MAXIMIZE the taste and health benefits of your food with these nutritionist-approved tips for storing, cooking and scoffing it.
Does anyone really fancy a salad in January? Not likely, but it’s a new year and the ideal time to get your diet back on track.
Around 73% of British adults don’t get their five-a-day, and when we do eat fresh fruit and vegetables, we often miss out on minerals and vitamins because of the way we’ve stored or prepared them.
“The general rule is heat, light and oxygen damage nutrient content,” says Karine Patel, registered dietitian and founder of Dietitian Fit & Co.
So how do you max out the nutrient content in your dinner?
Swap Carrots for Kohlrabi
Try not to always pick up the same old bags of carrots and potatoes – if you’re bored of them, your gut will be too.
“Introducing new ingredients and new foods brings new nutrients and properties to your body,” says Julia Rodriguez Garcia, associate professor of food and nutritional sciences at the University of Reading.
“It’s good to have this diversity, as different products have different nutrients and they complement each other in your diet throughout the week.”
At this time of year, try persimmon, AKA sharon fruit (eat them like you would an apple), and kohlrabi, which is part of the cabbage family (roast, steam, stir-fry or grate raw for coleslaw).
Make the most of the freezer aisle – there’s a lot of goodness there. Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan, says: “Vegetables such as peas are frozen immediately after harvesting, which retains around 95% of the nutrients, except vitamin C, which depletes quickly in all fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they are frozen or not.
“This means in some cases you may get more nutrients from a frozen fruit or vegetable versus a fresh variety that has spent time in transit, or has sat on the supermarket shelf.”
Fruit on the turn? “Chop it up, squeeze over some lemon juice and freeze it. This will retain the nutritional content available at the point of freezing,” adds Karine.
Buy with your eyes
Prices may be eye-watering right now, but make sure you really look at the food you’re buying and read the label.
Karine explains: “Choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables in season is best, as they start losing multiple vitamins as soon as they’re picked.
“Buy foods raw, not pre-cooked. Always read the use-by date to make sure you’re buying fresh produce.
“Check if vegetables have lost water by seeing if they have a whitish layer on them, as this means some nutrients have started to decline.”
Put your finger on the pulse
Hit the vegetable aisle. “Canned groceries are great. They provide a huge amount of minerals and fibers and are really good plant-based protein products,” says Julia.
“Whenever you think of fruit and vegetables, try to include pulses like green lentils, chickpeas and butter beans – not just baked beans.
“They’re so good and have so many minerals – iron, fiber, protein – they’re a really complete ingredient.”
Talking of fiber, not only does it help regulate appetite, Julia adds, but it also “helps a lot in the rate of digestion, slowing the process down so the body can respond and absorb nutrients.”
Chop ’em up
Put your knife skills to work. “Cutting some vegetables such as celery and parsnip can increase their levels of polyphenols, an antioxidant that protects against inflammation and helps with high blood pressure,” says Karine.
Size matters, too, adds Rob: “Cut your veg into larger chunks, as smaller pieces will increase the surface area of the vegetable exposed to nutrient-damaging light and heat.”
Scientist Tim Spector’s top tip is to chop vegetables rich in sulforaphane (a chemical that helps fight cancer cells and manage cholesterol), like onion, garlic, broccoli and cabbage, and then leave them for 10 minutes.
This activates the sulforaphane, so it survives the cooking process and makes it into your body.
Learn to cook (or not to cook)
Some things are just better hot. “Cooked tomatoes have more cancer-fighting lycopene, and cooking carrots and sweet potatoes can increase their beta-carotene content – AKA vitamin A, which supports immune function,” says Karine.
Others are best kept away from the oven. “Most fruits contain high levels of B vitamins and vitamin C. These are water-soluble and fragile to heat, so avoid cooking them or putting them in water to preserve most
of their nutrients.” Rob adds: “Watch the time you cook food as, generally speaking, the longer you cook it, the more nutrients it will lose.
Get accustomed to eating your veggies al dente, which requires less cooking time.”
Avoid the boil
Boil everything by default? Think again. Rob says: “As much as half of the vitamin B, C and folate can be lost in the water you cook your vegetables in.
“Try to retain as much nutrient content by steaming or stir-frying. You can re-use your steamer cooking water to make rice and sauces, as it will contain nutrients leached from vegetables.”
Using a basket steamer means you can cook more veg using less water and energy, too – keep the lid firmly on and reduce the temperature slightly for more savings.
Don’t skin ’em
We’re not saying start eating your banana skins (although some people swear by using them in curries), but it’s time to stop peeling so much.
“The skin or peel of fruits usually contains more vitamins, antioxidants and fiber than the flesh,” says Karine.
“You can eat kiwi, apple and peach skins – in fact, kiwi skins are richer in vitamin C and fiber than the flesh! Citrus fruit skin can be eaten as zest or cooked.”
The same goes for root vegetables and potatoes – leave their skins on, just give them a scrub before eating.
Eat a ‘whole’ food diet
There are some fruits and vegetables we really don’t make the most of, binning half of them without thinking, warns Karine. For instance, pineapple cores are hard, but just as nutritious as the flesh. Likewise, keep the tops of carrots, radishes, beetroots and leeks.
Just be sure to wash them thoroughly before adding them to a salad or soup. Watermelon rinds are edible and safe to eat, are rich in fiber and contain citrulline, an amino acid that can improve libido and exercise performance.
Also, broccoli stems taste delicious raw or in a soup. Slice or peel off the rough, outer part of the main broccoli stem and consume the tender, inner part. Similarly, cauliflower stems and leaves are edible, full of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins.
Meet your match
Some foods are a perfect match, and not just because of the way they taste. “Combine food to maximize their absorption,” suggests Karine.
“For example, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K found in sweet potatoes and carrots (vitamin A), eggs and salmon (vitamin D), and spinach (vitamin E and K) are best absorbed with healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil or nuts, which are better for you than saturated fats. Vitamin C helps
iron absorption, which supports red blood cells, so consume non-heme-iron-rich food (plant-based iron sources) with a source of vitamin C.
For example, eat lentils with tomatoes, or pair spinach with strawberries in a smoothie.”