Refrigerating all produce
Though it's tempting to come home from the market and dump everything in the fridge, some produce belongs on the countertop. Refrigeration can compromise the texture and flavor of certain fruits and vegetables. 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, according to the USDA. Onions can get mushy and even develop mold when refrigerated. And that's just for starters. Here are more foods you're spoiling by putting in the fridge.
Always buying fruit underripe
Despite the common misconception, not all fruits continue to ripen once you get them home. 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. The non-ripeners are non-climacteric, meaning they just age without maturing. Reference this handy chart to see which produce to pick ripe and which to pick a bit prematurely.
Storing fruit in the same bowl
It may look pretty to arrange your apples, bananas, and grapes together, but a mixed fruit bowl will spoil faster. Some fruits (the climacterics) can actually cause others in close proximity to spoil faster, thanks to their ethylene. The fruits to keep in isolation include apples, bananas, kiwis, mangoes, and peaches. Here are 12 more fresh foods that should never be stored together.
Ignoring frozen produce
Believe it or not, frozen produce has the same nutritional value as fresh produce. Some frozen vegetables and fruits 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 Melissa Owens, RDN. "Frozen vegetables can be a great alternative to fresh produce, especially if it's out of season and traveled a long way to get to your store." Make sure you're not falling for any of these 10 myths about frozen food.
Always peeling veggies
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. For instance, zucchini skin is rich in antioxidants; the peel (and seeds) are where a cucumber hides the majority of its 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.
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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.
Cutting before washing
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 fruits and veggies before cutting them. But this even applies to items with thick outer layers, like melons. Bacteria from a cantaloupe or honeydew rind can easily get picked up by your knife and transferred to the juicy flesh inside. Check out 10 of the healthiest vegetables you can eat.
Storing washed fruit
"A good rule of thumb is to not wash any of your produce until you're ready to eat it," says Owens. Yes, fresh fruits and vegetables are probably carrying germs galore, but fruits should be stored in the fridge or on the countertop 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 mold on those berries you purchased two days ago?
Discarding stems, leaves, and other "scraps"
That head full of leaves on your bunch of carrots is a goldmine of nutrition—so don't toss or even compost it! Carrot tops have six times more vitamin C than the actual carrot, beet greens are packed with fiber 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 sauteed and seasoned, then enjoyed on their own. Find out what happens when you don't eat enough fruits and veggies.
Freezing raw veggies
Before vegetables make it into the frozen food aisle, they're actually blanched—meaning they're scalded in boiling water or steamed for a few minutes, then submerged in ice water to halt the cooking process in its tracks. If you want to prolong the life of your fresh vegetables by freezing them, it's recommended that you blanch them first.