Steam, roast vegetables to retain nutrients

 What is the best way to cook vegetables so nutrients aren’t destroyed?

You’re right — the heat involved in cooking vegetables can destroy some nutrients, but for others, it actually enhances their absorbability. For example, both beta carotene (think carrots) and its relative, lycopene (tomatoes), are more easily absorbed by the body after cooking. Cooking changes the structure of these nutrients’ molecules, allowing our bodies to absorb them much more efficiently. Adding some healthy fat, such as olive or canola oil, also helps.

With different nutrients reacting differently to the cooking process, it can get confusing. As a general rule, limit cooking time: The less time a vegetable is exposed to heat, the more nutrients it will retain.

You’ll also want to limit the amount of water that vegetables are exposed to in both food preparation and cooking, because water-soluble vitamins, such as folate and vitamin C, easily leach out when vegetables are soaked or cooked in lots of water. So boiling vegetables in a pot full of water should almost always be your last choice if you want to maximize retention of nutrients.

Steaming is a great option, either in the microwave oven or on the stovetop. The cooking process is fast, which limits the vegetables’ exposure to heat, and it prevents vegetables from sitting in water.

In the microwave, the steam and the energy itself work together to heat vegetables rapidly. Because microwave ovens widely differ in wattage, it might take some trial and error so vegetables cook evenly and don’t get overdone. Believe it or not, it can be helpful to read the appliance manual and follow its recommendations. If you can’t find your copy, look online. Whether in the microwave oven or on the stovetop, be sure to use a tightly lidded container so the steam doesn’t escape and the vegetables cook more quickly.

Dry methods of cooking, such as roasting or grilling, are other great options. Be sure to coat vegetables with a thin layer of oil to help their surfaces heat more quickly, allowing them to cook faster. Dry cooking methods also remove moisture, helping create a richer, more intense flavor than other cooking methods.

Whatever cooking method you choose, keep these other nutrient-retaining hints in mind:

  • If a vegetable has an edible skin — potatoes or summer squash, for example — leave it on. Many nutrients are concentrated in or just below the skin, and the skin protects the vegetables from losing nutrients during the cooking process.
  • When cutting vegetables before cooking, opt for larger chunks. The less surface area that’s exposed to heat, the fewer nutrients you’ll lose.
  • Don’t crowd. Cook vegetables in a loose pile or a single layer to allow the heat to access all food surfaces quickly and evenly. Again, the quicker vegetables cook, the more nutrients you get.

Cooking vegetables properly just might encourage you to eat more of them. Berkeley Wellness, part of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, has a helpful guide, “60+ Healthy Ways to Cook Vegetables” at berkeleywellness.com — search for “cooking vegetables.”

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu. Please note new postal address as of Oct. 20, 2016.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, community nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

 

New strategies to combat peanut allergies

My grandson is just 5 months old, and I noticed that my daughter and son-in-law gave him a small amount of peanut butter recently. I didn’t say anything, but I thought very young children should avoid peanuts to reduce the chance a peanut allergy might develop. Should I speak up?

Young children, particularly those under age 4, do need to avoid whole peanuts — because they’re a choking hazard. But your grandson’s parents seem to be in the know on the latest research.

It’s true that for many years, the medical community advised against feeding peanut products at an early age in the hope that it would help reduce the risk of peanut allergies. In fact, in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics made the guidance official, recommending that children not be given peanut products until age 3. But peanut allergies didn’t wane. According to a study based on scientific phone surveys conducted with parents in 1997, 2002 and 2008, the rate of peanut allergies in children younger than 18 years increased over those years from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent to 1.4 percent — nearly quadrupling in those 11 years. The trends were obvious, and in 2008, the pediatrics group rescinded its 2000 recommendation.

Now, we have clearer evidence about what might be the best course of action. The issue is important, because, as most people realize, peanut allergies can be serious, potentially causing anaphylaxis, which can send the body into shock and is sometimes fatal.

