It’s publicly accepted knowledge that eating lots of vegetables is for your health. Studies covering the whole gamut of health and nutrition show this to be the case. Increased life span, fewer allergies, and decreased risk of cancer and heart disease are a few of the benefits. This is can be accredited to the amount of vitamins, phytochemicals and other nutrients found so densely in vegetables.
Nutrient levels in vegetables can fluctuate, though. Where your vegetables come from and how you prepare them both have effect on which nutrients get absorbed into your body, and which ones are lost. Try following some of these tips to maximize the nutritional content of your vegetables and get the most out of them.
Get Local Produce
Buying local produce often means buying fresher produce. If you’re spinach produced in or around your city, chances are it’s going to be fresher than spinach shipped in from 1,500 miles away. A study from UC Santa Cruz actually shows that same bunch of spinach will lose 75% of its vitamin C content 7 days from harvest.
On a similar note, it’s also prudent to buy organic vegetables. Studies fluctuate on whether organic foods do in fact higher levels of vitamins and minerals. It is a fact, though, that organic produce is not coated in carcinogenic fertilizers and pesticides. Buying local and organic produce is the best way to maximize the nutritional benefits you seek in your vegetables.
Mind Your Seasons
Eat your vegetables according to the seasons as much as possible. If you’re eating an avocado in January, it’s probably on the old side. On the other hand, if you eat tomatoes in the fall, the produce is more likely to have been locally sourced, fresher, and have higher levels of key nutrients.
Preparing Your Vegetables
Any sort of preparation you perform on your vegetables will affect their nutritional content. Cooking can often by synonymous with leaching nutrients, but this is not the case. Cooking vegetables can actually unlock nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable for the body.
Eating vegetables in their raw state has significant advantages. There is no conclusive evidence that links raw foods to superior nutritional values, but some raw foodists believe that key digestive enzymes are lost when vegetables are cooked. It is true that eating some raw vegetables daily will help clean out your digestive track, leaving you feeling better and less bloated. Think about processed foods – like white flour and processed corn – as pre-digested foods. These don’t give your stomach or digestion the workout they need to stay healthy, as processed foods are absorbed into the body too easily. You actually burn a significant number of calories through food digestion, as well.
Eating canned foods is a great way to maintain high nutrient levels in vegetables over a long period of time. This is due to the fact that these vegetables are not exposed to oxygen and, thus, remain relatively stable
Frozen vegetables have the potential to retain many of their essential vitamins and nutrients, as long as they are frozen promptly after being harvested and their temperature remains stable. Fluctuating temperatures can diminish much of their nutritional value. The sooner they are eaten, the more likely they’ll have more nutrition. A study from the University of California, Davis showed that frozen peas and carrots lost anywhere between 85 – 95 percent of their vitamin C content, and cherries lost up to 50 percent of their anthocyanins – so beware.
Boiling and steaming vegetables is one of the healthier ways to retain nutrients. The main benefit is not using any fats to prepare them as you would when frying them. That doesn’t mean there are no tradeoffs, though. Carrots, when boiled, actually increase their carotenoid count when boiled, but lose other nutrients as a result. Boiling broccoli results in a 22 – 34 percent reduction in vitamin C levels.
Mix and Match
Eating a variety of foods together means you’re diversifying your nutrient intake. You’re not just simply ingesting measurable amounts of each vitamin; they actually synergize each other, making nutrients available to the body that may have not been before. Eating vegetables with fatty foods – such as cream or heavy salad dressing – can actually increase the amount of nutrients your body will absorb, by significant levels. A study from Ohio State University showed that nutrient absorption can increase by 4 – 18 times as much when vegetables are eaten with fat-rich foods, depending on the vitamin or nutrient.
With all the details I’ve outlined above, the best advice you can take away is to simply eat a variety of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. Eat a bowl of soup loaded with veggies with a raw salad on the side. Add a piece of bread covered in butter. Have a glass of wine. Maybe two. Not only will you get all the nutrition you will need, you will feel its effects.