Eat more fruits and vegetables. Especially vegetables.
If you’ve made a health-related New Year’s resolution, this strategy is probably part of it. Whether you’re losing weight, going vegetarian, trying paleo or keeping your blood sugar down (that’s me) this advice is central.
Any amount of vegetables you add to your diet is smart. But you can be even smarter about it.
A new book, “How to Eat Better” by James Wong (Sterling Epicure), gathers up a wide range of science-based information about how to choose, store and prepare vegetables and other plant foods so that you get the absolute most of the good things in them. Did you know that the lycopene in tomatoes is released by cooking? Or that frozen blueberries are identical in nutrition to fresh (and are best eaten without milk products)?
I have been fascinated by this book since I got it. It’s sort of like those “Eat This, Not That” books, except for food that’s already healthy. My favorite bit I learned was that by chilling cooked rice or pasta overnight, you turn some of its simple carbs into resistant starch, which your body treats like fiber. That gives it a lower glycemic index, great for someone like me with high blood sugar. Also love that supersweet pineapple has twice the Vitamin C of the less delicious traditional kind, with no more sugar. But Wong shares hundreds of tips like that. And he explains the science and what kind of research is behind them.
Here are some of the points that Wong makes in his book that I find particularly interesting.
The variety of fruit or vegetable you choose can make a lot of difference to its nutritional benefits. For instance, yellow-skinned mangoes can contain five times more Vitamin C and A than round and green mangoes.
Pink or red grapefruit can provide 50 percent of the daily recommended dose of Vitamin A, compared to two percent from a white grapefruit. (And just about everything thinks the pink ones taste better).
Grape or cherry tomatoes have more lycopene and other phytonutrients per ounce than large tomatoes. That’s because they have more skin and seed per ounce and that’s where you find the important phytonutrients.
Yellow cauliflower has more Vitamin A than white. In fact, darker color is almost always an indication of more micronutrients.
HOW YOU STORE MATTERS
Taking mushrooms out of the refrigerator and placing in a sunny window for an hour or two will multiply their Vitamin D content dramatically. Three sun-touched mushrooms will provide all the recommended amount of Vitamin D for a day. One study found that a 1-second exposure took Vitamin D from 0 to 824 percent of daily recommended intake.
Broccoli should be eaten as fresh as possible. It can lose up to 70 percent of its vitamin C and betacarotene and 50 percent of its antioxidants in six days. But other vegetables, particularly hard squash like butternut, increase their nutrition and taste in storage.
CUT AND COOK OPTIMALLY
Many vegetables’ healthful properties are defense mechanisms for the plant, so they increase in response to an injury, like slicing. So grating carrots makes them healthier than eating whole or sliced. And if you grate them and leave them in the fridge, they keep producing more antioxidants.
Some vegetables are best raw, others best cooked. Broccoli’s good stuff is most available from the raw vegetable, but if you cook it and then add a dressing made with mustard, you make its phytonutrients available. But it should be cooked by steaming, sauteeing or microwaving. Don’t boil broccoli and pour off the water: there goes the good stuff.
Sweet potatoes should be baked, not microwaved, fried or steamed if you want maximum heart-healthy polyphenols.
EXPENSIVE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
Cheap orange juice is comminuted, which means they blend whole oranges to a pulp and then filter the pulp. So you get the benefit of healthful chemicals in the zest and skin: more than from more expensive juices, which squeeze the pulp and toss the skins.
Robusta coffee (the cheap supermarket type) has more chlorogenic acids than arabica coffee (the expensive coffee shop type). Filtered coffee is a better way to extract polyphenols. Pale roasted beans are better than dark roast. So, drink cheap, light, filtered coffee, not fancy dark roast coffee in a French press or espresso.
So maybe that’s going a little too far. Not every food has to be completely maximized for nutrition. And it would be hard to apply all the information in this book. I’ve picked out a few tips to work into my own life. I’m chilling my pasta and rice, eating blueberries for breakfast, adding more beans, especially black beans, and having a shot of cherry juice at night. And I’m going to try these recipes.
One-Pot Mac & Cheese
7 ounces wholewheat penne or elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
7 ounces winter squash, grated
7 ounces cauliflower (orange if possible, broken into small florets, plus a couple of the leaves, chopped
7 ounces leek, trimmed, cleaned and finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock, crumbled
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine all the ingredients except the garlic and cheeses in a large, shallow saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the pasta is tender.
Stir in the garlic and grated cheeses. Cover with a lid, remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes to thicken.
(For a lower glycemic index version, cook this, pour in a baking dish and chill overnight. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes.)
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a saucepan and brown 7 ounces ground beef in it.
Add 8 fresh lasagna sheets, sliced into strips, 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon tomato paste,
1 quart hot beef stock and ¾ cup Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce* and simmer for
10 minutes until the pasta is tender and the beef cooked through.
Ladle into 4 bowls and serve each topped with 1 tablespoon fresh ricotta cheese and a sprinkling of dried red chile flakes and oregano leaves or flowers.
Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce*
2 ¼ pound cherry tomatoes
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¾ cup toasted flaked almonds
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Small handful of basil leaves, torn
Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
Toss together all the ingredients except the basil in a roasting pan and roast for 40 minutes.
Stir the basil through the tomatoes to combine.