When you make a one-pot meal of a variety of dark green leafy vegetables put in a broth to flavor a stew, soup, or casserole, make sure you don’t store those leafy vegetables in the dark for very long after you’ve bought or picked them.
Today, as you pore over the organic or any other spinach selections in a variety of supermarkets, you’ll notice that there’s one layer of spinach on top, facing bright lights. Above, some bunched spinach is pushed a bit under an overhang that keeps the vegetable from being exposed to the steady bright light above it.
Without exposure to light, photosynthesis, your green vegetables soon lose their nutritious value. How long have your vegetables been kept in the dark, in trucks, in any Sacramento market, or in your refrigerator? Did you know vegetables lose their nutrients when not exposed to light?
Leafy green processors, rather than the growers, dictate the market cost of produce. But these same processors leave the cost of meeting the regulations at the farmer’s doorstep. In the 2006 mass recall of spinach across the country, the real culprit is industrial cattle feedlots that are fountains of dangerous pathogens. But who has really addressed animal agriculture as a source of contamination?
State investigators concluded that the 2006 E. coli outbreak was probably caused by wild boars traipsing through a field of spinach. But opponents of the agreement might argue that the real source of contamination was never found. Infection could easily have come from nearly cattle farms, which were also found to be contaminated with E. coli. So nobody really knows for sure about what contaminates leafy green vegetables.
What the consumer’s problem is, aside from safety, is the loss of nutrients of the green vegetables from being shipped in the dark and stored in the dark on supermarket shelves. The result is the top row of spinach or any other leafy, green vegetable gets the light and keeps its nutrition.
The bundles of spinach underneath the first row are not exposed to the light unless somebody rotates each bundle of leafy, green vegetable every few hours or at least daily. Unless staff of supermarkets are told this, the same bundle of vegetables remains on top unless somebody buys it, and only then is the bundle underneath left to face the light and keep its nutrition.
In any given supermarket, underneath the first row of spinach are several other rows buried in the dark under the first layer of bunched spinach. But how do you keep them in the light and keep them chilled and fresh?
That’s why the spinach picked from your garden and eaten within hours has the most nutrients. But few can or want to take the time to grow green leafy vegetables outdoors in their yard nowadays. The same applies to organic or any other type of vegetable that loses nutrition when kept in the dark. Some vegetables also dry out when not sprayed with water mist or watered with supermarket sprinklers every few minutes.
Which spinach bundle is going to have the most nutrients at the end of the time period allowed for that shipment of spinach to be displayed to customers? The answer is the spinach bundles facing the light. But does anyone ever turn the spinach or rotate them every few hours or each day? And what about other green, leafy organic vegetables such as kale, various greens, parsley, cilantro, mint, or lettuce?
Do you really think staff has the time to rotate the spinach so that all get a certain number of hours exposed to light? And when you bring home the spinach and put the bundle in your refrigerator for days, no light will be inside your cooler anyway. So what happens? The spinach not exposed to the light loses its nutrients the quickest. The same can be said for other green, leafy vegetables. They lose their vitamins and nutrients when kept in the dark.
The organic produce section of several supermarkets visited recently had several rows of spinach with the top layer of bundled spinach under a bright light. But underneath all the spinach, open, not in packages, but tied in the center with the labeling organic farm, were underneath with rows of organic spinach piled on top of one another.
The spinach that’s placed under the spinach bundle exposed to the bright light wasn’t getting any light at all. Do supermarkets rotate the spinach so that the produce underneath get some exposure to light? Without exposure to the bright light, that is, without photosynthesis, the vegetables lose their vitamins and nutrients quickly.
The green, leafy vegetables stored on top exposed to light in markets have more vitamins than the packages underneath kept in the dark in stores or in your refrigerator. See the study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published March 10, 2010, “Effect of Different Cooking Methods on Color, Phytochemical Concentration, and Antioxidant Capacity of Raw and Frozen Brassica Vegetables.” Imagine how much vitamins green leafy vegetables lose in your dark refrigerator if they’re kept there for a few days, after laying under a pile of other vegetables in the dark for more days in the supermarket.
Photosynthesis happens in continuous light whether your vegetables are wrapped and on a supermarket shelf, in your house, or still in the ground. Without photosynthesis, the vegetables lose their vitamins and other nutrients–fast.
When you walk down the aisles of a supermarket (or farmer’s market) look for the green vegetables such as spinach, kale, or collards that are exposed to the light on the shelf (or the sun) because those vegetables will have more vitamins than the vegetables beneath the top layer that are not exposed to light.
