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My local farmer's market is just starting up. I want to take advantage of the great produce, but I'm curious: how can I best preserve the nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables?

The three natural destroyers of vitamins in fruits and vegetables are: heat, light and oxygen. Pretty hard to avoid! However, cooking and storing methods can help retain nutrients. Here's how: 

  1. Limit storage time. Fresh is best when it comes to taste and nutrition. 
  2. Store fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator to slow spoilage. However, tomatoes are an exception. Their flavor is destroyed in the refrigerator. Hold them at room temperature. If you want to store produce for a longer time, consider freezing them. 
  3. Cook minimally. Steam vegetables briefly until just crisp-tender. For example, asparagus and broccoli should retain their glorious bright green color. Water-soluble nutrients are destroyed with prolonged cooking time. If you do cook vegetables in water--those nutrients will leach into the cooking liquid, so try to use those cooking liquids in soups and stews. 
  4. Avoid slicing vegetables too far in advance. When we slice into a vegetable or fruit we expose the cut surfaces to heat, light and oxygen--the nutrient destroyers. Better to wait to slice into foods until we are ready to cook and eat them. 

Congratulations on shopping at your local farmer's market, by the way. You've discovered a great source for delicious and nutritious foods, plus it's nice to get to know the farmers who grow your food.

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, University of Missouri-Columbia

University of Missouri Extension Site Administrator: 

Last updated:06/17/2015
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