3 Preparation Tips for Preserving Your Food's Nutritional Value

3 Preparation Tips for Preserving Your Food's Nutritional Value

To maintain our health, it’s important to build good habits. Among these are adequate, restful sleep, a balance between our professions and our personal lives, regular exercise, and of course, a diet full of nutrient-rich foods. While the convenience of fast food and pre-packed meals may be tempting, the reality is that food products that are heavily processed are some of the least nutritious—and most addictive—foods available on the market. They aren’t necessarily designed to keep you healthy; they are designed to keep you buying more of them.

If you’re looking to break away from the clutches of excessively salty potato chips, mediocre cheeseburgers, and carbonated soft drinks, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some tips for maximizing the nutritional value of the foods you eat.

Raw Over Cooked

When trying to preserve the nutrients in your food, there are a few golden rules to go by. One of them has to do with cooking: simply put, raw foods are more packed with nutrients than their cooked versions. For example, the nutritional value of the vegetables in your mom’s sinigang recipe would be maximized if you attempted to make a salad out of all the ingredients rather than cooking them up into the stew we know and love. This salad would probably be much less delicious than the traditional sinigang and might cause you some indigestion from all the raw greens, but in terms of nutritional value, they would be at their peak.

Therefore, there’s a bit of a sliding scale that happens with regard to cooking and nutrition. On the one hand, we need to be able to cook to make the foods we eat easier to digest, safe to consume, and palatable. On the other hand, we don’t want to overcook our foods and cause all the nutrients in them to evaporate or degrade from the heat. Skilled cooks can keep foods sufficiently nutritious while also making them delicious and easy to consume as well.

However, if your health objective is to maximize nutritional value, when the opportunity to eat safely prepared raw foods presents itself, you should definitely take it. Raw fish, such as sushi, is an excellent source of minimally processed protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients. Another great raw option is ceviche, the popular South American dish of raw fish and assorted vegetables marinated in citrus juices. The fruit juices provide a great source of Vitamin C, along with all the other nutrients present in the other ingredients in the dish. The acids in the fruit juices also cook the fish and vegetables slightly, but not enough to rob them of much nutritional value.

Fresh Is Best, Followed by Frozen, Followed By Processed

Another nutrition axiom to live by: fresh, unprocessed food is more nutritious than its processed counterparts. A piece of beef that’s been butchered carefully will definitely retain more nutrients than an equal weight of canned corned beef, and fresh vegetables are always more nutritious than their canned versions.

There are many reasons for this. In the case of the beef, it’s undergone extensive slicing, which allows some of the nutrients in it to escape (more on that later). It’s also been seasoned, and salt robs meat of moisture, which is functionally a vehicle for nutrients. Finally, the canning process itself subjects both the meat and the vegetables to handling and pressure, extracting even more of the food’s essences and nutrients. While the end product is still edible, it’s not nearly as nutritious as when it was first harvested.

A relatively acceptable middle ground might be frozen produce over canned or processed foods. While frozen corn and carrots are not quite as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, they do retain some of their nutrients because the freezing process locks them in place. They can then be cooked gently by steaming or blanching to preserve as much of their vitamins and minerals as possible.

Whole Over Sliced

This was touched on slightly in the previous section, but it must be discussed more explicitly. The level of processing that a piece of food undergoes directly affects how nutritious it is. This applies at a canning plant, but it also applies in your own kitchen. The more you cut, slice, peel, and cube vegetables or meats, the less nutritious they become.

As the amount of surface area of a piece of food increases, the level of its nutritional content decreases. This is because more of the food is directly exposed to forces that eliminate or eradicate nutrients: light, oxygen, and heat while cooking. To prevent this, simply minimize the amount of knife work you perform on your food. Leave ears of corn intact, and serve carrots whole after baking, broiling, or blanching them. As for meats, leave them on the bone as much as possible. Not only does this preserve the proteins and nutrients in the meat; it also saves much of the flavors and essences of the meat as well.

Eating healthy need not be difficult or inconvenient. Simply keep in mind the tips above to ensure that your meals remain both nutrient-packed and delicious.


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