Fruit and vegetables are real foods from nature and are essential for keeping your body nourished and healthy due to the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients they contain. In order to maintain these, care needs to be taken to store and prepare plant food so nutrient loss is minimised before eating.
Nutrient loss begins as soon as a vegetable is picked so opt for fresh from your garden or a local grower. Time in a truck, in a distribution centre, on a shelf in a store and time in your own fridge or cupboard all accumulate to reduce nutrient content so aim to keep the time form harvest to your plate to a minimum.
Many fruits and vegetables remain fresher longer when stored in the fridge. Some fridges have special humidity controlled storage bins that enable you to place the items in the bin without any additional container or wrapping. For those fridges that don’t have that feature, use reusable glass or BPB free plastic containers to store the fruit and vegetables in. There are breathable vegetable plastic bags on the market however I feel plastic bag use encourages the wasteful use of resources that end up in landfill: if you do use plastic, consider re-using them multiple times before disposal.
Fridge storage slows down the process of deterioration that occurs once the fruit or vegetable is harvested as it reduces exposure to air, light and heat: all conditions that reduce the shelf life of plant food.
Fridge storage for:
- Avocados, bananas, melons, stone fruit – ripen on counter before fridge storage
- Berries, cherries, grapes– do not wash before storage – store in dry, covered containers
- Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, corn husks, green beans, leafy green vegetables (lettuce, collards, chard, kale, and spinach), mushrooms (best in a paper bag), carrots, beets, radishes
Counter storage for:
- Citrus fruits, apples, kiwi fruit, pears, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, capsicum/peppers
Dark, dry storage for:
- Whole watermelons
- Onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squashes
Fresh or frozen
My personal preference is for fresh every time. If you are fortunate to grow your own fruit and vegetables you have them available whenever you need them: your garden is your outdoor pantry.
Fruit and vegetables purchased from local grower markets are generally picked just before travel to the market so you are able to enjoy fruit that is fresh and naturally ripe.
Fruit and vegetables picked for grocery stores and supermarkets are usually picked before they have reached peak ripeness in order to retain shelf life which means that they have not been able to develop to their full nutritional potential.
Whilst frozen vegetables will have a similar nutritional content to freshly picked vegetables because they are picked at their peak ripeness point then flash frozen, I’m generally disappointed in the texture of frozen vegetables when cooked: to me they are not a match to freshly-picked. Frozen food does have its place if not in season in your area. Berries however freeze well making them available to use throughout the year. Great for making smoothies cold too!
As soil and chemical residue can remain on your produce always give your food and vegetables a good wash before use. Don’t be tempted however to wash the plant food before storage as this can promote spoilage: washing is best done just prior to use.
As much as possible, grow or purchase organic fruit and vegetables to minimise the chemical and pesticide content you ingest. In commercial farming the following fruit and vegetables are heavily sprayed so are most likely to have chemical residue on the surface of the produce:
- Sweet bell peppers/capsicums
- Cherry tomatoes
- Snap peas
- Leafy greens, such as kale and collard greens
- Hot peppers
If you are not able to purchase organic food, washing the produce in a white vinegar and water solution will help to remove surface pesticides. Be aware however that washing will not remove pesticide incorporated into the produce whilst growing.
To remove surface residual chemicals, soak fruit and vegetables in a solution of 10% white vinegar to 90% water for 15-20 minutes then rinse with filtered water. Rinse delicate skinned fruits such as strawberries in the solutions rather than soak as they will soak in too much of the vinegar.
Alternatively there are fruit and vegetable washes available from health food stores that you can use to wash your produce with that will also remove residual pesticide.
Preparation – Raw or Cooked
Fruit and vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.
Plant enzymes are only present and active in raw fruit and vegetables which is why raw food is often called live or living food or said to have ‘life force’. When the enzymes are still alive in the food you eat, they assist your digestive process so you don’t have to rely solely on your body’s enzymes to digest the food.
Enzymes are very heat sensitive so cooking above 48 deg C (118 deg F) will destroy them. Baking, boiling, steaming, roasting, frying, microwaving, canning and pasteurisation are all cooking processes that will destroy enzymes.
Having said this some vegetable are better cooked than raw because of the antioxidants (beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron) they contain. Cooking some vegetables causes the plant’s cells to release more of its nutrients in a form that is more readily available to your body.
If you choose to cook vegetables, choose a cooking method that will help to maximise nutrient retention by:
- minimising heat exposure
- minimising cooking time
- minimising contact with cooking liquid
Recommend cooking options include steaming, blanching, stir-frying. Boiling and pressure cooking are not recommended as they maximise contact with water and hence cause major nutrient loss.
To steam: bring 2 inches water to a rapid boil in a saucepan. Place chopped vegetable in a steam container over the boiling water. Steam for 5 minutes.
To blanch: place vegetables in water very briefly (1-3 minutes) depending on the type of food, the quantity, and the cut portion size, then submerse in ice water immediately to stop the cooking process.
There is mixed research on microwave cooking as to whether the microwaves damage plant nutrients. Microwaves do use less heat and shorter cooking times than other methods so if you do choose to microwave your fruit and vegetables, keep the amount of water in the container and cooking time to a minimum to help reduce nutrient loss.
Nature has blessed us with a wide and varied range of fruit and vegetables to enjoy. Correct storage of these will maximise the shelf life. Correct preparation will maximise the available nutrients.
Until next time, wishing you a delicious day filled with love, laughter, happiness AND plant food!