Optimizing Vegetable Selection

diet-health-vegetables.jpg

All food is not created equal! Appearance matters when it comes to selecting the most nutritious foods at the super market. Use the following tips to select and prepare your veggies.

Artichoke:

  • The Globe or French artichoke is the most common variety as well as one of the most nutritious.

  • Artichokes are one of the highest antioxidant valued vegetables in the supermarket. You would have to eat 18 servings of corn or 30 servings of carrots to get the same benefits.

  • Due to their high respiration rate, it is important to buy the freshest artichokes you can find as both their flavor and health benefits decline with each passing day.

  • If you must store them, place them in the crisper drawer as soon as you get home and eat them within 1 or 2 days.

  • It’s not often that the inside of a vegetable is as nutritious as the outside but recent research has shown hat the artichoke heart is as nutritious as the leaves.

  • Steaming artichokes retains more nutrients than all other cooking methods.

  • Canned or jarred artichoke hearts are nutritious as well. 

Asparagus:

  • When selecting asparagus, choose the bunch with the straightest spears. When asparagus is stored in a dark warehouse for a week or more, the spears length and bend upward in search of light giving them a contorted appearance.  Additionally, if tips are starting to separate, have a yellowish cast, or mushy consistency these asparagus have been stored far too long. Once you select healthy looking spears, flip the bunch over; the cut end of the stalk should be smooth and moist.

  • Green asparagus has 7x more antioxidant than the colorless white variety.

  • Asparagus has a high respiration rate, similar to broccoli or artichokes. It loses much of its flavor and nutritional value within a day or two of harvest.

  • Cooked asparagus is more nutritious for you than raw. If you steam asparagus it will increase the antioxidant value by 30%.

  • For storing asparagus for more than a day, it is best to place the bunch in a microperforated bag and keep them in the crisper drawer.

Beets:

  • Beets are more nutritious after you steam, microwave or roast them.

  • If you cook them with the skin on and remove after they will retain more nutrients. The skin acts to keep water-soluble nutrients inside the beets.

  • Beet greens are more nutritious than the beets themselves, add them to salad or in a green smoothie.

Broccoli:

To increase nutrient absorption use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as part of your cooking of vegetables or as a dressing for salads will increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

  • Whole heads of broccoli are more nutritious than the pretrimmed florets. Sectioning broccoli into florets doubles its respiration rate, using up much of its antioxidant reserve in response to the “injury” of being cut into pieces. This leaves little for you, so buy whole head and trim them yourself before cooking.

  • Eating broccoli raw will give you 20x more of the compound called sulforaphane than cooked broccoli. Sulforaphane has been shown to reduce inflammation, slow again and fight cancer.

  • Frozen broccoli is convenient but is less nutritious.

  • Cooking broccoli in boiling water will cause half the nutrients to leach out into the water. Microwaving isn’t a good idea either as you can destroy have the nutrients in two minutes.

  • The best cooking method to retain the most nutrients for broccoli is to steam it for about 4 minutes. Or sauté them in extra virgin olive oil, this way they don’t lose any water-soluble nutrients because they are in contact with oil, not water.

  • If you keep broccoli for more than a day, place it is a resealable plastic bag, prick 10-20 small holes and then store in the crisper drawer for the best retention of nutrients and flavor.  

Brussels Sprouts:

  • When selecting Brussels Sprouts, look for bright green, tight heads. Browning shows their age and reduced nutrient value.

  • Brussels Sprouts respire rapidly so treat them as you would Broccoli. Purchase them as needed. Use them when you get them or store in the refrigerator for the next day.

  • Frozen Brussels Sprouts have been shown to only contain 20% of the beneficial compounds of fresh Brussels Sprouts.

  • The best cooking method for the preservation of nutrients is to steam them for 6-8 minutes. Brussels Sprouts become less sweet and more bitter the longer they cook. 

Cabbage:

  • Cabbage is lower in antioxidant than other crucifers, however still nutritious. The deeper the color the more nutritious.

  • Cabbage does not respire quickly and as such can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two without losing many of its nutrients.

  • The longer the storage, the more compromise comes in flavor. In only a few days of refrigeration, 30% of its sugar will be gone along with the freshest flavor.

  • Prepare cabbage by cutting it and steaming it briefly to reduce odor and increase nutrient yield.   

