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How to Keep the Nutrients in the Food You Cook

By: Meg Russell - Updated: 16 Sep 2014 | comments*Discuss
Nutrition Nutrients Vitamins Minerals

When you go to the trouble of preparing healthy, home cooked meals for yourself and your family, you certainly want to be sure that they are as nutritious as possible.

That means taking care of food at every stage, from choosing the ingredients in the first place, to storing the food , preparing it and finally to cooking it.

These are easily acquired habits which will earn you the reward of deservedly good dishes at their nutritious best.

Top Tips To Locking In The Nutrients With Vegetables

You have to start off with the freshest, best ingredients if you want to ensure they are nutritionally rich. In the case of vegetables, never buy, at one time, more than you are likely to use in a day or two.

  • Choose dark green and orange vegetables and orange fruit more often than others. These foods are higher in certain key nutrients such as Vitamin A and folate. Best buys are cantaloupes, oranges, mangoes, peaches and papayas.
  • We are well aware now of the role of vitamins in protecting us against heart disease and certain cancers. It is important to get our vitamins from food and a varied diet rather than relying on supplements. Food contains fibre, energy and other important nutrients not found in supplements. Dark green and orange vegetables and orange fruits are rich sources of vitamins.
  • It is important to use the most appropriate cooking methods to preserve and lock in the nutrients. Steam or microwave vegetables, and use their nutritious cooking liquid in soups or recipes where stock or broth is called for.
  • When cooking spinach, either to use in a sauce or to add to a pasta dish, for example, cook the leaves very briefly, just enough to wilt them. This retains all their juices and the maximum nutrients.
  • In summer, fresh peas are one of the most delicious vegetables. They are an excellent source of carbohydrate and fibre and also provide potassium. Keep them in their pods in the fridge until you are going to use them, so that their sugar content does not turn to starch; but in any case use them as soon as possible. Canned peas are a last choice since they are higher in salt and lower in nutrients than either frozen or fresh peas.

Top Tips For Locking In The Nutrients In Fish And Meat

  • Pay a little extra for lean cuts of meat; you will save in the long run because there will be no waste and your meal will be lower in calories and healthier. You can increase the flavour of lean meat by coating it lightly with flour before sautéing.
  • Fish is a very good nutritional buy. It is high in protein and low, or relatively low, in fat, unless it is breaded and fried. It is also a source of many vitamins and minerals. If buying fish fresh eat it on the day of purchase or freeze it immediately. Fish with 5g of fat or less for an 85g serving include sole, cod, halibut, haddock, hake, red snapper, mullet, place, pollock, monkfish, trout, turbot and whiting.
  • The best way to seal in the juices, goodness and natural flavours of fish is to bake it in the oven en papillote - a packet of baking parchment. You can use any kind of fish, and whether white fish or oil-rich fish like salmon, the result will be delicious. You can cook vegetables alongside in a separate packet to serve as an accompaniment. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6 (200 degrees C) and cook for about 15 minutes.
  • You can also cook skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts en papillote without sacrificing any nutrients or flavour. Baking poultry with herbs and vegetables in the one sealed parcel lets it cook in its own juices, creating delicious flavours without the need for fat or salt.
  • For the most nutritious and leanest minced chicken or turkey, buy boneless, skinless breast meat and grind or mince it yourself. Commercial varieties may contain skin, which adds extra fat.

Essential Cook Tips

When baking, try to use wholemeal flour which is much higher in fibre and, therefore, more nutritious than white flour. In many recipes you can substitute half the amount of white flour with wholemeal flour. Vitamin E, an important antioxidant vitamin, is found in whole grain cereals and wheat germ.

Add nutritional value to dishes by increasing the fibre content. For example you can add lentils or beans to salads, soups, casseroles and stews. They are low in fat but very high in fibre.

In cooking generally, use as little as possible of pure fats - butter, margarine, lard and oil. Use non-stick pans, and if braising or stir-frying food get the pan really hot before you add the oil, preferably olive oil. Only a very little oil is required when added to a hot pan, and in addition the ingredients will not stick.

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