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Produce mistakes to avoid

Produce mistakes to avoid
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Fresh fruit and vegetables are some of the most nutrient-rich foods you can buy. But sometimes it seems like they spoil way too quickly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Storing produce properly can make it last longer, and cooking it or consuming it in certain ways can maximise the health benefits.

“Fresh fruit and vegetables are some of your most powerful tools for health and wellness and it’s worth learning how to buy and cook them,” says dietitian Shari Portnoy.

Ever wonder if it’s possible to make better use of ‘scraps’ like stems, leaves and peels? The answer is yes. “There are so many myths about food and that leads to a lot of common mistakes when shopping for groceries, including produce,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix and author of Read It Before You Eat It.

Refrigerating all produce

Refrigerating all produce
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Though it’s tempting to dump everything in the fridge, some produce belongs on the kitchen counter. Refrigeration can compromise the texture and flavour of certain fruit and vegetables, Taub-Dix says. Tomatoes, for instance, don’t get a chance to ripen properly at low temperatures and can get mealy; melons can lose antioxidants and other nutrients in the fridge; and onions can get mushy and even develop mould when refrigerated.

Always buying under-ripe fruit

Always buying under-ripe fruit
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Despite the common misconception, not all fruit continues to ripen once you get them home, Portnoy says. Though it’s true that bananas, figs and peaches come into their own a few days after harvest, strawberries, raspberries and pineapples do not. The ones that continue to ripen are called climacteric; they continue to emit ethylene gas which helps the fruit to reach maturity and taste better, according to Food & Nutrition Magazine, published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The non-ripeners are non-climacteric, meaning they just age without maturing and don’t taste better after sitting on your counter. Reference this handy chart from The Produce Nerd to see which produce to pick ripe and which to pick a bit prematurely.

Storing fruit in the same bowl

Storing fruit in the same bowl
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It may look pretty to arrange your apples, bananas and grapes together, but a mixed fruit bowl will spoil faster, Portnoy says. Some fruit (the climacterics) can actually cause others in close proximity to spoil faster, thanks to their ethylene. The fruit to keep in isolation include apples, bananas, kiwis, mangoes and peaches.

Ignoring frozen produce

Ignoring frozen produce
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Believe it or not, frozen produce has the same nutritional value as fresh produce. Some frozen vegetables and fruit can actually be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. “Frozen produce is a means of extending the harvest, as it’s frozen within hours of being picked and therefore will retain its nutritional content,” says dietitian Melissa Owens. “Frozen vegetables can be a great alternative to fresh produce, especially if it’s out of season and travelled a long way to get to your store.”

Always peeling veggies

Always peeling veggies
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Push that potato peeler to the back of the drawer, because fruit and vegetable skins and peels are packed with nutrients – often much more than the flesh alone, Taub-Dix says. For instance, zucchini skin is rich in antioxidants, and the peel (and seeds) are where cucumbers hide the majority of their nutrients. A potato’s potassium and folate are concentrated in the skin, and cooking potatoes with the skin on seems to retain their vitamin C.

Now check out our expert tips on how cut kitchen waste.

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Boiling vegetables

Boiling vegetables
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“Vegetables with water-soluble vitamins are susceptible to nutrient losses when boiled,” says Owens, “as the vitamins can leach into cooking water.” That’s especially true for vitamin C, she explains. Owens suggests keeping cooking times as short as possible and trying to reuse the cooking water in a stock or soup or to make pasta or rice. Cooking methods like steaming and baking, which don’t require as much water, are more likely to keep more of the nutrients intact.

Making other kitchen sins? Professional chefs share their secrets so you can avoid these 7 cooking mistakes everybody makes.

Cutting before washing

Cutting before washing
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Considering pesticides and other chemicals that may be on produce – not to mention the dirt it grows from and the grime it accumulates en route to the market – it should be a no-brainer to wash fruit and veggies before cutting them, Portnoy says. But this even applies to items with thick outer layers, like melons. Bacteria from a rockmelon or honeydew rind can easily get picked up by your knife and transferred to the juicy flesh inside.

Storing washed fruit

Storing washed fruit
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“A good rule of thumb is to not wash any of your produce until you’re ready to eat it,” says Owens. Yes, fresh fruit and vegetables are probably carrying germs galore, but fruit should be stored in the fridge or on the counter unwashed because excess moisture can encourage bacteria growth and decay ahead of its time – and this is especially true when it comes to berries. What’s worse than finding mould on those berries you purchased two days ago?

Now discover what will happen if you accidentally eat mould.

Discarding stems, leaves and other ‘scraps’

Discarding stems, leaves and other ‘scraps’
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That head full of leaves on your bunch of carrots is a goldmine of nutrition – so don’t toss or even compost it, Taub-Dix says. Carrot tops have six times more vitamin C than the actual carrot, beet greens are packed with fibre and vitamins, celery leaves are a prime source of magnesium and calcium, and broccoli stems and leaves are just as nutritious as florets. Use these ‘throwaways’ to make soup stock and smoothies – or they can be sautéed and seasoned, then enjoyed on their own.

Now discover 14 reasons why you shouldn’t be throwing away egg shells.

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