Judy E. Buss
Buying quality ingredients is only the first step in a healthy diet. How long ago were the groceries purchased, or the methods used to prepare food, greatly impacts the nutritional value of the resulting fare. Being aware of a few basic facts can go a long way towards assuring that the highest level of nutrients is preserved.
Some of the beneficial compounds in produce are particularly fragile, therefore dicing vegetables and fruit should be done as close as possible to the time they are used. Chopping vegetables or fruit in advance, or leaving them exposed to air for too long (as is the case in salad bars), results in a great deal of nutrient loss. The solution: If you wish to do some advance prep-work, you can wash and refrigerate the produce in a sealed container or a bag, and also make the salad dressing, however, wait to peel and/or chop as needed until immediately before cooking. For the same reasons, do not buy precut vegetables, including onions, grated potatoes, salad veggies, or fruit.
Avoid using canned and other precooked vegetables, fruit, and grains. They are dead on arrival. That includes rice, and mashed potatoes. Frozen uncooked vegetables and fruit contain some of the original nutrients, but should be considered your second choice after fresh ones.
When making a vegetable salad, first place (or make) the dressing in a large salad bowl. While dicing, shredding veggies and adding them to the bowl mix frequently with the dressing. The oil coats and seals them, thus limiting vitamin loss.
Cooking vegetables is best done by steaming. When they are cooked immersed in water, nutrients leach into the fluid and are lost when the vegetables are drained. Soups or stews are the exception since the liquid in which the veggies are cooked is consumed as well.
Prolonged, intense heat destroys a great deal of the produce’s healthful content. This is one of the reasons why frying, baking, and grilling should be limited or avoided, including – sorry friends – casseroles and grilled veggies. Steamed vegetables (and fruit), easy and quick-to-make, can be eaten plain, or transformed into numerous mouth-watering dishes. Other acceptable cooking methods are stir-frying and sautéing if not used on a frequent basis.
Whenever possible, do not peel. In most veggies and fruits the skin, and the area immediately beneath the skin, is where a large concentration of protective and health-enhancing compounds are located.
When selecting groceries, read labels. The ingredients appear in the order of their amount present in the product. For example, in quality bread, cereal, or pasta, the list should begin with the words “whole wheat”, “whole grains”, or” durum flour” and/or “semolina”. Other beneficial ingredients listed in these products can be barley, spelt, or oats. Any grain product using the words “enriched” or “unbleached” should be left on the store shelf; no amount of CPR can restore its wholesomeness.
Whole grains are, by far, a healthier choice than processed ones: brown rice is superior to white rice. Old Fashioned rolled oats (oatmeal) are better than “instant” ones or sugar-bomb-breakfast-flakes of all kinds.
When possible, use fresh herbs, whether in raw vegetable salads or in cooked dishes. Fresh herbs are nutrition-dense and taste infinitely better than dried ones. If you are so inclined, grow some herbs of your own in pots or in the ground. They are easy and fun to grow, and provide you with a constant fresh supply of these flavor celebrities. Please note: When using fresh herbs in cooking, they must be added in the final 5 – 10 minutes of cooking. Dried herbs, on the other hand, are added early in the process.
If you cook a double batch of a dish for consumption at a later date, eat the second half no later than 2 – 3 days after it was cooked. The same applies to leftovers. Waiting longer diminishes nutrition and flavor: don’t wait until the food begins to grow penicillin…
“Smashing” food in a blender, food processor, or juicer, also reduces its nutritional value. Eat whole fruit, rather than juice consuming the skin and pulp where appropriate. Soups do not need to be homogenously smooth, unless made for a toothless individual, or someone on a liquid diet for medical reasons. Soups can be partially and gently mashed with – horrors – a HAND masher! and some chunks allowed to remain for a more robust culinary experience.
Using whole foods and fresh unprocessed ingredients offers an additional bonus: better taste, texture, and natural color. To your health.
“Mission Nutrition” Tips and Recipe from Judy E. Buss, Health Columnist, Nutritional Cooking Instructor.
Excerpted from Judy E. Buss’ article, first published in the “Feeling Fit” Magazine, Sun Coast Media Group newspapers, Florida.
Stay tuned for more Judy E. Buss’ “Mission Nutrition” words of wisdom and recipes.