Simple Ways to Keep Vitamins in Food

  • Clean thick-skinned vegetables and fruits well with a soft brush and water. Avoid soaking them as you wash. Some vitamins dissolve in water.
  • Leave edible skins on vegetables and fruits-for example, on carrots, potatoes, or pears. And trim away as little as possible. Most vitamins and minerals are found in the outer leaves, skin, and area just below the skin-not in the center. Peels also are natural barriers that help protect nutrient loss.
  • Cook vegetables or fruits in a small amount of water-or better yet, steam them in a vegetable steamer or a microwave oven. Steaming retains most of the nutrients because vegetables usually don't come in contact with cooking liquids.
  • Cut vegetables that need to be cooked longer into larger pieces. With fewer surfaces exposed, less vitamins are lost.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits raw. Or cook many vegetables, such as asparagus, green beans, broccoli, and snow peas, quickly-just until tender-crisp. Some nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin C, are destroyed easily by heat. The shorter the cooking time, the more nutrients are retained.

Short cooking times help vegetables keep their bright color and flavor, too. The flavors of strong-flavored vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and turnips, can get even stronger when overcooked.

  • Cook vegetables and fruits in a covered pot. Steam doesn't escape, and cooking time is faster.
  • Just reheat canned vegetables on the stovetop or in the microwave oven. Canning is cooking, so canned vegetables don't need to be cooked again. They would lose flavor and nutrients!
  • Save liquid from cooking vegetables for soups, stews, and sauces; perhaps freeze it for later use. That's one way to "recycle" water-soluble vitamins and minerals that otherwise would be tossed with the cooking water.
  • For beets and red cabbage, add a little lemon juice or vinegar to the cooking water. This helps retain their bright-red color. Don't add baking soda! Although the alkali in baking soda keeps vegetables looking greener, it also destroys some vitamins.
  • Microwave! Why? First, because microwaving is so fast, heat-sensitive nutrients aren't subjected to heat for long. Second, microwaving doesn't require added fat. There's a flavor advantage, too: unless overcooked, vegetables retain the color and tender-crisp qualities that make them appealing.
  • Keep milk in opaque containers in the fridge. Leaving it in a clear, glass pitcher on the table allows some riboflavin to be destroyed by sunlight.
  • Skip the urge to rinse grains, such as rice, before cooking. That may wash nutrients down the drain.
  • Make dips and spreads with vegetables and fruit. Spicy salsas can be made with tomato, bell peppers, onions, and cilantro. For a tangy twist, also look for salsas with pineapples, mangoes, papayas, or peaches. Try hummus, made with mashed chickpeas; or caponata, made with eggplant and tomato; or baba ghanouj, made with eggplant.
  • Toss in dried fruits: dried cranberries, apples, dried plums (prunes), bananas, papayas, mangoes, apricots, pears, pineapples, or raisins. They're great in stuffing, rice dishes, tossed salads, main dish salads, homemade breads, and casseroles; even desserts!
  • Focus on veggies. Enjoy 3-ounce cooked portions of meat, poultry, and fish; fill the rest of the plate with vegetables, fruits, and grain products. A vegetable-meat kebob is one way to do it. It's great for grilling!
  • Feature veggies with grains in casseroles. Let meat, poultry, or fish add flavor but not take center stage.
  • Stock up. Fill your fridge with raw vegetables and fruits—"nature's fast food"—cleaned, cut up, and ready to eat in a see-through container. Try baby carrots! Keep canned and frozen vegetables and fruit on hand for convenience.

For more ideas, see "Garden of Eatin': Uncommon Vegetables " and "Fresh Ideas: Less Common Fruit" in chapter 9, and "MyPyramidPointers" in chapter 10.

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