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Nutrition & Healthy Lifestyle Expert

As a registered dietitian, author, health advocate and qualitarian, Ashley believes that better quality nutrition choices are key to optimal health for all ages. She's co-author of the book Mom Energy and a regular contributor to "The Dr. Oz Show," the New York Times, the Huffington Post, O! The Oprah Magazine, and is a contributing editor for Natural Health and Prevention magazines. Based in Los Angeles, Ashley maintains an international private practice and is a faculty member at NYC's Beth Israel Integrative Medicine Center, the Continuum Center for Health and Healing. Ashley's as passionate about the benefits of organic food as we are! (Learn more about Ashley on her site.)

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Q:

I love vegetables. When I can get really good ones, I like to freeze them for later use. Why do some veggies do okay and others go black and gross? What vegetables can I freeze? Am I losing nutrition if I freeze them?

A:

Vegetables contain enzymes that are essential for their growth and ripening. If the enzyme activity isn’t stopped before freezing, the vegetables may continue to mature, which can lead to discoloration, development of off-flavors and deterioration of the structure of the vegetable (hence the “black and gross” result).

Freezing slows down the enzymes’ action but won’t completely stop it. What will? Blanching or steaming the veggies, then cooling them quickly in ice water before you freeze them, will inactivate the vegetables’ ripening enzymes, thereby preserving their color, texture and flavor.

You already know that the quality of frozen vegetables depends on the quality of the fresh produce. Most types of fresh vegetables can be frozen successfully, as long as they’re blanched and cooled prior to freezing. Blanching times vary with the vegetable and its size, and it’s important to get that right: underblanching actually stimulates the activity of the ripening enzymes (which is worse than no blanching at all), and overblanching robs the veggies of flavor, color and nutrients.

Vegetables with a high water content or a delicate cell structure — like lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, celery, and onions — don’t freeze well and tend to lose their crisp texture.

Fresh vegetables are Nature’s nutrient powerhouses. Freezing your veggies — the right way — not only retains their nutrient value, it lets you enjoy the fresh, healthy flavor of peak-season veggies a week or even months later.    -Ashley

Q:

What’s so good about fiber in my diet?

A:

Dietary fiber is critical to a healthy diet and the proper functioning of our bodies. It helps us feel full; it aids digestion both by adding bulk to stool and by scraping the lining of the digestive tract (our built-in “cleaning system”); it aids heart health; and as a prebiotic (a material that helps good bacteria to grow and flourish), it promotes a hospitable environment for probiotics (the good bacteria that help our digestion and support our immune system).

You’ll find fiber in the skins of fruits and vegetables (like arugula), legumes, sprouts, and grains (especially whole grains). It helps to moderate the body’s absorption of sugars. For example, that’s why I usually recommend eating whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice; in the absence of fiber, the sugar in juice is absorbed very quickly, so portion control is important.

Unfortunately, our consumption of highly processed foods and non-water beverages has decreased the average amount of fiber in our diets; as a result, numerous synthetic fibers are sold as supplements and added into food products. While these additives may add bulk and provide some of fiber’s benefits, they don’t necessarily include the phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals found in Nature’s fiber sources. I recommend adding whole foods into your diet first, and then carefully incorporating fiber-added products only as needed.

For optimal nutrition and satisfaction, try to include some fiber at every meal. If you have food allergies or intolerances, it’s important for you to include other natural sources of fiber (rice bran, chia bran, and flax seeds are excellent sources of fiber) to make up for the fiber in the foods you avoid.

Getting enough fiber is really important — but you can also get too much of a good thing. When you increase the fiber in your diet, you also need to maintain adequate hydration (drinking water, eating foods containing potassium) to ensure that it passes through your digestive system properly. If you’re taking a fiber supplement or eating a food fortified with a high amount of fiber, be sure to follow product directions. Pay attention to how your body responds, and get specific advice from your healthcare practitioner.   –Ashley

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