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Eating vegetables proves essential to a healthy body
By Carrie Reeves
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Whether baked, boiled, stir-fried or steamed, vegetables are a vital part of a healthy daily diet, and the storage and preparation methods are the keys to retaining nutritional value.
Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said vegetables are important to healthy diets, but their nutritional value depends on how they are prepared.
Nutritionists and health specialists recommend three to five servings of vegetables a day. Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to body health and have been known to reduce the risk of cancers, especially of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.
Vegetables, such as potatoes, are a great source of essential vitamins and minerals. Nutritionists caution against loading vegetables with butter or sour cream or cooking them in excessive oil, grease or fatty sauces. These methods negate the positive effects of the vegetables, and cooks out most of the vitamins. Mixon recommended eating vegetables raw, baked or stir-fried in a small amount of oil.
Proper preparation is needed to maintain nutrients and vitamins in all vegetables.
"Fresh home-grown vegetables picked at the peak level of maturity then immediately cooked retain the most nutrients," Mixon said.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Food Processor's Association, fresh vegetables from the grocery store or farmer's market, canned and frozen vegetables all retain about the same amount of essential vitamins and nutrients when prepared for the table. These vegetables run second to fresh home-grown vegetables.
"The amount of nutrients in these vegetables vary according to the variety, growing conditions, maturity at harvest, handling and storage conditions after harvest, and amount of processing," Mixon said. "Baking is an especially good way to prepare vegetables. Baking in an oven with dry heat tends to retain vitamins and minerals."
Mixon shared three tips for cooking vegetables to retain the most nutrition.
Reduce the amount of water used. Only add enough water to prevent overcooking, since overcooked vegetables tend to lose many important vitamins, minerals, color and texture. Reduce cooking time to help prevent overcooking. Vegetables will remain more crisp and flavorful.
Finally, reduce the amount of the exposed surface of the vegetable. Whole vegetables retain more vitamins than small pieces, so limit cutting, paring and shredding.
"Vegetables are good sources of essential vitamins and nutrients. Dark green leafy vegetables, as well as dark yellow and orange vegetables are high sources of vitamin A, which has been known to reduce the risk of cancer," Mixon said. "Vegetables are important, but it is essential to eat a variety of foods to maintain a healthy diet."