Vegetables play an important role in our diet as they provide essential micronutrients and minerals to our body. Apart from their nutritive value, vegetables probably do more than any other group of foods to add appetizing colour, texture and flavour to our daily diet.
Nutritional facts - vegetables provide fibre, minerals, and vitamin-A, C, E, K and B-complex vitamins, with the exception of Vitamin B12 found only in animal products. Dark green leafy vegetables and bright orange vegetables are richest sources of carotene. Four servings per day from vegetables and fruits group provide a significant fraction of the daily needs for many micronutrients. All fresh vegetables are low in fat and have low energy value. Green leafy vegetables must be consumed by children, pregnant and nursing mothers to obtain the much needed iron, beta-carotene and calcium. Fenugreek leaves and seeds, bitter gourd contains plant insulin, must be included in the diabetic diet. Per day, 100 to 125 g of green leafy vegetables, 150 g to 200g of other vegetables should be included in the diet.
Although we all eat vegetables cooked in our home, a slight negligence on our part makes them lose their nutritious and medicinal value. Given below are some guidelines for buying, cleaning, cooking and storing vegetables in a proper way, which promote health.
Purchase always fresh, firm and crisp vegetables instead of withered or stale. Rotten, stale, withered vegetables will bring harm than good to the human body and have no nutritious value, besides they became breeding grounds for many germs. Purchase vegetables which are heavy in proportion to their size. Medium sized vegetables are better than larger ones, as larger ones tend to be more fibrous.
Storage - most vegetables do not store well and should be purchased in small quantities. All vegetables should be washed of sand and dirt and the dried vegetables after wrapping in the polythene before being stored in refrigerator. They should be stored for 3to 4 days in refrigerator. Never store after cutting them. Onions and potatoes are best stored in cool, dry and airy place preferably hung, in the presence of moisture they mould easily.
Hygiene - Whether you bring vegetable direct from field or from the vegetable market, wash them clean after rubbing them with a rough cloth. Then leave in water for 10 to 15 minutes. Many vegetable which are grown in the fields having other crops, have some poisonous insects or germs attached to them. Sometimes, the vegetable destroying insects leave their tiny larvae on them which are invisible to naked eye. And when we purchase vegetables from the vegetable market, they are mainly brought from the cold storages having lots of insecticide powder, etc., sprinkled on them. In computer controlled vegetable markets, we come across the vegetables which look usually fresh and firm, are just a ruse to tempt the customer to buy it. Certain chemical solutions, which are injurious to the health, have astringent quality that ruins the genuine taste of the vegetables. Hence properly washing vegetables are inevitable to get freedom from health hazards associated with poisonous substances. The utensils used for handling and cooking vegetables must be thoroughly clean. One should take extra precaution to cook vegetable in hygienic condition.
Cooking - Do not over cook; use just enough water for cooking. Use a slow fire as high fire not only burns the nutritional elements, it ruins the taste of the vegetables. Actually, it is the intensity of fire which makes or mars a dish. Exposure to air causes damage to nutrients and affects the flavour; hence cut vegetables just before cooking, cover with a lid while cooking. Make sure that the knife, grater, etc., that are used to peel of the skin or cutting are free from rust. The rusted knives inject the fresh vegetables and make it also lose it’s nutritional value. Cooking vegetables in acidic medium such as tamarind and other acids prevents the loss of vitamins to a large extent. Adding lemon drops to vegetables enhances the absorption of iron. Try to peel vegetables with a peeler as it helps to remove a very thin layer of skin, because a large part of vitamins and minerals in the vegetables lie just under the skin. Vegetables should be cut into large pieces or if possible cook them whole.
Do not drain the remaining water or use the drained water for soups. Cook roots and tubers like potatoes, beetroots, sweet potatoes etc., whole with skin to retain flavour and nutrients. Do not throw away green leafy tops of vegetables like carrot, radish, cauliflower, beetroot etc., because they are good sources of many nutrients. Green leafy vegetables must be cooked in covered vessels. Avoid the use of ‘soda’ in vegetables as it increases the loss of vitamin C and Vitamin-B complex.When preparing soups, the slowest cooking ingredients should be cooked first followed by the addition of other ingredients which cook in a shorter time. Always prepare salad and raita before serving. Add some raw vegetables to prepared food to enhance the color, texture and to retain nutrients. Avoid eating overcooked and reheated foods as they are the worst enemies of nutrient and flavour.