How to get the most out of your greens

There are plenty of ways to boost the nutritional properties of fruit and vegetables, writes Sasha Gonzales

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:13pm

We all know that fruit and vegetables are good for us, and here are some ways to make them even better. Store them correctly A study published in the June issue of Current Biology reported the way we store our fruit and vegetables can have an impact on their nutritional value - including their anti-cancer properties.

Daphne Wu, a British state registered dietitian and PhD researcher, says that most produce can be stored in cool, dry places. But you should consider factors such as humidity, temperature, light, and air circulation.

For example, moisture and cold can cause bananas to deteriorate more quickly, so it's best to store them at room temperature and in the open, rather than in a cold fridge. During the summer, ripening times are shortened, so it is probably not a good idea to store your fruit and vegetables at room temperature.

Potatoes should not be exposed to light, as this triggers the production of a toxin, which turns their skin and flesh green. And both high and low temperatures can affect the sugar content of potatoes, which may change their flavour and colour. Cook them quickly, if at all If you don't wish to eat your veggies raw, flash cooking is recommended to keep their antioxidants intact, since many of these nutrients, including vitamin C, are sensitive to heat. Steaming, microwaving, or stir-frying vegetables is preferable to boiling because these methods help to retain the nutrients.

Certain antioxidants such as lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, are only released through cooking, so Wu suggests cooking them rather than consuming them raw. Wash them before eating To remove microbes and contaminants that can cause vomiting and food poisoning, Sally Shi-Po Poon, a registered dietitian from Personal Dietitian, recommends washing all produce before consuming. They may lose some of their water-soluble vitamins in the process, so try not to scrub them too vigorously. Simply hold the fruit or vegetable under running water for several seconds and rub the skin gently using your fingers or a soft brush.

Cook or consume your fruit and veggies immediately after washing them. Do not wash just before storing, as this may increase the spoilage rate. Keep the skin on Peeling may make a fruit or vegetable look better, but the skin contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. The skin of a carrot and a potato holds lots of vitamin C and fibre, so stripping this outer layer lessens the nutritional value. Before cooking all root vegetables, it is important to scrub away the soil and dirt with a soft brush.

Apple skin, too, is packed with nutrients and insoluble fibre, says Charmain Tan, a registered dietitian from Seventeen Nutrition Consultants. An apple with the skin on contains about 5.4 grams of fibre and 17 per cent vitamin C.

Without the skin, it contains just 1.4 grams of fibre and 7 per cent vitamin C. Almost half the vitamin C of an apple is found just underneath the skin, so before you peel, think about what you are throwing away. Choose seasonal All produce is at its best when it is in season. It looks and tastes better, and you can be sure that you are getting the maximum amount of nutrients.

If a fruit or vegetable is seasonal, it also means that it is fresher and more readily available. If you must purchase an out-of-season fruit or vegetable for a recipe, Wu suggests going for the frozen variety, as these would have been picked at the right time. Go for nutrient-dense varieties Not all fruit and veggies are created equal. Some, such as broccoli, bok choy, blueberries and watermelon are true nutritional powerhouses, containing more vitamins and minerals by weight than other varieties.

Although all fruit and veggies are a good choice, Poon suggests choosing these super-foods to get the most nutrients into your diet. Mix it up To enjoy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, you might want to start getting more creative with your meals. Poon recommends these combinations for a healthy lunch or dinner: pork chops topped with orange segments, chicken salad with red, green and orange bell peppers, and beef with bitter melon.

A handful of dried fruit makes for a good afternoon snack, and for breakfast, you can't beat fresh fruit with wholegrain cereal or yogurt. Follow these freshness tips If you want good-quality produce that tastes great and is nutritious, you have to make sure it's fresh. Tan says to avoid produce that has been bruised and does not have a vibrant colour. The skin should be firm and the fruit or vegetable should feel heavy for its size.

When buying pre-cut produce, refrigerate it as soon as possible for safety reasons. Once you get it home, prepare it the right way to maintain its quality and freshness. Remove the outer layer of lettuces and cabbages. For veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, Tan suggests washing and trimming them, and then soaking them in slightly salted water to remove insects.

Finally, if you're wondering if organic is better, Tan says this isn't always the case. Thin-skinned fruit such as peaches tend to absorb more pesticides, so organic varieties might make more sense, whereas you could probably get away with non-organic avocadoes, as they are so thick-skinned.

Fruit with stems, such as pears and strawberries, are best bought organic, as pesticides can run down the stems and into the fruit.