Getting Fresh Isn’t Such a Bad Thing!

One of the many great joys of summer is the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit available locally. Whether grown in your garden, purchased at the grocery store, or joyfully discovered at a local farm stand or farmer’s market, locally grown produce offers us a shorter “ground to plate” experience, enhanced flavors and seasonal variety.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables keeps us in better balance, nutritionally, and can help protect us from heart disease, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, such as colorectal cancer. And though there are few “down” sides to a diet rich in fresh fruit and veggies, preparation plays an important role in enhancing (or diminishing) the valuable vitamins and benefits they offer.

To cook or not cook our veggies

Cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food that our small teeth, weak jaws, and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. And while we might hear from raw food advocates that cooking kills vitamins and minerals in food, it turns out raw vegetables are not always healthier.

A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition last year found that a group of 198 subjects who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene (an antioxidant found in dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables), but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene.

Lycopene is a red pigment found predominantly in tomatoes and other rosy fruits such as watermelon, pink guava, red bell pepper and papaya. Several studies conducted in recent years (at Harvard Medical School, among others) have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks, and research indicates it may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw,  at least, that is, if they’re boiled or steamed. Boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, though boiling was deemed the best. Always avoid deep frying.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that cooking carrots actually increases their level of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.

So, like your mother always said, “eat your vegetables,” and, whenever possible, enjoy a fresh piece of fruit.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!