Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Fruit and vegetables are so versatile and good for health, why not learn to incorporate them into everyday eating, let's have a look at some options to get the most out of them.
Preparation of foods often dictates just what nutrients are delivered and how they are utilised by the body. Some foods are best eaten raw, some cooked, some eaten with other foods or even how they are prepared can influence its' digestibility and nutrient status.
1. Seasonal and fresh
Aside from the obvious flavour difference of fresh picked fruits and vegetables, the natural growing season means there is less labour and intervention required to produce these foods such as genetic modification, high use of chemicals and preservation.
Seasonal foods are often cheaper due to supply and demand as when there is an abundance of a seasonal food, the price goes down whereas foods that are bought out of season are marked up due to higher production costs - makes sense.
Seasonal foods are better for our health also as antioxidants are at their peak when fresh and naturally ripened. Foods are seasonal for a reason and play an integral role in what our body requires at different times of the year. Take pineapple for example, it starts producing in spring and warmer weather when allergens are in the air, pineapple is a natural antihistamine so it make sense to consume this fruit at this time of year! Watermelon and cucumber are other spring/summer fruits that are naturally cooling for the body in these warmer months. In winter the body requires more dense foods to help keep us warm, herein comes the potatoes, sweet potatoes, chestnuts to name a few, while lemons help with colds and sore throats so prevalent during the colder months!
Vegetables are so diverse and provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, nutrients that they really should be included in everyone's diet.
Garlic for instance should be crushed and left to sit for several minutes to help release the beneficial compound allicin.
Chopping foods can improve digestibility by breaking down cell walls and fibres.
Soaking legumes and grains reduces phytic acid which may reduce absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium by the body.
Keep fruits and vegetables where you can access them easily, this reduces wastage and make it more likely that they will be eaten.
Store root vegetables such as potatoes in a cool, dark place to avoid going green or sprouting.
Keep ginger and turmeric in the freezer and grate when needed.
Cut fruits store best in an airtight container with a squeeze of lemon juice on them to avoid oxidation and nutrient loss.
Herbs can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays with water to avoid them going mouldy.
4. Cooking methods
Blanching, steaming, sauté, roasting or microwaving is a better option than boiling as B-vitamins and vitamin C are destroyed by boiling in water. If you are going to boil vegetables, keep the boiling water for stocks or as my Mum did, use it as a nice nutrient rich broth to drink.
Cooking some foods is better as it increases the bio-availability of nutrients/compounds such as lycopene found in tomatoes, increases digestibility by breaking down plant cell walls, denatures proteins in eggs and meat, releases minerals such as iron by decreasing oxalates which inhibit absorption and in many cases makes foods more palatable.
5. Foods have friends
Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) require healthy dietary fats such as avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts or pure butter to aid absorption. Some foods already contain both combinations such as salmon, egg yolk, sunflower seeds, liver and flax seed oil.
Maximum iron absorption requires the consumption of vitamin C especially from plant sources (non-haem iron) as it can help release the iron from foods and also help reduce iron antagonists which inhibit iron absorption. So go ahead and squeeze some lemon over your meal, include some orange slices or capsicum in your salad or even better include some sauerkraut on the side!
6. Reduce waste
Look at the whole vegetable or fruit for maximum nutrients. We often throw away much of a vegetable thinking it is of no use but often this is not the case. Take beetroot for example, don't throw away the tops/greens, use them in a salad, they're full of phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Pumpkin seeds are another wasted resource of minerals such as zinc. Scoop them out wash them and dry them, you'll have a handy nutrient packed snack!
Roast vegetable peelings for another antioxidant rich snack that's a healthier alternative to chips.
7. Frozen foods aren't bad
Companies are now quite adept at 'snap freezing' produce to maximise nutrients in foods which makes this another option in incorporating fruits and vegetables in the diet. Although seasonal, local, organic and whole is always best in my opinion, I'm not adverse to using frozen vegetables and fruits when the time calls for it.
Try to be creative when it come to using vegetables and fruit, you may surprise yourself with how interesting you can make them!