Short guide to the use of fruit, vegetables and legumes

Fruit, vegetables

Do you know how to properly use fruit, vegetables and legumes?

Have you ever wondered whether you are using fruit, vegetables and legumes…. “correctly”? Well, first of all (and quite obviously), you should always try not to allow freshly purchased fruit and vegetables to sit in your fridge or pantry for extended periods of time until they become dry and shrivelled. This is because fresh groceries are an important source of water (and you might not drink enough of it) and also because they might get infected by microscopic moulds and get rich in mycotoxins, that moulds produce abundantly.

Indeed, it is not by chance that the use of fresh fruit and vegetables is a typical feature of the Mediterranean cuisine which has always taken advantage of the great abundance and variety of vegetables that grow in the lands that surround the Mediterranean Sea thanks to the favourable climate. It is also good to know that a piece of any fruit or vegetable oxidizes more quickly than the whole one. Therefore, it’s good to use fruit and vegetables right after cutting them. If you are preparing either raw or cooked vegetables that you are going to eat later, it is best to store them in a container with a lid and keep it in the fridge, remembering to use them as soon as possible.

Both fruit and vegetables must always be washed whole and cut only afterwards, to avoid the loss of important nutrients. Clean them using a hard fibre brush instead of peeling them (it’s better to buy organic groceries though).

Regarding cooking, steaming should be preferred to boiling; indeed, the latter causes a bigger dispersion of nutrients and is, therefore, more suitable for soups, since the broth is consumed as well. Stewed cooking and pan cooking are also appropriate techniques to prepare tasty vegetables, provided that they do not last for too long. As for fruit, it should be eaten with the skin, after washing it well. It is often the skin that contains the most important nutrients.

Cooking legumes

Beans, chickpeas and legumes, in general, have always been a staple food for the Mediterranean populations, since they are tasty, inexpensive and nutritious. In the traditional Mediterranean cuisine, legumes (also called pulses) are often accompanied by cereals (e.g. rice and lentils). This, from a dietary point of view, has turned out to be a very good cooking strategy, since grains and pulses both contain proteins that lack some amino acids, but the ones that are lacking in grain are present in pulses and vice versa. Therefore, legumes can be eaten every day, as a replacement for meat and processed meat.

Legumes offer the advantage that many varieties exist and are available all year round, either fresh or dried. Dried legumes, in particular, must be soaked for at least eight hours before boiling them, changing the soaking water a few times. Soaking and water replacement eliminate some of the resistant starch that makes legumes difficult to digest. Cooking should be performed in water and over low heat (ideally in a ceramic pot) for a period of time that varies depending on the type of legume. The cooking water can be reused, for instance, to prepare a soup. Table 1 shows the average cooking times of the main legumes.

Regular cooking Pressure cooking
Chickpeas and beans 1 hour 30 minutes
Lentils 30 minutes Not applicable
Red lentils 10 minutes Not applicable
Peas 30 minutes 15 minutes

Table 1: Cooking time (either regular or pressure cooking) of most legumes.

Picture of Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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