If you thought that getting fresh and healthy food was an accomplished goal to become healthy, I am terribly sorry to say that it’s not enough. Apparently, the cooking methods you use, the storage, the time you keep the food before you eat it and some other factors might strongly influence the nutritional benefits of the contents. Don’t hate us, we don’t make the rules!
Depending on every nutrient’s nature and specific characteristics, a number of influences such as heat, light, oxygen, pH or a combination of these, can modify the food’s original nutritional value. Things can get a little confusing when it comes to these things so let’s try to keep it simple and set up a few general tips that will help you when preparing food.
While cooking assists in turning minerals into “available” nutrients for the body (it’s scientifically called “bioavailability”), it can be also be the main cause of nutrient loss. Cooking methods that don’t use water allow greater retention of vitamins. The more water quantity you use, the greater the loss. It’s good to know though, that the vitamins don’t get destroyed but extracted to the water, if you find a way to use that water- in a soup or sauce for instance- you can still keep the nutritional value. Another general tip when cooking is keeping an eye on time and temperature. As many nutrients are susceptible to heat the less time and temperature we use when cooking, the better.
When cooking meat you need to consider that the less time and temperature the less B group vitamins it will lose. The size of the cut counts, small cuts need less cooking time and that helps to retain more nutrients, so the smaller the better. Keep this in mind when cooking; something as easy as cutting the meat in correct portions can improve its nutritional value.
Experts have shown that poaching is the smartest method to cook fish, followed by grilling and frying. Apparently baking can cause up to a 30% loss in certain nutritious benefit . Time to get familiar with some yummy poached fish recipes!
In the case of fruits and vegies, there are many nutrients present in this group – such as ascorbic acid – which are extremely susceptive to heat and oxidation, which occurs when the surface is exposed, so the greater the exposed surface, the lower retention of nutrients.
When freezing any animal or vegetable food the temperature should ideally be of or at least -18°C, however most freezers don’t allow this temperature to be reached. Additionally, the losses will be bigger the longer the storage time. . Keep this in mind when food shopping and planning your menus. If you have the choice, use your frozen food within a short period!
For meats it’s important to freeze large cuts when possible – the opposite of cooking it! And for veggies it will help to seal them with a minimum amount of surrounding air and place them in moisture proof wraps.
Fruit and vegetables are at their best nutritional condition when they’re fresh. If you keep them too long in the refrigerator they will quickly deteriorate, so making a good shopping plan sounds like the key for healthy food storage. Milk is another item to consider, as it’s sensitive to light and oxygen exposure it needs to be consumed shortly after purchase
Next time you take home some yummy healthy food make sure to keep and cook it in the best possible way to enjoy all its nutritional value!
Do you have recipe ideas or more tips on freezing meals? Join the conversation on Facebook or leave a comment below.
The word fresh, as in plant material, is really a subjective meaning often based on the cosmetic value, crispness and color of produce presented for sale. It suggests also there has been minimum processing of a sample of fruit, vegetable or of herbs other than trimming, washing, ripening (say as in tomatoes), or top icing as with broccoli. What it does not say is the post-harvest age of the sample on sale. Up until the late 1970’s there was very little on-farm refrigeration for vegetables, even though most orchards then had there own cool store or access to a community cold store. So things like wilting (say in leafy vegetables), loss of color (say in cucumbers, or overripe with softness (say in tomatoes) were not uncommon. Even today, the large supermarket chains fail to manage the cold chain through to the customer, either through lack of proper knowledge or in house decisions on their part, or what the consumer does not know, the easier it is to side-step their own responsibilities. Retailers demand effective cold-chain assurance up and into their warehouses and maybe into their retail stores, but from then on it can be buyer beware.
The word fresh brings to mind a very short time between the farm and the retail centre. While this can quite often be one to three days, it can also be one to two weeks or more, depending on complex weather patterns and things like distance or the facts of supply and demand. So what is fresh when we are the buyer? Well there are no harvest dates required and it would be hard to present loose produce for sale with such a date. Again, learn to be discerning in what you are buying if you really care about the of quality produce for which you are paying good money .
Post-harvest technology is complex as every type of produce has it’s own temperature/humidity demands and even that can vary according to the cold-chain process as in for example, time and distance; cooling and storage. Here are a couple of snapshots that will assist in you making better decisions:
Broccoli: has the highest respiration rate of any vegetable, so try and keep it cold. Loss of moisture (and therefore loss of nutritive value and a reduced shelf-life) can be quite high. If you must buy it from an unrefrigerated display, pick a head up by the butt and reject it if it is not cold in the palm of your hand. Try the back of the display where a fresh supply may have been placed. At home, place the plastic bag of broccoli in the crisper after shaking a small amount cold water into the bag. Fold the bag over or tie loosely. (Adding water works with cauliflower and most leaf vegetables. It helps in reducing heat gained while out of the cold chain like from shop to home.)
Tomatoes: Sensitive to cold and should be kept, where possible, out of the refrigerator. I can always tell if a tomato has been refrigerated, just by resting in my lightly closed hand – and I am not referring to cold fruit. Tomatoes are mature while still green; ripening is a plant process of natural nutrient change and of color change. The proper and most effective ripening temperature for full flavor of a given variety is around 22 degrees C. Do not place them in direct sunlight like on a window ledge. In fact, light is not a ripening factor for tomatoes.
This has been but a small introduction to fresh produce and I really have not talked much about fruit. Growing your own is a way to go and it is not that hard, given a few basic needs for optimum results. All winter at home we have munched and crunched our way through a broad leaf kale, and baby spinach, silver beet and red beet (leaves) and have hardly made a dent in this bed of vegies that is about 1.5m2. Yum! Trust this summary is helpful to understanding what we mean and don’t mean when talking fresh.