We eat vegetables because they are tasty and healthy and we want to get the maximum nutrition bang for our buck. So how do you choose and cook vegetables to get the most nutrients possible when organic options aren’t affordable or available. Here is a little guide to help you get the most out of your vegetables.
Purchase Local Vegetables
Local vegetables don’t have to be transported over long distances which make them cheaper and healthier. When a food travels to reach store shelves, it must be picked prematurely, stored for transport and then chemically ripened. This results in a higher pesticide load and a loss of nutrients. You will get the freshest foods by purchasing foods that are currently ripening and being picked in your area. For instance, where I live in California, broccoli, cauliflower and beets are currently being picked. These foods will likely be very fresh and nutrient rich once they reach my store shelves. The brighter the skin color on the vegetable, the stronger its nutrient profile.
Choose Vegetables to Naturally Heat or Cool Your Body
Different vegetables need different climates to grow. Some grow in winter, while others in summer. Foods grow locally for a reason. It is as if vegetables intuitively know what we need at any given time to be in balance with Mother Nature. Foods that grow in hot weather like corn and peas tend to be very juicy and cooling. Cold weather foods like potatoes, squashes and brussel sprouts are more hearty, filling and warming. Foods that are naturally growing in your climate will work with your body, will be cheaper and will support your general well-being and health.
Choose Foods That Don’t Easily Absorb Pesticides
If you can’t purchase organic, choose vegetables that aren’t as heavily sprayed or don’t easily absorb pesticides. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, kale and celery absorb high levels of pesticides. Conversely, foods like asparagus, corn, sweet potatoes, onions and brussel sprouts have a much lower toxic load so you won’t feel so bad for not being able to get organic.
Try Frozen Vegetables
Many people don’t realize that frozen vegetables can be really healthy. In fact, if you can’t purchase foods that are local and in-season, then frozen may be the next best bet. Unlike foods that are picked prematurely to be shipped around the world, frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe and immediately frozen. This means fewer chemicals will be used. A food is allowed to develop naturally and live up to its full nutrient potential. Frozen vegetables can be cheaper, even making organic options a possibility. Additionally, frozen is a good option for vegetables that you only use periodically since frozen vegetables don’t spoil. Just read the label and make sure your vegetables don’t have anything additional like salt, oil, cream, etc.
Limit Canned Vegetables
If you use canned vegetables, use them sparingly as canned vegetables are the least healthy option. They are often full of additives and salt. Additionally, most cans are a source of BPA, a chemical that has been linked to health problems. Certain foods, especially tomatoes, very easily absorb the BPA. Having said this, if your only access to vegetables is through canned foods, the benefits of eating vegetables outweighs the negative. If you have fresh and frozen options, choose those instead.
Preparing Your Vegetables
Now to get the most nutrients out of the vegetables you just bought. Think raw vegetables are the healthiest? Not necessarily so. Raw vegetables are nutrient rich but lightly steaming veggies can bring out their full nutrient potential. Heating can actually help break down the cell wall of many vegetables, making their vitamins and minerals more available. Here is the catch though. There is a fine line between lightly steaming and overcooking. Vegetables should be steamed only to the point where they are warm and crisp, not drenched and soggy. Once you overcook a vegetable, a significant portion of the available nutrients are lost. The time difference between lightly steaming and overcooking can be a matter of just a minute, so it is good to keep an eye on vegetables while cooking them.
Here are some examples of approximate stove top steaming time:
Whole artichokes, beets – 40-60 minutes
Cabbage, whole asparagus, parsnips, squash, 6-10 minutes
Broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts – 5-7 minutes
Corn, mushrooms, peas, carrots – 5-6 minutes
Again, keep a close eye on vegetables when you are cooking. Stepping away for just a minute can mean the difference between crisp vegetables and nutrient depleted mush.
Frozen vegetables can also be steamed, but require extra attention to reach desired texture.
Hopefully, this guide helps you pick and prepare the best vegetables available for your budget. Including vegetables in the daily diet is a great practice for a healthy lifestyle.
We all don’t have access to the same quality of food, but with a little knowledge, we can choose and prepare the best of what is available.