According to a March 5, 2010 New York Times article by Henry Fountain, “Greens Get a Boost Under the Glow of the Supermarket,” having supermarket light shining on the top layer of spinach is going to preserve the vitamins in the vegetables. The spinach or any other green vegetable lying under the top package or bunch not exposed to light is going to lose its nutrients and vitamins.
Check out the site of the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. For example, what’s in spinach that’s exposed to light? You’ll find in green vegetables such as spinach or lettuce and other green leafy vegetables–collards, kale, chard, arugula and other greens, vitamins A, B9, C and others are all related to photosynthesis.
Those vitamins and nutrients are synthesized in the plant when exposed to light, whether the plant is already picked and wrapped or in the ground. The top layer of green vegetable produce in the store is under continuous light.
When scientists tested for vitamin content two varieties of spinach, flat- and crinkle-leaf with simulated supermarket conditions – stored in clear sealed plastic at 39 degrees Fahrenheit under continuous fluorescent light – for up to nine days and compared those vegetables to similar produce leaves that had been kept in darkness, the vegetable leaves exposed to light had higher levels of all the vitamins except some from the vitamin A group.
If you try the experiment, you’ll see some wilting of the green leaves because water is broken down in photosynthesis. Retailers of vegetables should realize that the leaves on the bottom won’t be exposed to light and will lose vitamins faster. The way to fix the problem is to package leafy green vegetables in a way so that all the leaves would be exposed to light, perhaps in a shallow bag that’s transparent.
According to the abstract of the study, it evaluated the effect of common cooking practices (i.e., boiling, microwaving, and basket and oven steaming) on the phytochemical content (carotenoids, chlorophylls, glucosinolates, polyphenols, and ascorbic acid), total antioxidant capacity (TAC), and color changes of three generally consumed green, leafy vegetables, known as “Brassica” vegetables. The type of produce analyzed included fresh and frozen.
The study didn’t only look at vegetables kept in the light or in the dark. It also looked at cooking procedures, which is good information for chefs and parents. Among cooking procedures, the study found that boiling determined an increase of fresh broccoli carotenoids and fresh Brussels sprout polyphenols, whereas a decrease of almost all other phytochemicals in fresh and frozen samples was observed.
Steaming procedures determined a release of polyphenols in both fresh and frozen samples. Microwaving was the best cooking method for maintaining the color of both fresh and frozen vegetables and obtaining a good retention of glucosinolates.
During all cooking procedures, ascorbic acid was lost in great amount from all vegetables. Chlorophylls were more stable in frozen samples than in fresh ones, even though steaming methods were able to better preserve these compounds in fresh samples than other cooking methods applied. The overall results of the study demonstrated that fresh Brassica vegetables retain phytochemicals and TAC better than frozen samples.
So when you buy or grow your next batch of vegetables, be aware of how fresh vegetables compare to frozen ones, according to that study. Then make your own choice. Or read more studies comparing vegetables as to which has the most nutrition in what state–steamed, raw, or cooked in other ways. It’s notable that cholorophylls were more stable in the frozen samples than the fresh ones.
Steaming the vegetables preserved the compounds better in the fresh vegetables. With all these comparisons, perhaps, it’s time to juice the vegetables with their fiber in a powerful blender. Drink the emulsion, and try some of the green leafy vegetables fresh and raw. From a nutrition standpoint, maybe you’d like to try the juicing–with fiber.
Puree vegetables with fruits to add more nutrition to sweet smoothies and fruit shakes
You can hide spinach and carrots in a smoothie made of bananas, carob powder, or chocolate cocoa, and almond milk. Kids will never taste the spinach and carrots that are hidden in the fruit shake or chocolate (or carob) smoothie.
You’ve seen the infomercials on fruit and vegetable emulsifiers, but when you’re at your wit’s end to find ways to coax children to eat more vegetables and fruits, one of the best ways to get them to eat more plant foods is to juice certain vegetables and fruits together. Did you every wonder why some Sacramento and other area supermarket shelves in the past few years have begun to offer bottles of combined fruit and vegetable juices? It’s because they sell very successfully and are popular. The fruit juice flavor is what you taste, and the veggies are hidden in there.
When you make a smoothie of spinach, carrots, bananas, and other fruits such as cherries or grapes or add cocoa powder, a pinch of stevia, or carob powder, most people, especially kids, just taste the sweet fruit juice and don’t realize you’ve put in a handful of spinach and carrots. The sweeter fruits overpower the taste of the liquefied carrots or spinach when you also add various berries or bananas. Also see the site,” Product Review: Fruit and Vegetable Blends Better Than Just Juice.”
