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Fruits and vegetables offer a spectacular variety of flavor, texture, and nutrition that is just waiting to be taken advantage of. Here are some tips to help you maximize the health benefits of eating produce:
Choose a produce rainbow. Richly colored fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients compared to paler ones. Jessica Begg, RD, of Flourish Wellness & Nutrition in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, suggests dark-colored spinach as a healthy alternative to pale iceberg lettuce. Brightly colored produce like tomatoes, carrots, pink grapefruit, mangoes, and guava are a good source of carotenoids, a form of vitamin A that may help prevent heart disease.
Beware of pre-packaged “health” foods. A recent study discovered that many pre-packaged meals that advertised the inclusion of fruits and vegetables contained a lot of extra salt and didn’t have very much fiber. To avoid this, prepare as much food as you can yourself, so you’ll know exactly what you’re eating. Try using reduced-salt or no-added-salt ingredients in your recipes, and use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your food.
Remember fresh is best. Fresh produce is the healthiest in terms of vitamin and nutrient content. Out of season, frozen fruits and vegetables are a pretty good second choice. These are usually harvested when they’re ripe and frozen right away, so they don’t lose very much nutrition during the processing. Canned vegetables, although still healthy, should be a last choice because many of the C and B vitamins are destroyed in the cooking process.
Pay attention to preparation. You’ll get the most benefit from your fruits and veggies if you eat them raw. If you cook them, choose steaming rather than boiling, so you don’t lose the vitamins in the cooking water. Begg suggests reusing vegetable cooking water: “If you use the water that remains from steaming or boiling, you can retain some of the vitamins that were lost. For example, try using potato water when making gravy.”