Carrots:

  • Deeper colored carrots are more nutritious than fairer varieties. Purple carrots have more antioxidant activity and potentially more health promoting benefits than the beta-carotene in orange carrots.

  • For the freshest, most nutritious and flavorful carrots, select those with their green tops still attached. Before refrigerating, cut the tops off to preserve the moisture in the carrot. Be weary, of purchasing carrots without the top as they are often several months old which will give them less flavor and nutritional content overall.

  • Baby carrots, while convenient, are just larger misshapen carrots that have their outer-skin whittled away. Like potatoes or Apples, the skin or outermost part of the vegetable or fruit is the most nutritious because it has to pump up the phytonutrient and antioxidant content in that regions to defend against UV rays, mold, insects, fungus and disease. When the outer most part of a carrot is whittled away, 1/3 of its phytonutrients go along with it.

  • Cooking carrots whole, then chopping them before plating will allow the carrots to hold onto more nutrients than if you chopped them beforehand.

Cauliflower:

  • Colorful varieties are higher in antioxidants than less colorful varieties. Purple cauliflower has been shown to have 2.5x more antioxidants, and Romanesca cauliflower has as much as 4x glucosinolates — the beneficial sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter taste and high nutrient density — than the standard white variety. However, white cauliflower has more cancer fighting compounds than either green or purple.

  • Frozen cauliflower, like most frozen vegetables has fewer nutrients than fresh varieties. The processing and freezing of cauliflower can destroy up to 40% of their phytonutrients.

  • Prepare cauliflower as you would broccoli, by steaming for 4 minutes or sautéing with a quality extra virgin olive oil.

Chives:

  • Garlic chives have more antioxidants than the most potent of onions

Corn:

  • Go for organic corn as it will have 50% more phytonutrients than conventionally raised corn.

  • Choose colorful varieties if possible; look for deep yellow, red, blue, black or purple as they are higher in phytonutrients than pale yellow or white corn. The same goes when searching for cornmeal.

  • Frozen corn has the same nutritional content as fresh yellow corn. It is better to steam frozen corn without thawing to retain more nutritional value.

  • Steam, grill or microwave corn but don’t boil it as nutrients will be lost in the water. Corn cooked in the husk will retain the most nutrients overall.

  • If you have no time for prep, canned corn can be as nutritious as fresh corn. The canning process reduces the vitamin C content, however it does not alter the phytonutrients with some even becoming more potent. Studies show that during the process of canning, the heat applied transforms certain phytonutrients into more active forms, making them easier to absorb. This may explain why canned corn has higher carotenoid content than fresh corn.

Garlic:

  • There has been no concerted effort to improve garlic for conventional farming and selling practices, therefore it contains most of its wild nutrients and anything you come across at the store is a great find. Look for garlic with plump, firm cloves with a tight outer wrapper.

  • Optimizing the nutrients of garlic is dependent on how you prepare it. To get the full benefit of garlic it is best to chop, crush or use a garlic press, then let the garlic rest for 5-10 minutes before use. Different enzymatic reactions occur when garlic is prepared this way allowing for the powerful compound called allicin to have it’s full effect.

  • Allicin has been found to have health promoting effects on atherosclerosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Kale:

  • Kale is one of the few vegetables that exceed the nutritional values of some wild greens.

  • Red-leaved varieties have a higher antioxidant value than green-leaves.

  • For those who are prone to kidneys or gallstones, the variety known as “Dino Kale” or Lacinato Kale are lower in oxalates. 

Lettuce:

  • The most nutritious lettuce greens aren’t green, but red, purple, or reddish brown and then dark green — the deeper the hue the higher the phytonutrient content. 

  • The arrangement of leaves on a lettuce plant plays a role in the phytonutrient content. Tightly wrapped plants like iceberg lettuce have less phytonutrient content than plants with loose or open leaves like romaine or red lettuce. If given a chose seek out the looseleaf varieties

  • As soon as you get home, separate the individual leaves, rinse and then soak them for about 10 minutes in very cold water. In addition to increasing the internal moisture of the greens which allows them to remain crisp longer, the cold water will reduce their temperature, slowing the aging process. Next, it is important to dry them, with a dry paper towel or salad spinner, as any moisture left on the surface will hasten their decay. Store in a plastic bag with 10-20 tiny prick holes, then place in the crisper drawer.

  • If you tear your greens into bite-sized pieces it will increase the antioxidant content, however if you do this make sure to eat it within a day or two.

