Food, in its natural state, contains many nutrients, but to what extent these nutrients will be ultimately available to the body depends on many factors. The food that we eat must not only be palatable, it should also be nutritious and neither can be sacrificed at the cost of the other.
The daily pre-preparation of foods for cooking and the actual cooking process result in a great loss of nutrients. The water-soluble vitamins – vitamin B complex and vitamin C are the most affected as they get dissolved into the water used for soaking and cooking, by exposure to sunlight and air and by prolonged heating.
By taking care during pre-cooking and by using proper cooking methods, the amount of nutrient losses can be minimised to a great extent. Here are some precautions that need to be taken during pre-preparation of the various foods. But before we get to that, always remember to wash your hands with soap and water, before and after handling food.
Vegetables and fruits:
All fruits and vegetables taste best and are nutrient-rich when consumed fresh but one problem is that they contain pesticide residues that need to be removed. Hence proper cleaning and preparation are important to reap maximum health benefits. One of the common doubts in the minds of people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has been with regard to the safety of consuming and washing fruits and vegetables. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the virus being spread through fruits and vegetables but scientific bodies have clearly stated that COVID-19 does not spread through food and it is safe to consume fruits and vegetables.
cAfter fruits and vegetables are brought home from the market, soak them without peeling or cutting in saltwater, baking soda or vinegar for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash them thoroughly under running water so as to thoroughly remove the pesticide residues. Leave them in a strainer to drain the excess water and then use or store in the refrigerator.
cDo not wash vegetable and fruits with soap or detergent as it gets left behind as residue compounds in the cracks and crevices of the fruits and vegetable which is not suitable for the human body.
cGreen leafy vegetables should be soaked in water and then rinsed twice under running water to rid them of pesticide residues.
cThe nutrients in vegetables and fruits are greatly concentrated just below the skin, therefore it is important to eat fruits such as apples, pears, and chikoos that have edible skins unpeeled so that you don’t lose out on fibre and vital nutrients. In the case of oranges and sweet limes, eat the segments along with the white skin covering them after removing the seeds.
cVegetables such as carrot, radish, cucumber, snake gourd (podolem), gosalem, and matte gosalem have a papery peel which can be scraped away using the blunt side of a knife. Other vegetables should be peeled as thinly as possible.
cVegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, colocasia, yams, etc should be boiled with their skins and then peeled. This helps the nutrients to move to the centre of the vegetable, thereby helping better retention of nutrients.
cVegetables should be cut preferably into big pieces rather than finely chopped or grated as this reduces the surface area that is exposed to the cooking water or air.
cChopped vegetables should not be soaked in water as this depletes them of their water-soluble vitamins. They should be cooked immediately after cutting with a minimum amount of water preferably by steaming so that nutrient losses are minimised.
cSalads should be prepared just before serving and should be served in closed dishes to avoid excessive exposure to air.
cFruits should be cut just before eating in order to prevent excessive exposure to air that results in the destruction of vitamin C.
cNever add Sodium Bicarbonate to preserve the colour of vegetables or while cooking pulses. It destroys B-vitamins. To preserve the green colour of green leafy vegetable, keep the pan open for a few minutes to allow the volatile acids that destroy the green colour to escape and then cover the pan.
cNever wash cereals more than 2-3 times. Whenever it is necessary to soak cereals such as rice for the preparation of idli, dosas, etc add just enough of water and soak for two to three hours.
cCook rice by the absorption method rather than by the excess water method. Draining of rice water (nivoll) results in the loss of B-complex vitamins. In the case of parboiled rice, extra water needs to be added as the rice takes longer to cook. In parboiled rice, the retention of vitamins and minerals is better because during parboiling of paddy the nutrients diffuse into the rice grain and a protective gelatinised starch coating is formed on the grain preventing leaching.
To be continued…
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 21 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)