-- intro: Even if you eat plenty of fruits and veggies and already know about the latest and greatest superfoods on the market, that's only half the battle. The other half: understanding how to reap the biggest benefits from all that hard work. We asked a pair of registered dietitians to pinpoint the big mistakes that are preventing you from extracting the most vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat.
quicklist: 4 category: title: Strawberries url: text: There's nothing quite like biting into those first juicy summer strawberries, especially when you think about all the fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C each bright-red berry holds. Here's the catch: To get the full spectrum of health benefits, you want to avoid cutting them for as long as possible. Kristy Del Coro, senior culinary nutritionist for SPE Certified, explains that certain nutrients—especially vitamin C—are sensitive to light and oxygen. When you cut into strawberries, you're exposing more cells to those nutrient-deteriorating elements. "That said, if the convenience of pre-cut produce makes the difference between you consuming fruits and vegetables or not, it's still a better option than not eating them at all," she says. "Frozen produce actually retains a lot of nutrients, and it's better for you than eating an out-of-season fruit or vegetable that's traveled a great distance or hasn't been allowed to fully ripen."
quicklist: 5 category: title: Garlic url: text: Unlike vitamin C, allicin—the cancer-fighting enzyme found in garlic—actually benefits from exposure to air. To that end, Sara Haas, RDN, a consultant dietitian, chef, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends letting chopped garlic sit out for about 10 minutes before you toss it into any dish you're making so that the compound gets fully activated.
quicklist: 6 category: title: Whole grains and beans url: text: Whole, unrefined grains and dried beans contain antioxidant compounds called phytates, which can bind to vitamins and minerals in food and prevent them from being absorbed by the body, explains Del Coro. "Intact whole grains that still have the outer layer [the bran], such as farro, freekeh, sorghum, and wheat berries, should be soaked in water overnight to help release the phytates," she says. "But this doesn't apply to semi-refined or unhulled types like pearled barley or instant oats." In addition to helping you get the maximum amount of nutrients like iron and zinc, the soaking process also means less work for your digestive tract.
quicklist: 8 category: title: Tomatoes url: text: Fresh, ripe tomatoes add a burst of flavor to salads and sandwiches, but if you want to absorb their lycopene—the phytonutrient responsible for the fruit's cancer- and heart-disease-fighting properties—Haas says that you're better off cooking them. Cornell researchers also found that tomatoes' antioxidant content increases when they're heated to roughly 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
quicklist: 9 category: title: Grilled meat url: text: Everyone loves a summer barbecue, but be wary of those "perfectly charred" cuts of meat, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, a registered dietitian practicing in New York City. "Grilling meat at high temperatures over an open flame may increase cancer risk," she says. Zuckerbrot points to the National Cancer Institute, which warns that two potentially cancer-causing chemicals—heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—are formed when meats are cooked using high-temperature methods like chargrilling. "Don't rely on the color of the cooked meat to gauge food safety," says Zuckerbrot. "Use a food thermometer that shows that meats are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature as recommended by the USDA."
quicklist: 10 category: title: Asparagus url: text: We've all seen those convenient microwave-safe veggie pouches, and nuking these spears in a ready-made bag seems a whole lot more convenient than busting out a steamer and pot and waiting for water to boil. But as Zuckerbrot points out, a study in the journal Acta Agroculturae Scandinavica found that this cooking method depletes this vegetable's vitamin C content because the nutrient is water-soluble. Instead, Zuckerbrot recommends a quick steam or stir-fry on the stove, emphasizing that the important thing is to cook the vegetable so that it's tender and crisp, rather than mushy and soft. "When steaming asparagus, save the leftover water," she adds. "It's rich in vitamins and minerals. You can add it to a sauce or soup."