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Meal Planning: Fruits and Vegetables

Planning your meals: questions about fruits and vegetables

fruit.jpgShould we eat raw or cooked vegetables?

Both. Vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Eating a variety of different types of vegetables, whether cooked or raw, provides the body with various vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Raw and cooked vegetables provide different nutrients. For example, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a nutrient that's not as available in raw tomatoes. In turn, raw tomatoes are rich in potassium and vitamin C, nutrients that decrease with cooking.

In all methods of preparation, and whether you buy them frozen or fresh, be sure to include plenty of vegetables in your daily diet.

What are the best ways to cook vegetables?

The healthiest ways to cook vegetables include steaming, stir-frying, sauting, baking and grilling. These methods prevent the overcooking of vegetables that would disintegrate the valuable nutrients.

Which are healthier: fruits and vegetables that are fresh or frozen?

They are equal. No matter how they are stored, the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables varies only slightly whether they are fresh or frozen. Buy them and enjoy them often; that's the healthiest way to eat fruits and vegetables. Choosing locally grown produce is another option for maximizing the nutrient levels in produce.

What about canned fruits and vegetables?

Buy fruit canned in water or light/natural juice. When buying canned vegetables, check the label for the sodium content and choose the low-sodium version. Canned fruits and vegetables can be easy to digest, and therefore are good choices for persons with diarrhea due to cancer treatment or recent surgery.

Should I choose organic fruits and vegetables?

The scientific research on organic verses conventional foods and cancer risk is not conclusive enough for specific guidelines to be determined. Therefore, the decision to choose organic or conventional produce is ultimately a personal health choice.

When consuming produce, remember these points:

  • Always wash all produce (organic or conventional), even if the package is labeled "pre-washed"
  • If you decide to choose organic produce and cost is a concern, choose organic produce that has been found to contain the highest levels of pesticide residues when grown conventionally.

The following lists may be useful for making wise choices.

The USDA, Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Working group have investigated the amounts of pesticide residues found on commonly consumed produce and created the following tables. Produce was washed before pesticide levels were tested.

Produce with highest levels of pesticide residue: 

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers (Green and Red)
  • Celery
  • Cherries (U.S.)
  • Grapes (Chile)
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatoes (U.S.)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Produce with lowest levels of pesticide residues: 

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Onions
  • Pineapples
  • Peas (frozen)

The bottom line: The benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks associated with pesticide residue. Phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables (organic or conventional) promote immune support and detoxification in the body and are excellent sources of disease-fighting nutrients.

Source: Dana-Farber nutritionists 

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