I crave your indulgence to deviate slightly from our regular consumer stories to nutrient retention in foods, due to an abnormality that most consumers are beginning to accept and practice as if it is the correct thing.
Anytime, I go to the market and see consumers getting their unwashed fresh vegetables shredded in the market, it always brings to my mind that popular verse in the Holy Bible stated in the book of Hosea, chapter 4, verse 6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”.
If they have the knowledge that they are losing almost all the nutrients in the vegetable by washing it after it has been shredded, then they will do it otherwise. The irony is that the main reason of buying/eating that fresh vegetable is because of its dense nutrient content, so after buying it, the same person proceeds again to lose it.
It is a very regular occurrence in the open markets to see vegetable sellers shredding unwashed vegetable for consumers who then go home to supposedly to wash off the sand and dirt from the vegetables but inadvertently wash off the nutrients too.
How can we effectively retain nutrients in our food? One may have all the money, eager to eat good food, actually make the money available for the purchases but in the end eat food devoid of nutrients because of the processes it passed through before getting to the dining table.
Most of the nutrients we are supposed to get from food often get destroyed during the course of processing, post harvesting, preparing, storing and when cooking the foods. In the end, we gulp down chaff believing we have eaten foods rich in nutrients.
The question then is, how do we destroy food nutrients and how can we retain them in food so as to get all the bodily requirements?
Unfortunately, the easily destroyed nutrients in food are the vitamins and minerals and these are what we need to consume in high quantity because the body does not make them. The body can only get them externally through the food we eat or food supplements. So when we cannot even get them through what we eat then the body is bereft of them.
The most sensitive food nutrients again are vitamins and minerals. They can easily be destroyed by water, heat, light, very low temperature. That is why people are advised to handle vegetables and fruits with care if they must get the needed nutrients from the consumption of these products.
Nutrients can easily be destroyed in fruits by plucking unripe or immature fruit. When a fruit is boiled, soaked in water, covered in carbide or artificially forced to ripe, the fruit is left with just the colour and very minute nutrients.
People should desist from cutting fruits and leaving them to stand for long before consumption. If you are not ready yet to eat that pawpaw, orange, etcetera, do not cut it open because when it is cut, oxidisation takes place. Heat extracts the nutrients from the cut surface and by the time you are ready, most of the nutrients would have gone.
As I said earlier, it amazes me when I go to the market and see people asking traders to shred unwashed vegetables for them. Yes, you are saving the energy and time you would have used to do all that at home but you end up losing most of the nutrients in that vegetable. When you wash already shredded vegetable, the nutrients leach into the water. That is why the water turns to green. The soluble nutrients that you are supposed to enjoy are what colours the water, so you are getting empty vegetable devoid of nutrients. Always wash your vegetables before shredding.
When vegetables are cut and kept for long, oxidisation equally occurs just like in the case of fruits. If you know you will not cook that soup till evening, do not ask them to cut that ‘ugu’ or ‘okoro’ ‘onions’, etcetera, hours before you are ready. If they are cut, unconsciously you end up with food bereft of nutrients.
Prolonged washing of vegetables should be discouraged. Sometimes we wash bitter leaves so long that we are left with nothing except the fibre.
There is equally no reason why people should squeeze and wash vegetables like pumpkin leaves. I did my National Youth Service in Calabar, Cross River State, and I observed that habit. They do it so that the vegetable soup will not have excess water. I also observed that a majority of them also boil water leaf and decant the water for the same reason of minimising the liquid in the soup. If the water leaf is not boiled, it’s left to dry a little in the sun all in the bid to minimise the water in the soup. However, if you cherish good and nutritious food, you will never do these. When you decant liquid from fresh vegetables, or squeeze out liquid from fresh vegetables or sun-fresh vegetables, you will only lose all the nutrients and end up with just chaff.
The longer the cooking time of vegetables, the higher the chances of losing the vitamins and minerals. So, add your fresh vegetables last, when the food would have done. Vegetables should not last more than one minute on fire.
Whenever possible, it is best to cook root vegetables like yam, potato with their skins intact as the skins contain a lot of valuable nutrients. If you are serving the yam and potato with stew, etcetera, then cook them with their skin intact. Do not peel the skin. Cut to size, wash the skin well to eliminate sand and just cook and enjoy all the valuable nutrients.
Baking roots in their skin completely inhibits nutrient loss, none of the nutrients is lost in the surrounding water.
Soaking of already cut yam/ peeled yam is discouraged because most of the nutrients will just seep into the surrounding water. For best results in nutrient retention, all root vegetables should be cooked in moderate amount of boiling water in covered pot.
Steaming and pressure cooking can also be employed because they have the advantage of conserving nutrients and retaining the shapes of food.
In as much as possible, limit frying as we lose a lot of nutrients through that method of cooking. For instance, protein is denatured while vitamins and minerals are destroyed when meat or fish is fried, especially very dry.
Wash meat and fish before cutting them to avoid loss of nutrients. Do not buy spoilt foods or damaged food items; for instance, those cheap tomato and pepper. Most of the nutrients have already gone. Also avoid shrunken and dried out food products as most of their natural nutrients have been lost.
By: JILL OKEKE