  • Whole heads of greens are always fresher than bagged greens, this goes for all varieties. The longer the leaves stay in a bag the greater the reduction in antioxidants. If you do buy greens in a bag, look for mixtures that contain both red and dark green varieties. Be sure to check the “use-by” date and reject anything that has yellow, brown or withered leaves.

Onions:

  • The more strongly flavored the onion, the better for your health.

  • Red and Yellow onions pack more nutrients than White onions

  • Small onions have more nutrients per pound than their larger siblings 

Potatoes:

  • The most colorful potatoes with the darkest skin and flesh — blue, purple, and red — will give you more antioxidants than yellow potatoes.

    • The Purple Peruvian potato has 28x more bionutrients than the Russet Burbank and 166x more than the Kennebec white potato

    • However, the Russet Burbank potato is still a good choice as it is higher in phytonutrients than most white potatoes.

    • Another good option is the Purple Majesty. It has been said that this potato has twice the anthocyanin amount of any other fruit or vegetable

  • Don’t peel your potatoes, if you do you’ll lose 50% of the antioxidant value

  • Store your potatoes in a cool dark place with plenty of ventilation. New potatoes can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two but after than find a cool dark storage area with a temperature between 45-50° to prolong nutritional life of the potato.

Scallions (Green Onions):

  • Scallions are more like wild onions than any other variety, as such they are more nutritious than most other allumins

  • The long green leaves have a greater concentration of nutrients than the small white bulbs 

Shallots:

  • Ounce for ounce shallots have six times more phytonutrients than the typical onion.

Spinach:

  • Bunches are fresher than bagged leaves. Spinach that’s been in a bag for only one week has just half the antioxidant benefits of freshly harvested.

  • Mid-sized leaves have more phytonutrients than baby spinach or large spinach leaves. 

  • Compared to Spinach, Dandelion Greens have eight times more antioxidants, twice the calcium, three times the vitamin A and five times more vitamin K and E. Try mixing in Dandelion Greens to your next salad, just be careful as adding too much can make the salad a little too bitter for some. If this is the case add come acid from balsamic vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon.

  • As soon as you get home, separate the individual leaves, rinse and then soak them for about 10 minutes in very cold water. In addition to increasing the internal moisture of the greens which allows them to remain crisp longer, the cold water will reduce their temperature, slowing the aging process. Next, it is important to dry them, with a dry paper towel or salad spinner, as any moisture left on the surface will hasten their decay. Store in a plastic bag with 10-20 tiny prick holes, then place in the crisper drawer.

Sweet Potatoes:

  • Sweet potatoes are higher in antioxidants than regular potatoes.

  • The most nutritious varieties have purple and dark orange flesh, but remember you still need to consume the skin for the full benefits.

  • Avoid storing sweet potatoes in the refrigerator as they can develop a distinctly “off” flavor. Like normal potatoes, store sweet potatoes in a cool dark location.

Tomatoes:

  • Choose tomatoes that are deep red in color, they will have more antioxidants than yellow, gold or green tomatoes.

  • Size is equally as important as color, when selecting tomatoes. Small, dark red tomatoes are sweeter and more flavorful as well as having the most lycopene — the phytonutrient that gives tomatoes their red color and has been show to have benefical effect on the heart, blood pressure, osteoporosis and skin  — per ounce. The red-colored cherry, grape and currant varieties are the most flavorful and carry the highest amount of lycopene. Additionally, smaller tomatoes will have more vitamin C than their heftier relatives.

  • Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator is not a good idea because when the internal temperature drops below 50°, it stops producing and exacerbates the loss of flavor and aromatic compounds. The longer the duration of refrigeration will make the tomatoes increasing less sweet and more bitter. Store at room temperature to preserve taste.

  • The longer you cook tomatoes the more health benefits you get. The heat breaks down cell walls and transforming nutrient compounds making them more available and easier to absorb. Just 30 minutes of cooking can double the lycopene content.

  • As such, canned tomatoes are the most nutritious sources of lycopene, due to the heat required in the canning process. Canned tomatoes are also more flavorful than what you would find in the produce section because they are picked when ripe and then processed immediately. Therefore, no flavor is lost along the way.

  • Tomato paste is the most concentrated source of lycopene you can find, with up to 10x more than a raw tomato.


If you like this please let me know and I will put a more comprehensive guide together by including fruit!

Support Great Content