Why Are Nutrients Lost When You Cut Fruits and Vegetables?

Grandma's hands slice a fresh apple
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Question: I've been told that cutting fruits and vegetables reduces their nutritional value, but I don't really understand why that happens. I think having pre-cut fruits and veggies is so convenient, but maybe I shouldn't cut them as soon as I bring them home. What about fruit and veggies that are precut and packaged at the grocery store?

Answer: You're correct -- cutting, slicing, chopping or peeling fruits and vegetables reduces some of their nutritional value.

 

The nutrient that suffers the heaviest hit is probably vitamin C, although some vitamin A and vitamin E get lost as well. All these vitamins are antioxidants, which means they react to oxygen. The peels and coverings naturally protect the antioxidant vitamins inside. Once you break through the protective coverings, the flesh inside is exposed to air and the oxygen reduces the antioxidant vitamins.

Most other nutrients, including minerals, B-complex vitamins, and fiber aren't lost after cutting or peeling the fruits and vegetables. But, since they're often found in the coverings, it's best to leave edible coverings intact and eat them. Potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers, for example, can be simply rinsed thoroughly and used as they are.

Storing Fruits and Vegetables to Retain the Most Nutritional Value

The best way to store fruits and vegetables is to leave them unwashed with the skin, rinds, or skins intact until the day you plan to eat them.

 You don't have to wait until the last moment to cut your produce, but be sure you keep them stored in air-tight containers in your refrigerator after you do cut them -- and it's best if you can leave them in large chunks. Less surface area means less oxygen exposure and more vitamin retention.

I know it can be tedious to have to wash and chop your fresh fruits and vegetables when you're busy with other things.

Plus, having fresh fruits and vegetables all ready to go might make it easier for you to make healthy choices at snack time. So go ahead and purchase fruits and veggies that have been washed and cut into pieces. Just keep them in their containers and remember they won't last all that long.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "How to Get the Most Flavor and Nutrients." Accessed May 5, 2016. http://www.eatright.org/resource/homefoodsafety/safety-tips/food-poisoning/getting-the-most-flavor-and-nutrients.

María I. Gil, Encarna Aguayo, Adel A. Kader. "Quality Changes and Nutrient Retention in Fresh-Cut versus Whole Fruits during Storage." J. Agric. Food Chem., 54 (12), 4284 -4296, 2006. 10.1021/jf060303y S0021-8561(06)00303-7. Accessed May 5, 2016. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf060303y.

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "Raw Produce: Selecting and Serving it Safely." Accessed May 5, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299.htm.

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