Getting the Most From Fruits and Vegetables

Shopping for organic and locally-grown produce is only the first step to healthier eating. Many of the valuable nutrients in your fruits and vegetables will be lost if you do not prepare and cook them properly.

The peel is the most nutritious part of many fruits and vegetables. The skin of an apple contains half of its fiber content and one-third of the apple's nutrients. Potato peel has 7 times more calcium and 17 times more iron than the same amount of potato flesh, and holds up to 90 percent of its iron content and half of its fiber. Orange peel contains twice as much vitamin C as the fruit itself. A cucumber's green skin holds most of its antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and vitamin K. 

Scrub your vegetables with a vegetable brush instead of peeling them. Wash raw fruits or vegetables well under running water. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, and a vegetable wash will get rid of residual bacteria. Soak in a large bowl of cold water with 1/4 cup of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes, or spray with a mixture of 2 teaspoons of white vinegar, a cup of water and the juice of a lemon, then rinse with cold running water. Commercial all-natural vegetable washes are available. Except for berries and greens, most vegetables and fruits can be washed when you bring them home, and kept fresh in plastic containers in the fridge. Wash lettuce, peppers, berries and other fruits just before serving and use a salad spinner to quickly remove excess water. 

Some vegetables are most nutritious when eaten raw. Others, such as green beans, eggplant, corn, Swiss chard, and spinach require cooking to break down nutrients and boost antioxidants. Experiment with a variety of cooking methods and find the flavors and textures you like best. Here are some tips for preparing vegetables:

  • Sautéing vegetables over high heat with a little oil preserves nutrients, and the fat helps your body absorb them.
  • Avoid deep frying or breading vegetables because this adds extra carbohydrates and fats.
  • Steam vegetables and add a little oil or butter with when you serve them to increase absorption of nutrients.
  • Avoid boiling or pressure cooking because many nutrients are lost in the water. If you boil vegetables, make a sauce or soup with the water. Carrots are the only vegetables that have increased antioxidant levels when boiled.
  • Bake, roast, or grill with your favorite seasonings and a little oil.
  • When you cook a vegetable medley, cut all the vegetables the same size or add the softer ones last so that all of them are cooked equally.
  • Offer your children cut raw vegetables and fruits as snacks. Prevent apple and pear slices from browning by dipping them in a cup of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.   
  • Prepare only the amount you are going to eat.
  • Be conscious of the calorie and sugar content of salad dressings and vegetable dips.

Get a blender or high-powered food processor and turn your raw fruits and vegetables into a delicious drink. Start with an apple, a carrot, a few leaves of spinach or kale, and add other fruits or vegetables. Add enough water or ice to make it liquid, and a banana or some maple syrup or agave syrup to sweeten.

Puree or mash fruits and vegetables to make your own fresh, organic baby food. Your baby can benefit from the same nutritious food that you enjoy. Wait until your child is more than one year old to introduce honey, dairy, eggs, strawberries, tomatoes, citrus, and nuts. 

Keep learning. Try different cuisines. Introduce new recipes and discover which dishes and vegetables your family enjoys most. 

For more ideas, look at these websites:

How to prepare great tasting vegetables with Nutrient-Rich Cooking. Worlds Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=424)

Make Your Own Organic Baby Food, HealthyChild.org (www.healthychild.org/easy-steps/make-your-own-organic-baby-foods)

The Best + Worst Ways To Cook Vegetables, Leah Zerbe + Emily Main June 12, 2012, (www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/best-worst-ways-cook-vegetables)

Vegetables and Fruits, Harvard School of Public Heath (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits)

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables, Stack, September 25, 2014 (www.stack.com/a/fruit-vegetable-peel)

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