Non-Fresh: Which is Best?
When Fresh Produce Is Hard to Find, Which Foods Have the Most Nutrients?
The days may be getting longer, but unless you live well south of the 35th parallel, you’re still several months away from being able to access most fresh fruits and vegetables. Inquiring minds want to know: when fresh produce is not readily available, what’s the best way to get the half-your-plate per meal of fruits and veggies that the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion recommends? The answer, ironically, may be to stay away from the fresh produce aisle.
It turns out that as soon as produce is harvested, it starts to lose its nutrients. Modern food storage and transport methods often make fruit and vegetables look like they’re still fresh, when in fact, their bright colors and firm skin are the result of wax coating and cold storage. The produce itself may be as much as three months old, with the best of its nutrients long gone.
A study out of the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, found that “Losses of nutrients during fresh storage may be more substantial than consumers realize. Depending on the commodity, freezing and canning processes may [better] preserve nutrient value.” This study and others prompted the Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® initiative (in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control) to recommend that “All Forms of Fruits and Vegetables Matter,” including frozen and canned.
It is the enzymes in fruit and vegetables that cause their nutrient loss, as well as the loss of color and flavor. To halt this process, the enzymes need to be “deactivated.” One way to do this is to blanch—quickly boil and then douse in ice water—and then freeze them. This is how most commercial frozen food companies package their vegetables, and since they do this process right after harvesting the food, most nutrients remain in the food. To help further maintain the integrity of the food, most frozen food companies quick-freeze their vegetables, which slows the rate of deterioration that can occur, even in the freezer.
Canned fruit and vegetables, too, often contain more nutrients than less-than-fresh fresh produce. Fruit & Veggies—More Matters® offers five key facts about canned produce:
- Canned food offers sound nutrition to help people achieve nutrient needs.
- Canned food offers comparable nutrition to fresh and frozen.
- You can enjoy canned food while watching sodium intake.
- Canned foods are minimally processed.
- Steel cans are among the safest forms of food packaging.
Which is better for losing weight: eating breakfast or skipping it? There is no definitive answer, but many nutritionists and weight loss experts agree that eating a nutritious breakfast is a crucial part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit medical organization whose weight-loss program is based on solid research and clinical studies. Part of the Mayo Clinic Diet is making it a habit to eat a healthy breakfast as often as possible, which helps people lose weight and keep it off by
- Reducing hunger later in the day.
- Helping to promote healthy choices throughout the day.
- Providing more energy for physical activity.
According to Mayo Clinic staff, the building blocks to a healthy breakfast include these foods:
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
- Low-fat dairy
- Fruits and vegetables
With USConnect’s The Right Choice… for a Healthier You™ program, you can find nutritious breakfast choices like whole-grain oatmeal, nonfat yogurt, fresh produce, and even hard-boiled eggs. The Mayo Clinic’s research shows that people who regularly eat these types of breakfasts not only lose weight, but they also control their cholesterol and blood sugar, get more vitamins and minerals, and perform better at work.
If breakfast isn’t part of your usual morning routine, the Mayo Clinic has some recommendations to help you get into the healthy habit:
- Get into the habit by starting with something small and portable, then work your way up.
- Replace added sugar with the natural sweetness of fruit and spices like cinnamon.
- Prepare in advance and have healthy foods at-the-ready so you’re not adding to the morning rush.
- Don’t limit yourself to breakfast food; there’s no reason not to eat a turkey sandwich on whole wheat for breakfast.
- Make it portable so you can eat as you commute.
- Split your breakfast up into micro-meals if you don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning.
- Change slowly. As we discussed with setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, it’s easy to give up on a goal when you try to do too much at once. Start with a healthy breakfast once a week, and then move up from there.
A Heart-Healthy Roundup
February is the month when whole sections of stores turn red and fill up with heart-shaped treats: most of them edible, and most of them very unhealthy. This February, in addition to celebrating the people you love, why not also celebrate one of your most important organs: your heart! We’ve checked with the experts and gathered the best heart-healthy advice from two well-respected organizations when it comes to heart health: the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic.
Let’s start with the American Heart Association, which has some basic guidelines to follow:
- Use up at least as many calories as you take in.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
- Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.
- As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations:
- Eat a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars.
- Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
- Choose poultry and fish without skin.
- Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids.
- Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
- Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
- Limit saturated fat and trans-fat, and replace them with the better fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose foods with less sodium, and prepare foods with little or no salt.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.
The Cleveland Clinic has some specific recommendations for heart-healthy meals and snacks, including what nutrients they provide:
- Eat fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and trout.
- A handful of healthy nuts, such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart.
- Berries are chock full of heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
- Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
- Eat oatmeal: the comfort-food nutrient powerhouse.
- Dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. Veggie chili, anyone?
- A 4-ounce glass of red wine (up to two for men and one for women per day) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
- Try marinated tofu in a stir-fry with fresh veggies for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
- Red, yellow, and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
- Popeye was right—spinach packs a punch! Use it in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce.
- Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
- Tender, sweet asparagus is filled with mighty nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate, and fiber, and only provides 25 calories per cup, or 5 calories per large spear.
- Tomatoes—even sun-dried varieties in winter months—provide lycopene, vitamin C, and alpha- and beta-carotene.
- Dark chocolate is good for your heart health, but just be sure that it’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
- Crisp, fresh broccoli florets dipped in hummus are a terrific heart-healthy snack with a whopping list of nutrients, including vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fiber.