What you want in home-made juices is fiber. Make your own purees mixing green and orange vegetables with dark purple and red fruits. Check out the food science department’s publications and sites, for example, at UC Davis, Department of Food Sciences. Check out the current UC Davis Food Science Seminar Series.Take advantage of the cooking classes with raw vegetables and fruits, for example, offered around Sacramento at various natural food markets. See Fruit and Vegetable Processing (UC, Davis).
Only you don’t want to use a juicer that removes most of the fiber. A simple blender may work on most fruits and the softer vegetables, but some blenders aren’t powerful enough to emulsify, they just swirl around chunks of veggies too large for small kids.
Besides, the usual infomercials that you see in TV for a variety of brands, what you need to look for is the power to combine both vegetables and fruits into an emulsion, not a juice that removes fiber, and not a less powerful blender that leaves big chunks.
Kids usually refuse to eat vegetables because they have that special gene that makes vegetables taste bitter on the backs of their tongues. By emulsifying vegetables such as clean, organic spinach, celery, oranges, blueberries, dark purple grapes, bananas, or a combination, ideally of the child’s favorite fruits, you get the type of nutrition you’d wish your child ate daily.
Juice vegetables and fruits together in moderation. Too much of certain fruits, such as strawberries, do stimulate the thyroid. So you don’t want to eat large quantities daily of the same fruit. Mix the fruits and vegetables in small amounts. Taste the juice result to find out what the child prefers as far as what get mixed in which quantities.
For example, a tasty blend might be kiwi and papaya with carrots and celery. Or you might juice spinach and blueberry with grapes and romaine lettuce. Or juice dark cherries with carrots, strawberries, and raspberries, celery, carrots, spinach, dark green lettuce, and bananas. If kids won’t eat their green peas, puree the green peas, warm it up with grated carrots on top, and serve as a cup of soup on a cold day. In summer, make a gazpacho of pureed tomato.
Desserts made from pureed mango and/or papaya frozen into a sorbet can be topped with pineapple chunks or rings. The idea is to get children to eat vegetables by combining fruits and vegetables together in a puree or emulsion. Let them drink their vegetables and fruits mixed together in a smoothie.
Instead of adding ice, which wastes the nutrition, use only vegetable or fruit and chill the smoothie, or serve the juice at room temperature. Freezing and ice only slow or stop the digestion process. Ice is not healthy to add to a smoothie.
Make casseroles and soups. One type of puree can be used as a meal, such as lunch. For example, mix sesame seeds and almonds, add a banana or two, some water or milk, even nondairy milk such as nut or grain milks, and some fruit such as grapes, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, or your child’s favorite fruit. Puree the ingredients and serve as a smoothie.
Instead of greasy gravy, puree cooked lentils into a brown gravy. Season, and pour over grains such as steamed brown rice or whole oat groats, pasta, or other foods that need a sauce or gravy.
You see in supermarkets bottles of tomato juice mixed with fruit juices, blended to get people to buy more vegetable juices. What’s really pureed in the bottles might include tomato, celery, bell pepper, spinach, carrots, onions, and any other vegetables in small amounts, mixed with a variety of fruit juices.
What helps children eat more plant-based foods is to let them choose their favorite fruits–bananas, grapes, blueberries, kiwi, apples, oranges, mango, papaya, whatever they like best. Then blend those fruits with spinach, celery, and dark green lettuce. That way they get enough servings of fruit and vegetables. It works well with children who refuse to eat their vegetables because the vegetables alone taste bitter on the back of the child’s tongue.
Instead of trying to get kids to eat overcooked, tired vegetables, use organic, clean, raw vegetables blended with the child’s favorite fruits. Make sure the machine you buy is strong enough to create an emulsion of vegetables and fruits. A cheap blender may or may not do the job of emulsifying. But try it first with what you have. The result should be a smooth puree or emulsion.
Ask kids what they want going into their blend. Have laid out on the table a variety of vegetables you want to offer them and a variety of fruits that they like best. Then mix the two together. Kids currently are so addicted to sweets that they usually will choose the fruits that taste the sweetest and turn down what tastes bitter or too acidic. For further information on food safety in the Sacramento area and N. California, also check out the May 24, 2010 Cornocopia Institute’s article, “New Food-Safety Rules Threaten Small, Organic Farms.”