Nothing beats fresh fruits and vegetables. How many times have you heard me say that? After all, they come packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Or do they? As it turns out, that might depend on how you treat them. What happens to our produce pals between the time they’re picked and swallowed can have a real effect on what you get out of them.
Does microwaving really zap away the vitamins and minerals? Is it better to buy fresh instead of frozen? And is your body able to absorb all the good-for-you nutrition anyway?
It's true that fresh fruits and vegetables tend to taste better and have more nutritional value than frozen or canned. But that's not always the case.
Fresh is best when it really is farm-fresh and ripe. However, the commercial produce you get from the grocery store has probably been picked early, before its nutritional peak, to avoid spoilage between the farm and the shelf. And the longer they sit on the shelf -- during transport, in the supermarket, and in your fridge -- the fewer nutrients they have left to pass on to you.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables intended for freezing are usually picked closer to the peak of ripeness and are flash-frozen immediately after harvest. The process of freezinig does tend to deplete some nutrients, but it locks in the rest for up to 12 months. So that means that often, frozen fruits and veggies may actually have more vitamins and minerals than what you buy fresh from the produce aisle and eat later the same day.
To help retain the highest levels of vitamin C, don't thaw frozen veggies before cooking. Studies show that vegetables cooked directly from frozen retain more vitamin C than vegetables that are thawed first. To get the most nutrient-rich fresh fruits and veggies, buy locally grown produce in season and eat within a few days of purchase.
Although some studies suggest the microwave is to blame for sucking nutrients out of your food, others point a finger at the water in which they are cooked. For most fruits and vegetables, any type of cooking lowers the nutrient content. So for now, a good rule of thumb is: less is more. The only exception is red tomatoes. Cooking them actually increases their levels of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant thought to help prevent heart disease, vision loss, and some types of cancer.
For the rest, eat fresh, raw and leave the skins on whenever possible. Most fruits and vegetables carry most of their antioxidants in their skins. Just wash well before eating and go organic whenever possible. When you do cook, lightly steaming your vegetables instead of boiling, sautéing, or roasting will keep the greatest concentration of nutrients. And if you prefer to blanch your veggies, dip them in boiling water for the least amount of time possible.
Last but not least, dip your veggies in a little cold pressed olive oil to help your body absorb the vitamins and minerals even better.