Worried you’re not serving up enough fresh food? Don’t fret — when it comes to these foods, convenience really is king
We all know that cooking from scratch and using fresh ingredients is good for us, but if you don’t have time for that, we’ve got great news from nutrition experts…
Bag a salad
Bagged salad is a convenient way to increase your vegetable intake, and according to Sophie Medlin, consultant dietitian and director of citydietitians.co.uk, there’s a minimal reduction in nutrients compared to preparing the salad leaves yourself.
She says: ‘I use pre-prepared salad almost every weekday when I’m pushed for time. Add tomatoes or chopped peppers to boost vitamin C content.’
It’s OK to buy canned!
Soaking and cooking beans and pulses can be a chore, but the good news is that they’re just as good for us canned as dried. They’re excellent sources of protein, B vitamins and iron, and contain a particular type of fibre that lowers cholesterol and feeds the probiotic bacteria in our guts.
Sophie says: ‘Try incorporating small amounts into your diet as often as possible. Add kidney beans or chickpeas to any of your favourite mince dishes, and add lentils to soups and to bulk out any stews.’
Don’t freeze out frozen
‘Freezing fruit and vegetables is a great way to lock in nutrients so they’re not lost during transportation,’ says Sophie.
It’s also likely that frozen fruit and veg have been left to ripen for longer on the plant before they’re picked, giving healthy nutrients more time to develop.
Frozen blueberries, for example, are better value and will be higher in vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, because they’ve been picked later and won’t have sat on a supermarket shelf for any time.
Tomato purée and tinned tomatoes
No time to chop and cook fresh tomatoes to make a sauce? No problem. Tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato purée all contain high levels of lycopene, a phytonutrient found in red plants which has a raft of health benefits.
Sophie says: ‘Lycopene helps support bone health and blood pressure and has been linked with preventing cancers, particularly prostate cancer.’
Microwavable brown rice
Wholegrain foods can help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Brown rice is a wholegrain and it contains more fibre and magnesium than white rice. But cooking it can take 50 minutes — hopeless if you’re in a hurry! Luckily, tests have found that there’s no huge difference in the nutritional values of regular brown and two-minute microwaveable brown rice.
You can’t beat beetroot!
Beetroot is bursting with good-for-you nitrates, which have been linked to lowering high blood pressure. And they contain betalains, plant pigments that have been linked to reducing cancer risk. But peeling and grating raw beetroot into salads can be messy, and cooking it can take at least half an hour on the hob and an hour in the oven.
A study published in Food Research International indicates that precooked, vacuum-packed beetroot could contain more betalains than roasted or boiled beetroot, and more antioxidant activity than raw. Choose ready-to-eat cooked and vacuum-packed beetroot in natural juices, with no added salt, sugar or vinegar.
A Texas A&M University study found that cutting up fresh carrots and letting them sit in the fridge can trigger the production of more polyphenols — micronutrients that pack a lot of health benefits.
‘When shredded on a grater and bunged into the fridge, the same carrot could have roughly two and a half times the polyphenols — and a whopping 12-fold more antioxidant activity — just days later,’ says botanist James Wong, author of How to Eat Better. ‘This suggests that shop-bought carrot batons, or better yet, grated carrot salad, may well have more of the good stuff than home-made.’
Keep the white stuff!
‘You know the white spongy tissue on the inside of chillies and peppers that’s a pain to remove?’ says James. ‘Well don’t! Not only will you dispense with a chore, you might just get more nutrition as a result.’
In one study, scientists found that this white stuff contains the highest concentrations of antioxidants and polyphenols — as much as four times that of the flesh itself.
Edited by Kim Jones