Optimizing vitamin content of fruits and vegetables
It’s a well-known fact that fruits and vegetables pack a vitamin punch. However, many different factors come into play when it comes to vitamin content. Here are some tips for optimizing the vitamin content of fruits and vegetables!
Freshness is key
The vitamin content of a fruit or vegetable depends on:
- where it’s grown
- the weather
- when it’s harvested.
Once picked, their vitamin content begins to deplete. This rate of depletion is mainly affected by:
- transportation time
- time spent on the supermarket shelf
- storage time and conditions at home, etc.
When it comes to produce, the fresher the better. So, for a solid dose of vitamins and flavour, opting for those that are in season is the way to go.
Although we have no control over how fruits and vegetables are stored before they get to the supermarket, we do when we bring them home! Many fruits and vegetables are best kept in the refrigerator (raspberries, lettuce, citrus), whereas others are best kept at room temperature (bananas, tomatoes, mangoes).
The latter are referred to as climacteric because they produce ethylene, which causes them to ripen even after they’ve been harvested.
Whereas some fruits and vegetables can be stored for a long time (apples, oranges, potatoes), others need to be eaten as quickly as possible after they’ve been picked or purchased (lettuce, asparagus, berries, apricots).
However, even if you end up with limp, brown fruits and vegetables, that’s no reason to throw them out! Cream soups and sauces are just a few ways you can use older produce.
What about frozen?
Fruits and vegetables that are harvested when fully ripe and immediately frozen are a good option in terms of nutritional value because freezing helps preserve their vitamin content.
In Quebec, our climate does not allow us to eat locally-sourced fruits and vegetables year-round, so the frozen option is a very good one.
Preparation, cooking and cleaning
Since some vitamins are sensitive to light and oxygen, only cut fruits and vegetables (into large pieces) right before eating them. Obviously, cutting up vegetables for lunch the next day isn’t a major issue: the overall nutritional value will still be beneficial!
This also applies to sliced fruits and vegetables sold at the supermarket; yes, they will have lost some vitamin content (especially vitamin C and folic acid, which are the most fragile), but there is still plenty left over.
‘Tis better to rinse fruits and vegetables than to let them soak in water. The reason for this is that some vitamins are water soluble (dissolve in water). It’s also better to clean vegetables by brushing them rather than peeling them.
Fruit and vegetable peels contain high levels of vitamins, minerals and fibres. Eating the peel is always a good idea (apple, pear, cucumber, potato, eggplant, etc.).
It’s great to store fruits and vegetables in optimal conditions, but if we boil them for too long, they quickly lose their value. Some vitamins are water soluble and will end up in the broth rather than in your stomach.
Other nutrients are also heat sensitive.
Therefore, cooking in little or no water is better than submerging them in boiling water for too long. Steaming or stir-frying in a pan or wok, baking in the oven or boiling in small amounts of water is the best way to make sure vegetables stay crunchy and healthy.
7 to 10 portions a day
As you can see, there are lots of ways to maximize the vitamin content in fruits and vegetables.
That being said, adults should eat 7 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables per day, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.
Following this recommendation will ensure you get enough vitamins and reap the benefits of a fresh, delicious and colourful diet!
Fruit and Vegetable Conservation Table
Is fruit conservation a headache for you? Use this table as a guide to make sure you get the most out of your produce.
Fresh Fruit Conservation* and Storage Guide
|Fruit||Room temperature||Refrigerator (4 ˚C)||Freezer (-18 ˚C)|
|Apricot||Until ripe1||1 week||1 year|
|Citrus (all)||1 week||1-3 weeks||6 months (juice and zest)|
|Pineapple||1-2 days||3-5 days||4-6 months|
|Avocado||Until ripe||3-4 days||4-6 months|
|Banana||Until ripe||1-2 days||4-6 months|
|Blueberries||2||3-5 days||1 year|
|Cranberries||1-2 weeks||1 year|
|Cherries||3-5 days||1 year|
|Strawberries||2-3 days||1 year|
|Raspberries||1-2 days||1 year|
|Kiwis||Until ripe||1-2 weeks|
|Mangoes||Until ripe||1-2 weeks||1 year|
|Melons (all)||Until ripe||3-5 days||8-12 months|
|Blackberries||2-3 days||1 year|
|Nectarines||Until ripe||3-5 days||1 year|
|Papayas||Until ripe||1 week||1 year|
|Apples (August to January)||Until ripe||Up to 6 months||1 year|
|Apples (February to July)||Until ripe||2-3 weeks||1 year|
|Peaches||Until ripe||3-5 days||1 year|
|Pears||Until ripe||3-5 days||1 year|
|Plums||Until ripe||3-5 days||1 year|
|Grapes||5 days||1 year|
|Rhubarb||5 days||1 year|
| Not recommended
* Conservation dates vary depending on ripeness and general condition when purchased.
1 When ripe, refrigerate to extend conservation.
2 Fragile, so keep in the refrigerator or eat them immediately.
Fresh Vegetable Conservation and Storage Guide
|Vegetables||Room temperature||Refrigerator (4 ˚C)||Freezer (-18 ˚C)|
|Garlic||A few weeks||2 months|
|Artichokes||1 week||6-8 months|
|Asparagus||2-3 days||1 year|
|Eggplants||1 week||6-8 months|
|Beets||3-4 weeks||1 year (cooked)|
|Broccoli||5 days||1 year|
|Carrot||3 months||1 year|
|Celery||2 weeks||8-12 months|
|Mushrooms||5 days||1 year|
|Cabbage||2-3 weeks||1 year|
|Cauliflower||1 week||1 year|
|Brussel sprouts||1 week||1 year|
|Winter squash||A few weeks||1 year|
|Zucchinis||1 week||1 year|
|Spinach||4-5 days||1 year|
|Bean sprouts||3-4 days|
|Fresh herbs||4 days||1 year|
|Yellow and green beans||5-6 days||1 year|
|Lettuce (all)||1 week|
|Corn on the cob||2 days||1 year|
|Onion||1 day||3-4 weeks
|Green onions||1 week||1 year|
|Okra||3-5 days||1 year|
|Parsnip||2-3 weeks||1 year|
|Leek||2 weeks||1 year|
|Peas, Lima beans||3-5 days||1 year|
|Sweet peas||2 days||1 year|
|Peppers||1 week||1 year|
|Potatoes||1-2 weeks||2-6 months
|Rutabaga||1 week||3 weeks||1 year|
|Tomatoes||Until ripe||1 week||1 year|