Newer studies show that introducing peanut products to babies as young as 4 to 11 months old appears to actually reduce their risk of developing a peanut allergy. The latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September, reviewed 146 previous studies and found that early introduction of small amounts of peanut products could reduce development of the food allergy by 18 cases per 1,000 children. It might not sound like much, but it is significant in terms of reducing such risks. In addition, the same study found that babies given small amounts of eggs when they were 4-6 months old were less likely to develop egg allergies.

Still, parents need to be cautious, especially for children who are at higher risk. According to HealthyChildren.org, an American Academy of Pediatrics website, any child who has ever had a rash from peanuts, or any other reaction to them, shouldn’t be given peanut products. The “early introduction” strategy might be helpful for other children who are at higher risk, such as those with other known food allergies or eczema, but parents should try introducing peanuts to those children only under a doctor’s watchful eye. For children without any extra risk, however, parents may consider spreading a thin layer of creamy (not chunky) peanut butter on a cracker or piece of bread or giving their young children other foods with peanut butter in them. Be sure young children are supervised and sitting up whenever they eat.

For more information, see HealthyChildren.org and search for peanut allergies.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Please note new postal address as of Oct. 20, 2016.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in Food Security for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Yogurt: So many choices, lots to like

 There seem to be a lot more kinds of yogurt than there ever used to be. I like it, but is yogurt really that popular?

Yogurt has made big gains over the years. Although it’s leveling off, yogurt consumption has more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. During that time, Greek yogurt appeared on the market and quickly gained steam, now accounting for about half of all yogurt sales.

What’s the appeal? Yogurt has a lot going for it. It has a good amount of calcium, although the amount can vary. To determine how much calcium is in your favorite yogurt, look for the Percent Daily Value for calcium listed on the Nutrition Facts label, and multiply it by 1,000 mg, which is the Daily Value for calcium. For example, if the label says a serving of your yogurt has 25 percent (0.25) of the Daily Value for calcium, then it has 250 mg. To compare, a cup of milk has about 300 mg.

It’s important to note that the recommended daily amount of calcium for people varies, from 1,300 mg for 9- to 18-year-olds, to 1,200 mg for men 71 and older and women 51 and older, to 1,000 mg for those in between. So, you have to do a little mental math to know if you’re getting enough. Fortunately, when the new Nutrition Facts labels appear on foods in 2018, they’ll list the actual amount of calcium in grams.

Also like milk, yogurt has a good amount of protein. A cup of plain low-fat yogurt has 12 grams of protein, compared with 8 grams in a cup of 2 percent milk. Again, your mileage may vary with the type of yogurt. To verify, check the Nutrition Facts.

Most types of yogurt also contain beneficial bacteria naturally found in the intestinal tract, but which can sometimes use a boost. These live cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, can improve digestive health and strengthen your immune system. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how much of this bacteria is in the yogurt you eat. Even in yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal, which verifies the yogurt had at least 100 million cultures per gram (or 10 million for frozen yogurt) at the time it was made, the number of good bacteria can fade over time.

Although yogurt is a highly nutritious food, flavored varieties might contain more added sugar than you’re comfortable with. Flavored regular yogurt often has about 24-30 grams of carbohydrates, some from added sugars and some naturally from the sugars in the yogurt’s milk and fruit. Light varieties, with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, have half as many carbs. When the new Nutrition Facts labels come out, you’ll be able to easily see how much of the carbohydrate is from added sugars.

Or, opt for plain yogurt. It won’t have any added sugars, and you can add your own flavorings, such as vanilla, or top it with fresh or frozen berries yourself.

Plain whole-milk Greek yogurt is also a good substitute for sour cream. Along with some added tang, it provides fewer calories (190 per cup compared to 480 in sour cream), less fat (9 grams compared to 45), more protein (20 grams compared to 5) and more calcium (250 mg compared to 7). So, it’s worth an experiment or two to see how it might work in your recipes.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.