Fresh ingredients are essential to a healthy, balanced diet, and we are now encouraged to eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day. Vitamin C is found almost exclusively in fruit and vegetables and because it cannot be stored by the body, levels need to be topped up continually.
Fruit and vegetables are also extremely rich in fiber, particularly when eaten with the skin in tact. High-protein foods such as meat, game, poultry and eggs contain many other essential nutrients. Use frozen produce when fresh is not available; it is perfectly acceptable from a nutritional point of view.
Fruits are very versatile and can be enjoyed raw or cooked, on their own or as part of a recipe. They are also good sources of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C. A piece of fresh fruit makes a quick and easy, nutritious snack at any time of the day. Try topping whole wheat breakfast cereals with some fruit such as raspberries for a tasty and nutritious start to the day.
Vegetables are nutritious and are valuable sources of vitamins and minerals, some being especially rich in vitamins A, C and E. Vegetables also contain some dietary fiber and those that are particularly good sources include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, fennel, okra, parsnips, spinach, spring greens (collard) and sweet corn. Vegetables are also very versatile and many can be eaten either raw or cooked. Add vegetables to dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles, stir-fries and salads, or simply serve them on their own, raw or lightly cooked and tossed in a little lemon juice.
Potatoes are one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in the world and are valuable in terms of nutrition. They are high in carbohydrate, low in fat and contain some Vitamin C and dietary fiber. Wash old and new potatoes thoroughly and cook them with their skins on, for example baked, boiled and roasted. The flavor will be just as delicious and you will be getting extra fiber.
Potatoes are very versatile and are used in many dishes. Mashed potatoes (with their skins left on, of course) make an ideal topping for pies and bakes. For roast potatoes use a minimum amount of oil, and if you like to make chips, leave the skins on and cut the chips thickly using a knife. With baked and mashed potatoes avoid adding high fat butter, soured cream or cheese and instead use skimmed milk, reduced fat hard cheese and herbs to add flavor.
Fresh Beans and Other Pulses
There are many varieties of fresh beans and pulses available, either fresh or canned, including peas, broad (lava)beans and runner beans, and more unusual ones such as fresh flageolet beans, black-eyed (peas) beans and butter (wax) beans. Fresh corn on the cob and sweet corn are also popular.
All are good sources of dietary fiber and contain other nutrients including vitamins and minerals. Beans and pulses are very versatile and can be used in many dishes including hot and cold salads, stir-fries, casseroles, pasta sauces, soups and curries. Some varieties, such as sugar-snap peas and mangetouts (snow peas) can be eaten either raw or lightly cooked.
Virtually a complete food and extremely versatile, eggs provide protein, iron, zinc and vitamins A, B and E.
Increasingly research points to the great benefits gained from a diet high in fish. All fish is rich in protein, B vitamins and minerals; white fish is very low in fat. Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout and salmon, also provide vitamins A and D and Omega 3 fatty acids, which are believed to be beneficial in helping to prevent coronary heart disease.
A good source of quality protein, B vitamins and some iron, poultry is also low in fat, particularly if the skin is removed.
Meat and Game
Although the general health advice is to moderate your intake of red meat, thus reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet, red meat is still the best source of readily absorbed iron, zinc and B vitamins. Meat today is much leaner than it used to be, and it fits the profile for a healthy diet if it is cooked with low-fat cooking methods.
Because nutrients in fresh foods, especially valuable vitamins, deteriorate as food ages it is important to always buy the freshest and best quality available. Storing the food correctly at home will also ensure that the minimum of nutrients are lost before they are eaten. Whilst some fruit and vegetables can be kept at room temperature, they will not last for long in a hot kitchen and should be stored in a cooler environment. Quickly perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy products should be stored in a refrigerator.
A freezer is useful for keeping many fresh foods longer term. You can buy them when they are plentiful and cheap for the freezer, using them when they become out of season or more expensive in the shops. Follow the freezer manufacturer’s instructions for storing and blanch fruit and vegetables as required.
Storing Fresh Fruits
Those fruits that can be kept at room temperature while still unripe include apricots, kiwi fruits, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapples and plums. Once ripe, refrigerate and eat within 2-3 days.
Fruits that can be stored at cool room temperature include apples (although they will be crisper if refrigerated), bananas, dates, grapefruit and oranges. Apples can be kept at room temperature for a few days, dates for several weeks, and grapefruit and oranges for up to a week. Unless you intend to eat them on the day of purchase, refrigerate fully ripe and perishable fresh fruits. These include berries, cherries, figs, grapes, lemons, limes, melons, pomegranates and tangerines. They can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days.
Storing Fresh Vegetables
Like fruits, there are some vegetables that can be stored at room temperature. A dark, cool place (about 10°C/50°F) with good ventilation is ideal, however. Suitable vegetables are garlic, onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes, swede and pumpkin can be kept for about 2 months. Store tomatoes at room temperature until they are ripe, after that, refrigerate.
Perishable vegetables should be refrigerated. Some, such as peas or sweet corn, should be used quickly, while others like carrots or cabbage, can be kept for a longer period. In most cases, do not wash the vegetable until just before using. Celery, frisee, escarole, spring greens (collard), herbs, lettuce, spinach and watercress should be washed before storage.
All foods kept in the refrigerator or freezer should be well wrapped or stored in sealed containers. This preserves flavor and moisture, and prevents the flavors and odors of other, stronger foods being transferred. It is essential to keep raw meat and poultry well wrapped as their drippings can transfer bacteria to other foods.
Perishable fresh foods, such as meats, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, cheese and other dairy products, and many fruits and vegetables must be kept refrigerated at a temperature ofI-5°C/35-40°F. For longer storage, many can also be frozen at 18°C/0°F or lower. Cooked leftovers must also be refrigerated or frozen. Use a special thermometer to check temperatures; integral thermostats often give false readings over time. If temperatures are too high, food will spoil rapidly