Mays Al-Ali is your guide to the best food storage tips and how to get the most nutritional benefit from your food too...
We’ve all been there – you go to use the asparagus you bought at the farmers’ market at the weekend to make a yummy stir-fry and it’s mushy and brown. The peppers are squishy, the mushrooms are sprouting weird fungus and the aubergine is mouldy. Yuck. In the bin.
To prevent that happening, here are my top tips for vegan food storage:
Out of the fridge
- Cucumber Keep cucumbers out of the fridge and on your kitchen counter, along with lemons, limes, oranges and aubergines.
- Avocados Stay out of the fridge to ripen, but once ripe, they will keep for longer in the fridge.
- Onion Onions can stay on the counter, but keep them away from potatoes! Cut onions should go in the refrigerator.
- Potatoes Keep potatoes in a cool, dry place. A kitchen cabinet works perfectly. Same for things like squash, sweet potato and pumpkin.
- Fruit and root veg Red peppers, broccoli and most fruit and root veg should be stored in the fridge along with mushrooms, which are kept fresher in a brown paper bag.
- Herbs Treat your herbs like you would flowers and store them in tall glasses of fresh water. This will keep them green and healthy for much longer, and avoid them turning slimy in the refrigerator. Same for asparagus – cut off the ends and store in a little water and they will keep much longer.
• Washing Only wash your produce when you’re about to use it. You may think that washing the entire lot when you get home from the grocery store will save you time, but all it does is encourage mould to grow on your precious fruits and vegetables. Yuck!
• Berries Soak berries in a vinegar/water solution for a few minutes – one part vinegar to three parts water. Rinse the berries off and pat them dry after soaking. This will remove any bacteria that is present and ensure they last a lot longer than they usually do.
Lycopene is the pigment principally responsible for the characteristic deep-red colour of ripe tomato fruits and tomato products. It’s an important antioxidant, providing protection against a broad range of epithelial cancers (especially prostate) and cardiovascular disease.
Lycopene in tomatoes continues to develop as long as they are stored at temperatures over 10°C, which allows the tomatoes to continue ripening. So if you put them in the fridge, you stop them ripening and so reduce the lycopene beneficial antioxidant properties.
As well as that, lycopene is absorbed more by the body from tomatoes when they are cooked versus raw, so your cooked tomato sauces are super here.
This is also similar with beta-carotenes (needed to produce vitamin A for eye health in our bodies) in carrots – much more beta-carotene is absorbed by the body when carrots are cooked vs raw. T
he other issue with raw tomatoes is that they are a fruit, and if you have digestive issues they may cause stomach problems when eaten raw and combined with other foods since they are very acidic and may cause excess fermentation – when cooked, this effect is reduced.
Conversely, anything with a dark green colour, such as spinach or broccoli, contains chlorophyll, which in plants absorb nutrients from the sunshine and gives the plant energy to grow, as well as giving it its vibrant green colour.
When we eat chlorophyll-filled foods, that same energy gives us lots of antioxidant and phytonutrient-filled goodness too.
Research shows that when kept in the fridge, these green vegetables retain their chlorophyll content for much longer.
One recent study showed that broccoli florets stored under open ambient conditions (15°C) showed greater losses in chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta-carotenes and total antioxidant contents than those stored at 4°C.
This should always be kept in the freezer – flaxseeds oxidise very quickly as soon as they are exposed to oxygen in the air and this also applies to their oil.
Flax is very beneficial and full of antiinflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids, proven to improve heart health. But even refrigeration isn’t cold enough to keep the oil fresh and full of these antioxidants. It requires freezing as soon as it’s opened and always stored in a dark bottle.
Same with flaxseeds, the seeds themselves cannot be digested whole, they are best consumed freshly ground in a coffee grinder, but again the ground seeds also oxidise as soon as they are ground and exposed to air, so they can be kept in the freezer for about a week or so max in a sealed airtight jar.
There is no point in buying a big bag of pre-ground flaxseeds as the nutritional content will be very low (but can be useful for fibre still).
Flaxseeds have high amounts of lignans in them, which are anti-cancer phytonutrients and help to stop tumours from forming new blood vessels. They also contain phytosterols, which are molecules that are similar in structure to cholesterol, preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
The high fibre content is great for keeping our gut microbiome happy and filled with friendly gut bacteria and also in preventing constipation.
This should also be stored in the dark and stored in a paper bag – it can keep fresh for weeks. Fresh garlic contains an important antioxidant called allicin.
When the clove is crushed or chopped, an enzyme, alliinase, is released, which helps form allicin, the most biologically active component of garlic with all the immune boosting and heart healthy properties.
It takes about 10 minutes to become bioavailable, so a top tip is to chop up or mince garlic first when you start cooking and leave for 10 minutes to allow the allicin to activate – if you cook it straight away the allicin isn’t released.
Something that is super important when storing any kind of food is that you’ve made sure the containers are certified food-grade quality.
Top picks are glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers/jars, but if you have to go for plastic, ensure that they are meant for food.
Non-food grade containers can leach chemicals such as BPA into food over time. Even with BPA-free containers, studies have shown that many plastics release oestrogenic chemicals into food, ending up in our bodies and disrupting our hormone metabolism.
I enjoy using glass food storage containers, because they’re not going to kill me and I get to see exactly what is inside them. Avoid using clingfilm for the same reasons, you can get fab vegan beeswax wraps for food or store food in sealed glass containers in the fridge, and avoid cooking or storing any food in aluminium as it can also leach onto your food.
If you’d like more nutrition, lifestyle or yoga tips from Healthy Mays, get in touch to book a one to one consultation. Mays is offering 10 per cent off the first consultation for anyone who reads this article and gets in touch, and a free 15 minute exploratory phone call. Visit the website www.healthymays.com for more information or you can email [email protected] to book in for your consultation.