How to get more out of your fruit & veg
While buying pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegies can encourage people to eat more fresh produce, these convenience options also are reducing their nutritional value.
Dr Vincent Candrawinata, (affectionately known as Dr Vincent), a clinical nutritionist and food scientist, says that you’re most likely to reap the full benefits of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables by buying, storing and eating them in their natural state.
He says the easiest, best way to boost the nutrients in your diet is to avoid cutting, slicing, chopping or peeling fruits and vegies until you’re about to eat them, or to eat them whole.
Dr Vincent’s nutrient-boosting tips
Store fruits and vegetables the right way
“The nutrients that suffer the heaviest hit in cut fruits and vegetables are vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E,” Dr Vincent explains. “These vitamins are antioxidants – they react with oxygen – which means when the internal flesh is exposed to air, the vitamins actually decline. The peels and natural coverings of fruits and vegetables offer protection to the antioxidant vitamins inside, unless broken through.”
It’s also important to know that you could quite literally be pouring vitamins down the drain by rinsing your cut produce. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, are carried by water and can leak out of produce after cutting or when running under water.
According to Dr Vincent, the most effective way to store fruits and vegies so you retain all of their goodness is to leave them unwashed with the skin or rinds intact until the day you’ll be eating them. While not pre-cutting your produce is ideal, if you need to, ensure they’re stored in an air-tight container in large pieces in the refrigerator.
Get a sharp knife
“While we mostly associate a blunt knife with inconvenience and annoyance, it can actually cause unnecessary and unwanted damage to our fresh produce,” Dr Vincent says.
“With a sharp knife you decrease the risk of excessive softening, bacterial growth and electrolyte leakage – such as calcium and potassium – in your fruits and vegies. In order to keep various nutrients intact, keeping a sharp knife in your kitchen is a must.”
Make the most of your pre-cut produce
“There’s no doubt that it can sometimes feel tedious to have to wash and chop your fresh fruits and vegetables when you’re busy – which is the reason why pre-cut produce is sold in the first place,” Dr Vincent says.
While it’s best to not buy pre-cut produce, there are some simple steps you can take to retain the most nutritional value in your purchases.
• Buy the freshest produce that you can find by looking at the dates on the packaging. Time plays an important role in nutrient loss. Pro tip: pick packages from the back of the shelves, as these tend to be fresher.
• Only buy pre-cut produce that’s been refrigerated. Low temps slow down nutrient loss.
• Eat any pre-cut vegetables within five to six days and pre-cut fruit in two to three days. Pre-cut produce can be a convenient solution for an on-the-go snack or meal that day, but they’re not the best for long-term storage.
• Look for produce that’s been cut into the largest chunks – these pieces will have been affected the least by respiration.
“At the end of the day, the small difference in nutrients is completely lost if you don’t eat the fruit and vegetables you buy because you couldn’t face the work that was needed – no matter how minor,” Dr Vincent says. “So, if having pre-cut fresh fruits and vegetables is what you need to make healthier choices throughout your week, that’s better than a crisper full of aspirational produce that goes to waste.”
Don’t finely chop your vegetables
“Cutting your fruits and vegies is not ideal, but if you need to cut them, cut them in large chunks, using a sharp knife,” Dr Vincent says. “This is always the best plan of attack.”
Cutting raises the respiration rate of your food, which means the natural sugars in the produce are being broken down and are releasing carbon dioxide.
“Put simply, the less surface area you expose on your fruits and vegetables, the less risk of them spoiling over a shorter period of time from oxygen exposure,” Dr Vincent explains.
Discolouration, flavour and texture loss and dehydration, on top of nutrient loss, increase as cut vegies get progressively smaller. Dr Vincent advises that a general rule to follow is: the more finely your fresh vegetables are chopped, the more quickly you should eat them.
“To prolong the life of your finely chopped veg – and even generate nutritional advantages – you can marinate or ferment your goods,” Dr Vincent suggests. “Making marinated salads like coleslaw or fermented dishes like sauerkraut are examples of ways you can eliminate the risk of dehydration and balance acid levels in your finely chopped fresh produce.”
Give yourself a boost
If you can’t get enough fresh fruits and vegetables into your daily diet, you can give your diet a boost with phenolic antioxidants. Dr Vincent also happens to be the world’s foremost expert on phenolic antioxidants and the founder of Renovatio, a range of health and wellness products that are made by extracting phenolics from Australian apples and activating them to produce turbocharged powders, tablets and creams.
“Activated phenolics are powerful antioxidants that neutralise a wide range of free radicals to protect our body’s cells from infection and inflammation,” Dr Vincent explains. “It’s common for our diet not to deliver our body with all the micronutrients and antioxidants it needs. Supplements can be the answer and have beneficial effects on your overall health.”