Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Edible Gold

     What are some of the aromas triggered by oranges and yellows? The citrus tang of an orange, the fresh scent of a lemon, the mouth-watering sweetness of a mango? Doing our vegetable and fruit shopping may have become a routine chore. 
     We might be limiting our selections to just staples keeping everyone’s likes / dislikes in mind. The pitfall in shopping this way is that we often miss out on rediscovering old favourites, experimenting with new veggies and fruits and of course the nutrients they contain. 

     There are many constraints, some people may argue…..whoever cooks might complain that other household members are fussy eaters; there isn’t enough time to experiment; trying new foods or recipes is too much effort, etc. 

     What if every visit to the vegetable aisle was filled with wonder, excitement and curiosity? The following paragraphs make a case for venturing adventurously into the land of golden hued foods.

     Phytochemicals are molecules present throughout the cells of plants, imparting colour and more importantly, beneficial biochemical properties to them. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of phytochemicals of which only a small percentage have actually been investigated. 

     Yellows and Oranges have a few known nutrients in common. Carotenoids are the name for a class of compounds which serve the human body as powerful antioxidants. Some Carotenoids which impart those exciting colours are Alpha and BetaCarotene, Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Betacryptoxanthin. A diet rich in these Carotenoids has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Alpha and Beta carotene as well as Beta cryptoxanthin can be converted into Vitamin A which in turn is responsible eye health, immunity, red blood cell production and growth and development. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are critical to protect the retina in our eyes from sunlight induced oxidative damage.

     Apart from Carotenoids, several other phytochemicals and nutrients are common in this colour band….Folate, Vitamin C, Potassium and VitaminE. Folate is a B Vitamin which is critical during pregnancy for the proper development of the foetus. Under normal conditions this nutrient is vital for healthy gene expression and lowered risk for heart disease. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which also is essential in tissue building. Potassium is an electrolyte necessary for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contractions and maintenance of heart beat.

     Vitamin E plays a role in protecting lipids in blood from being oxidized, thereby reducing heart attack risk. This is just a summary of their functions…. Actually scientific studies just touch the tip of the iceberg in terms of how these nutrients and photochemical contribute to our health.
The best part is, we don’t really need to know! The knowledge that they benefit us is actually enough. This information gives you an insight into how necessary highly coloured foods are as a part of our daily diet. Just think of how 5-7 serving of fruit and vegetables a day can boost your all-round health.


      Please consume raw as far as possible. But if it needs cooking, steaming and sautéing are the best methods for all vegetables in general and oranges and yellows in particular since they are generally soft and easily cooked. The vitamin loss is greater if you pressure cook, boil in high heat, roast and bake. Doing without these cooking methods entirely may not be possible but do keep in mind that our main reason for eating anything actually should be for our body’s benefit.

Maximize nutritional benefits by these additional tips…….
-          - Select the freshest only in the quantity you need.
-          - While cooking, chop into larger pieces to minimize nutrient loss
-          - Use medium to high heat for a shorter duration and add minimal water while cooking to activate the carotenoids in veggies and release them from the cellular matrix.
-          - The softer the veggie after cooking, the more the nutrient loss. Develop a taste for cooked but crisp veggies and educate family members (or else you may end up with ‘uncooked’ complaints).
-          - Storing for days in the fridge diminishes the nutritional value.
-          - Don’t shy away from adding healthy, cold – pressed organic oils to yellows and oranges to ensure absorption of the fat soluble nutrients.
         So how many in the list do you buy regularly already? Which new fruit or veggie will you try next? Combine golden fruits or vegetables and get a carotene boost or mix them with other colours and do share your results (and pictures) with us.

        An edited version of this article was published in the September 2014 issue of Parent Circle.....

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