In its natural state food 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 but also nutritious, and neither can be sacrificed at the cost of the other.
The daily pre-preparation of foods for cooking and actual cooking process results in a great loss of nutrients. The water-soluble vitamins – vitamin B complex and vitamin C are the most affected as they get dissolved in the water used for soaking and cooking, by exposure to sunlight and air and by prolonged heating. By using proper cooking methods the amount of nutrient losses can be minimised to a great extent. Remember that despite taking utmost care during pre-cooking and cooking procedures, some small losses of nutrients are unavoidable.
Here are some precautions that need to be taken during the pre-preparation of various foods.
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 also important to reap maximum health benefits.
After fruits and vegetables are brought home from the market, soak them without peeling or cutting in salt water for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash them thoroughly in running water so as to remove the pesticide residues. Leave them in a strainer to drain the excess water and then use or store in the refrigerator.
The nutrients in vegetables and fruits are greatly concentrated just below the skin. Those with edible skins such as apples, pears, chikoos, cucumbers, carrots, etc, should be eaten unpeeled after proper washing so that you don’t lose out on fibre and vitamins. In the case of oranges and sweet limes, eat the segments along with the white skin covering them after removing the seeds.
Vegetables such as carrot, radish, cucumber, snake gourd (podolem), ridge gourd (gosalem, matte gosalem), etc, 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.
Vegetables like potato, sweet potato, colocasia, yam, etc, should be boiled with their skins and then peeled. This helps the nutrients move to the centre of the vegetable thereby helping better retention of nutrients.
Vegetables should be cut preferably into big pieces rather than finely chopped or grated as this reduces the surface area exposed to cooking water or air.
Chopped vegetables should not be soaked in water as this depletes them of their water-soluble vitamins. They should be cooked immediately after cutting with minimum amount of water preferably by steaming so that nutrient losses are minimised.
Salads should be prepared just before serving and should be served in closed dishes. Fruits should be cut just before eating in order to prevent the excessive exposure to air which results in the destruction of vitamin C.
Never add soda bicarb to preserve the colour of vegetables or while cooking pulses as 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.
Never wash cereals more than two to three 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.
To be continued…
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)