Shopping and Caring for Vitamin-Rich Foods
The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 85% of all cancers are associated with lifestyle and environmental factors, including nutrition. Lifestyle factors include tobacco use, diet, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, exposure to sunlight, patterns of intimate behavior and personal hygiene. Not only are all of these risk factors controllable, most of them are pretty self explanatory. The factor that seems to require the most clarification, understanding, and active planning is diet. So, take the time to care about what you are putting into your body and control the destiny of your future health as much as possible.
For me though, it is about more that just mitigating risk factors, it is about feeling happy, healthy and being a good role model for my kids. I not only want to live a long, healthy life for them, but I want to teach and inspire them to want to do the same themselves. To clarify, diet is essentially what we choose to eat- a simple concept that will help mitigate risk factors. But, when you take it to the next level of understanding, nutrition is a science that studies not only vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, but also the impact that food has on our bodies (directly and indirectly) and subsequently how that effects our lives and those around us- this is where we should focus.
Nutrition and eating well starts with taking a thoughtful approach to menu planning and shopping. Something that I do (and my family loves), is that I have a dry erase board in my kitchen, upon which I write a menu for the week. This helps me make sure I take into account, late meetings, soccer practices, after-school activities and whatever other events make up a crazy family schedule. It also helps me ensure that the foods we eat are diverse, which means not only something that everyone loves, but that there is a balance of proteins, grains, vegetables, etc. I try to spread out meals that I know will create enough leftovers for pack lunches for the week as well. I tell the family that I do this for them, so they always know what to expect and can avoid the daily question of "what is for dinner", but truthfully, this is just as much for me (ssshhh, that secret is between us). I generally go to the supermarket or farmers market once a week for a large, full shop and once for a quick shop to restock on fresh produce and meat/fish if necessary.
Before I leave for my shopping adventure, I take a quick picture the menu and check the recipe for any of the meals I am not sure about, and I take look at my pantry to see what I have. I always make sure that I either have a day on the menu that is open to either something that inspired me at the supermarket- who knows, maybe ribeye steaks are on sale or the cod looks amazingly fresh- or for a creative left-overs dish such as tacos or fresh rolls.
I always start my shopping adventure with the philosophy that buying a variety of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables is one of the first steps in making sure we get the all-important nutrients into our diets. The next step when you get home is how you store and cook those foods in ways that minimize the loss of vitamins that can occur as a result of improper storage and preparation. To help get the most from the produce you buy, use the following tips on fruit and vegetable storage and preparation.
- Shop for produce at least once a week. The longer fruits and vegetables stay in the refrigerator before being eaten, the more nutrients are likely to be lost. Fresh is always better, but frozen is a close second. Either purchase organic frozen vegetables or freeze your own harvest from the garden (or farmer's market)- simply prep by washing and cutting to appropriate size before storing in freezer bags or air-tight containers. Eat frozen vegetables within 3 months for best nutrient load. Skip canned fruits and veggies- not only are cans still often lined with BPA, but many of the vitamins and nutrients are lost in the canning process.
- Store fruits and vegetables (except bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and avocados) in the fridge rather than in a bowl or on the kitchen counter. Chilling slows the metabolic rate of the cells, which in turn prevents nutrient depletion.
- Store fruits and vegetables whole, peeling and cutting only what you need immediately before cooking or eating (except when freezing as described above). Once you cut into the skin of an item and expose it to the air, vitamin loss begins. After slicing, the vitamin C content of oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, strawberries, etc begins to decline. If you have leftover cut produce, wrap it tightly in plastic or store in an airtight container in the fridge. Important tip- do not ever store cut onions. Use what you need and then throw the rest out! Onions attract bacteria (almost like a magnet!) once they are cut.
- Cook vegetables in the least amount of water and for the shortest period of time possible. Water-soluble vitamins (B-complex and C) dissolve easily into cooking water, and heat destroys some as well. To minimize loss, steam or quickly blanch vegetables.
- If your meals are colorful, then not only are they beautiful, but you are almost certain to have a balance of vitamins! As I said to kids when they were younger- the goal is to eat the rainbow every day.
- Have fun, try something- pick up a new fruit or vegetable each week and challenge yourself to find a recipe to incorporate it. Food & nutrition should be fun, not just work.