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Storing and Purchasing Fresh Produce

Storing and Purchasing Fresh Produce

Culinary Institute of America


Vegetables include a number of foods that botanically are classified as fruits. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other seed-bearing foods are really fruits. Because these are often used in savory preparations, their culinary application is the guiding principle for listing them here.

The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines divides vegetables into five groups: dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. Eating a variety of colors—including red cabbage or red bell peppers, yellow sweet corn, white garlic, and deep green spinach—provides fiber and a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, many of which are found in pigments. Orange and dark green vegetables are good sources of vitamin C and are high in beta carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A (the chlorophyll in green vegetables masks the carotenoid pigments). Legumes and dark green vegetables are good sources of folate. Potatoes, avocados, and legumes are also high in potassium.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 2H cups of vegetables per day for a 2,000-calorie diet, with the following amounts recommended over the course of a week:

• Dark green vegetables: 3 cups/week (broccoli, spinach, most greens)
• Orange vegetables: 2 cups/week (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash)
• Legumes: 3 cups/week (dried beans, chickpeas, tofu)
• Starchy vegetables: 3 cups/week (corn, white potatoes, green peas)
• Other vegetables: 6 ½ cups/week (tomatoes, cabbage, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onions, peppers, green beans, cauliflower, summer squash, mushrooms)

Most people in the United States don’t eat anywhere near these recommended intakes, with the possible exception of starchy vegetables, specifically potatoes.

Dark Green Vegetables

Dark green vegetables include most of the crucifers (cabbage family): broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, and collards; it also includes cooking greens such as Swiss chard, and turnip greens, as well as salad greens such as arugula, leaf lettuce, and spinach. Some of these vegetables, such as kale and Brussels sprouts, are at their best in late fall. Their somewhat pungent flavors mellow after they have been exposed to frost.

These vegetables are extremely low in calories and fat (usually under 1 gram per serving) and contain generous amounts of fiber, vitamin C, beta carotene, iron, calcium, folate, and vitamin B6. Crucifers, including cabbage and cauliflower, are also high in phytochemicals called glucosinolates, a group that includes indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which are thought to protect against some types of cancer.

It’s best not to overcook these vegetables. Doing so causes nutrient loss, and releases the sulfur-containing phytochemicals that cause their unpleasant aromas.

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