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Health

Vegetable vitality

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You are probably aware of the health benefits of vegetables, but you may not know that their nutritional content can range widely depending on a variety of conditions.  The type, shape, storage, and preparation of vegetables can all influence the amount of antioxidants and other nutrients that you get out of them.

This week on “Take Care,” Jo Robinson talks about some of the healthiest vegetables and how to get the most nutritional value from them.  Robinson is a health writer and investigative journalist.  Her most recent book is “Eating on the Wild Side:  The Missing Link to Optimum Health.”

Any kind of vegetable is a healthy choice compared to most other foods, but Robinson says that the vegetables we eat today are not the same vegetables that our ancestors ate.

“We began to choose less nutritious, sweeter, less fibrous, and more pulpy fruits and vegetables [beginning] 400 generations ago.”

By choosing sweeter vegetables, we have sacrificed the nutritional benefits of bitter vegetables.  Typically, the more bitter vegetables have more antioxidants.

“We’re now really adverse to even small amounts of bitterness,” Robinson says.

Even though the grocery store may not have the bitter vegetables that have gradually been taken out of our diets, there are ways to choose and prepare today’s vegetables for optimal nutrition:

  • Shape: For lettuce, the shape can determine antioxidant levels.  Lettuces that have broad leaves and are exposed to more sun are usually healthier because they produce more antioxidants to protect against damage from the sun.  Iceberg lettuce is an example of a lettuce that receives less sun exposure and is less rich in nutrients.
  • Size: tomatoes that are smaller have higher levels of lycopene than larger tomatoes.
  • Storage: store vegetables in a sealed plastic bag with small holes for oxygen transfer.
  • Cooking: some vegetables have more health benefits when cooked.  Carrots, for example, have twice as much beta-carotene when cooked versus raw.  Other vegetables are better eaten raw.
  • Chopping: placing garlic in heat immediately after chopping it reduces its ability to produce antioxidants.  Robinson recommends letting garlic stand after chopping for ten minutes before cooking it.

Robinson’s final tip is to eat fresh vegetables no more than two or three days after purchasing them.  Some of her advice may be surprising, but it is all fairly easy to incorporate into your diet.