It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are a critically important part of an anti-aging diet; after all, they are a super source of age-defying antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients; they are low in fat and sodium, and they have no cholesterol. Add to this list the fact that there are dozens and dozens of choices from which to choose, and you can’t go wrong.
Or can you? The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are greatly diminished or eliminated if the produce isn’t selected or stored properly, or if it is prepared in unhealthy ways. Although every fruit and vegetable has its own unique characteristics, here are some general guidelines for purchasing, handling, and eating produce so you can enjoy and reap the health rewards they have to offer.
Wash all produce, whether conventionally or organically grown, just before serving or cooking, not before you store them. Cool water is all that’s necessary; commercial produce washes offer little or no advantage over plain water.
Check the PLU stickers on your produce. Conventionally grown produce has a four-digit number (e.g., 1234); organically grown, five digits prefaced by the number 9 (e.g., 91234); and genetically modified produce, five digits prefaced by the number 8 (e.g., 81234).
Discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables because pesticide residues tend to accumulate there.
Use a produce brush to clean firm produce (e.g., carrots, potatoes, turnips).
Immediately refrigerate any produce that you cut and do not plan to eat right away, as bacteria grow very quickly on cut fruits and vegetables.
Wash fruits and vegetables that you peel (e.g., melons, oranges, pineapples) because when you cut them, your knife transfers contaminants from the peel into the pulp.
Do not buy or use produce that is moldy, badly bruised, shriveled, or slimy. Minor blemishes are usually safe; in fact, organic produce sometimes has minor blemishes because it is not colored, waxed, or has not undergone attempts to make it look “perfect.”
Do not store fruits and greens together, because fruits give off ethylene gas, which causes greens to decay.
Always cook dehydrated vegetables thoroughly, as they are susceptible to contamination by various microorganisms and can cause food-borne illness.
To freeze most vegetables, steam blanch them (see blanching guidelines at http://www.ext.colo state.edu/PUBS/FOODNUT/09330.pdf). Blanching stops the enzymes from breaking down the nutrients in the vegetables. Cool and then store blanched vegetables in freezer bags or containers.