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It's All In The Preparation

By Julie Engebretson

If you're reading this, you probably already understand the importance of working a variety of vegetables and fruits into your daily diet. You may even know certain vegetables and fruits have been shown to stave off a battery of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and several types of cancer.

But did you know that the way in which your produce is processed or cooked may impact the amount of nutrition you're getting?

Despite a booming vitamin and dietary supplement industry, nothing beats the nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables. Each bite contains a wide variety of nutrients - some of which may work best synergistically (i.e., combined within the whole food) rather than alone, in pill form. This is especially true with dark, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or broccoli, and bright orange vegetables, such as carrots or yams. In addition to vitamins and minerals, vegetables also contain compounds called phytochemicals, which provide additional health benefits.

Phytochemicals are produced naturally in plants and protect against harmful bacteria and viruses. Long researched for their health-promoting qualities, it is believed that several named phytochemicals - such as lutein, lycopene, carotenoids, flavonoids and isoflavones - may help protect consumers against a number of chronic health conditions.

Vegetables clipped to a clothesline. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The nutrients and phytochemicals found in plants and vegetables - especially those rich in color - help keep the body youthful, strong, and physically and mentally fit. While maintaining a diet packed with plenty of vegetables, fruit, low-fat protein and whole grains is a no-brainer, there may be more to the story. This article is intended to provide some helpful hints and basic guidelines to help you and your family absorb - literally - the greatest possible amount of nutrition from every morsel.

FRESH, FROZEN OR CANNED? If you're anything like the roughly 70 percent of Americans who are not meeting their recommended fruit & veggie goals, you aren't reaping all the benefits these miracle foods have to offer. You don't have to be a farmer or a grower's market junkie to get your five a day: Frozen and canned vegetables still count toward your goal.

It's a common misconception that all processed produce is completely depleted of nutrition. The widely held impression is that fresh food is invariably better for you than frozen because fresh food (provided it has not been overcooked) retains most of its chemical and nutritional content. Canned foods are notorious for higher sodium and sugar content, and frozen meals are known for the preservatives they often require. It also may seem common sense that food processed a year ago must be far less nutritious. But the truth may surprise you.

HOW FRESH IS FRESH? While it is widely accepted that fresh fruits and vegetables contain the most nutrients, it is important to remember that fresh produce is often transported over long distances and then left to sit on your grocer's shelf. The time that lapses between fresh-picked and purchased can cause once-fresh fruits and vegetables to lose some of their nutritional value as they are exposed to light and air.

Frozen or canned produce, on the other hand, is generally packaged on site, immediately after harvesting, when nutrient levels are at their highest. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are, for the most part, kept intact during canning or freezing, meaning that fresh, frozen or canned versions of the same food have relatively equal nutrient profiles.

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