You should know: Americans eat more fresh vegetables than canned, but more canned vegetables than frozen. Overall, however, our vegetable consumption has fallen in the last 10 years because people eat fewer side dishes and rely more on convenient main dishes with fewer vegetables. Restaurant meals provide us with only 10% of all the vegetables we eat and most fast food and coffee shops have few, if any, vegetable choices to buy.
When we talk about vegetables being “fresh”, there’s garden fresh and then there’s market fresh. Green beans picked from the garden are the freshest, richest in vitamins and taste. Green beans at the store are market fresh, generally shipped in from another state or country. Days or weeks can pass from the time the green beans leave the fields and land in your shopping cart. Trimmed, washed and bagged veggies should be considered market fresh and eaten by their use-by date.
Vitamins break down over time, so the longer the trip from the field to your table the greater the loss. There is no way to judge how much nutrient loss has occurred, but appearance can be an indicator. Wilted or mushy green beans and those with blemishes have probably been stored poorly and for too long. Green, crisp, firm green beans are definitely younger, fresher and more vitamin-rich.
Would frozen be a better choice? When green beans are not in season locally, yes. Frozen produce is closest to fresh in vitamin content because it is processed and frozen very quickly after picking. The key here is handling. Frozen vegetables should be loose in the bag. If the vegetables are in a block, it usually means they have been partially thawed and refrozen, destroying their taste and overall quality.
Canned vegetables are almost always mushier in texture than fresh or frozen. Because they are preserved in water and salt, the sodium content is higher, and some of the vitamins will dissolve into the canning liquid. But, if your choice is to eat canned vegetables or no vegetables, canned are good choices. Most of us normally eat a variety of all three – fresh, frozen and canned.
You should know: Sometimes canned is better than fresh.
Canned corn has 500 times the antioxidants (disease protecting substances) than fresh corn. Canned tomatoes have more lycopene. The heat processing releases some of these beneficial compounds.
Commercial storage and processing are not the only way to lose nutrients. All of us have thrown away fresh vegetables we didn’t use quickly. All vegetables begin unripe and continue to ripen over time. Even when picked and placed in your refrigerator the ripening process continues until the vegetables spoil. Fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas as they ripen. Produce growers and shippers control the ethylene atmosphere to speed up or slow down ripening.
You Should Know: When it comes to potatoes, size counts.
The larger the potato pieces the higher the mineral content. A whole potato has a higher mineral value than one that is cubed or shredded before cooking. Increased surface area causes more mineral loss.
It’s been estimated that 50% of vitamins are lost in cooking. But, there are things you can do to make the loss less. Microwaving is the kindest to vitamins – short cooking time, moderate heat and little water. Steaming is a close second. Stir-frying is also gentler on vitamins because it cuts down on water and vegetables cook quickly. The downside is you need to add some fat to your normally fat-free vegetable. Boiling is the most destructive. You can recycle some of the lost vitamins by using the vegetable water in soups, sauces and other recipes.
For maximum nutrition and taste – use fresh vegetables within 3 days, keep frozen vegetables frozen, and cook all vegetables quickly with as little water as possible. Keep the lid on for faster cooking. There is no such thing as a bad vegetable because all provide some vitamins, even when handled and cooked poorly.
A 2015 study of Americans’ fruit and vegetable intake showed that white potatoes, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes were our most popular vegetables choices with carrots, corn and green beans limping behind. Stretch your horizons, try a new vegetable today.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Healthy Wholefoods Counter
Complete Food Counter
Fat and Cholesterol Counter
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
Your Complete Food Counter App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.