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Ask Food: How to retain vitamins in your veggies

Q: What’s the best way to treat vegetables to retain the vitamins?
A: There’s no doubt vegetables have lots of good nutrition to offer, but how you purchase, store and prepare them can dramatically affect their value. Here’s what you need to know when cooking up your favorite veggies.

As soon as vegetables are picked, their nutrient clock beings to tick away. The more time it spends off the plant, the more vitamins will be lost.
Seeking out local produce when possible is never a bad idea — the less time it takes for the veggies to get to your plate, the more nutrients they’ll retain. Support local agriculture in your community or get your hands dirty by planting some of your own herbs and vegetables.

Once you get those fresh vegetables home, minimize additional nutrient loss by eating them right away or storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Cold temperatures will limit the degradation of vitamins, so use the vegetable drawer in your fridge and store in an airtight bag or container. Avoid trimming and chopping before storage, too. That will limit surface area and help lock more of the vitamins inside.

Cooking veggies can further diminish the content of various water-soluble vitamins including folate, thiamin, B6 and vitamin C, especially in foods that sit out heated for more than two hours (think buffet or cafeteria style). Vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin tend to hang in there a bit better, while fiber and minerals will remain virtually unaffected.

Overcooked veggies are better than no veggies at all but quick cooking will maximize nutrients. Take advantage of as many vitamins as possible by following these tips:
• Keep skins on when possible

• Avoid continuous reheating of food
• Use a minimal amount of cooking liquid
• Choose steaming over boiling

• When you do boil, retain the cooking liquid for a future use (like soups and stocks)
• Use the microwave

• Use a pressure cooker when possible
• Avoid using baking soda to retain color
• Cut veggies into large chunks to reduce surface area
Courtesy of Dana Angelo White on foodnetwork.com

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