It’s incredibly disheartening to learn that after stocking up on broccoli, forgetting you were going to be out of town for 10 days, using it when you get home, removing the brown, chopping it up, steaming it til it’s soft – that only a fraction of the vitamins remain*. But surely, any vegetable even a nutritionally impotent, is better than no vegetable!
A broccoli today is worth more than a broccoli tomorrow. Vegetables have a set amount of nutrients when harvested and begin to lose them the minute they are cut off from their food source Once harvested, they begin to consume their own nutrients in order to stay alive. This decline is hastened by the things we do to them.
What we do that destroys nutrients
- Store. The longer we (or the grocer) keep vegetables before using them, the more nutrients vanish.
- Cut.When a vegetable is cut, it perceives it as an attack; it goes on the defensive and activates enzymes which destroys it’s own nutrients. (Better to destroy yourself than be destroyed). The brown discoloration is the evidence. The more pieces you cut it into before you cook it, the more defensive the vegetable gets.
- Cook. Boiling makes it easy for nutrients to leach into the water. Over-cooking via any method diminishes nutrients by breaking down the cells.
- Freeze. Frozen food is pre-cooked to inactivate the enzymes (so it wont go on the defensive and turn brown); this makes it even more susceptible to over cooking once it gets into your pot. Vitamin C appears to be particularly vulnerable to freezing.
- Juice. Juicing breaks the vegetable into such tiny parts that the nutrient loss begins rapidly. Very few nutrients will be left in the glass 24 hours later.
How to minimize destruction
- Shorten “field to fork” time. Buy the most recently harvested vegetables you can.
- Seal in airtight bags to lower oxygen levels.
- Delay cutting.
-Buy the whole vegetable vs. pre-cut and bagged. (If you do buy bagged, use them quickly once opened.). And note, “baby” carrots are not baby carrots, but baby “shaped” adult carrots!
-Cut right before you cook. Don’t peel or pre-cut and store in fridge.
-Cut into extra large sizes to cook and cut smaller after cooking.
-Peel vegetables (beets, carrots, potatoes) after cooking, as the skin helps keep nutrients in.
- Avoid boiling. Use steam so the nutrients wont leach into the water. Stir-frying, roasting are also good alternatives. (I am not a fan of microwaves so if you have the choice of other methods, use them.)
- Fro-veg is better than no-veg, but eat frozen only when fresh is not practical.
- Drink “just-juiced” juice.
- Drink it immediately after you make it. Don’t save it for tomorrow.
- Avoid buying bottled vegetable juice which was juiced many days/weeks before and has also been pasteurized (which defeats the point of fresh juice).
Any other tips or thoughts on maximizing the life of vegs?
(*Update: Many of you have asked if I could more specific on % nutritional loss. I wish I could. It seems to be undebated in the industry that loss does occur with all the methods discussed above, how much though is not agreed on, in part because there are no comprehensive studies. There are some minor more anecdotal studies, but for a major study to be conducted, it has to be funded by a party who has a vested interest in the outcome… smaller farmers who sell you vegs picked that morn, have the most to gain by a study showing nutritional degradation. They also have the least to spend. )
Photo (Disclaimer): I know we’re talking about vegetables and the photo is of a tomato and a tomato is a fruit. But a smashed tomato is more dramatic than chopped broccoli. Copyright© Michelle Madden
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