fade with time, and with exposure to air, light and heat, here's how to optimize your nutrient intake in the modern world.
Vitamins A,C,E,K,and the B vitamins are destroyed by exposure to air, and many nutrients (enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals) are vulnerable to heat. To reduce nutrient loss you can do the following:
- Serve raw vegetables when possible
- Try not to cut fruits or vegetables into small pieces; leave them as intact as possible
- Cook vegetables as soon as possible after cutting and only until they show their brightest colors (when they first begin to soften)
- Cover all refrigerated foods and try to keep in dark places
- Eat food soon after preparation; unfortunately foods can lose up to 50% of their nutrients just sitting in the fridge for a day or two.
Most vegetables and fruits we find on the supermarket shelves, have come a long way in transit and this means even more nutrient loss. To optimize nutrient levels:
- eat fresh, local produce
- try to eat in season
- buy organic meat and produce from a trusted food provider
While eating raw foods may be the best way to preserve their enzymes and vitamins and minerals, eating raw is not for everyone, nor is it always convenient. Cooking and preserving foods has been done for many thousands of years and some ways are better than others.
Hands-down this is the best method for preserving and processing foods. The topic of fermentation deserves its own feature article but briefly, the process of fermentation involves either a bacteria or yeast organism being added to the food to break down some of its components and allows some foods to last longer. Breaking down foods through fermentation can turn off unhelpful enzymes that disrupt our digestion, and it also generates more enzymes and nutrients making the food easier to digest and more nutritious than it was when raw. An example is sauerkraut and cabbage. Many people would have a terrible time digesting raw cabbage but fermented sauerkraut contains far more nutrients than cabbage, can last for months in the fridge and aids digestion of other foods too. Make sure you buy truly fermented products, not simply ones with vinegar in them, as some pickles and sauerkraut are made nowadays.
This method of preserving food has come a long way in recent years and studies indicate it may be the best way to preserve foods without losing much in the way of nutrients, at most 20%.
Benefits of Freezing:
- Frozen at site of picking and blanching (height of ripeness) instead of being picked too soon, ripening artificially en route to store, traveling a long way to your kitchen will result in vitamin depletion.
- Same amount of vitamin C or more
- Similar amount of minerals
Drawbacks to Freezing:
- Cell wall damage leads to detectable textural changes if foods are not cooked
- Freezer burn
- Fat on meat products can break down over time and become toxic
Two processes occur during drying: the addition of heat and the removal of moisture from the food. Nutritional losses during drying are more due to the application of heat than to the removal of moisture. Generally, except for thiamine, removal of moisture results in increased concentration of nutrients and that can mean a sweeter product, high in calories for its weight.
Canning is a process that removes oxygen; destroys enzymes; prevents the growth of undesirable bacteria, yeasts, and molds; and helps form a high vacuum in jars.
A 1977 study on baby food found a 50-70% loss of B1 (Thiamine) in canning of fruits and vegetables and up to 75% vitamin C loss using traditional canning methods.
Some of the best cooking methods to preserve the nutrients of veggies — fresh or frozen — are: steaming, stir frying or baking. Don't forget that B vitamins and C are water-soluble and they can leach out of the food when placed in contact with hot water.
up to 50% Vitamin C loss and other water-soluble vitamins.
this is gentler on vitamins and minerals than boiling (steamed broccoli retains 79 percent of its vitamin C; boiled it retains only 33 percent; asparagus keeps 78 percent when steamed, 43 percent when boiled). You can steam in parchment by placing the parchment paper onto the steamer….veggies will retail their vitamins and juices.
many health proponents believe that baking is the best way to cook food and avoid a lot of nutrient loss, especially with root vegetables. They point to the fact that many vitamins and minerals are located close to the peel on these foods; after roasting vegetables, the peel tends to become thin and separate from the pithy nutrient-rich element which then remains on the vegetable. Additionally, the oven may provide a lower heat than boiling and when food is covered while roasting or is in its own peel, it is also protected from oxidation harm from the air.
Caroline Rechia is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and chocolate maker. Her blog, C is for Cookie can be found here: http://carolinescookies.blogspot.com
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