Fresh is definitely best. This is true of both dairy products and produce. Let's tackle the dairy products first. For most hardgainers dairy foods are a caloric as well
as nutritional necessity. Nearly all commercial dairy products are pasteurized and homogenized, which means they went through processes in which they were heated to
very high temperatures in order to kill bacteria. These processes also kill nearly all of the beneficial properties and reduce the product's overall nutrient content,
however; so when it comes to milk, cheese and butter, raw is definitely best.
Unfortunately, raw products aren't available everywhere, and where you can get them they're usually more expensive than the processed variety. Although they're strictly regulated-more so than standard commercial fare-they still carry the taboo factor for most uninformed shoppers. The powers that be who created this scare are the same folks who told us that eggs were killing us (and who recently admitted that they're not nearly as bad as was originally believed).
There are many things you can do to increase the nutritional value of your dairy consumption even if raw products are not within your financial reach or readily available. When purchasing cheese, for example, buy aged cheese. Aged cheeses are generally made with raw, cultured milk. Buy real butter instead of margarine. Margarine contains hydrogenated oils, stabilizers, food coloring, preservatives and other assorted chemicals. There are, however, higher-quality margarines available at health food stores.
As far as sweeteners go, raw is king once again. Try using raw honey, maple syrup, apple juice concentrate or even molasses instead of sugar. These sweeteners don't contain any additives or undergo the bleaching that white sugar is subjected to before it's considered fit for consumption. (The thought of consuming bleach isn't very appetizing, is it?)
Produce is incredibly good for you when you eat it raw. It goes without saying-but you know me; I'll say it anyway-that organic produce is best. If it is even a fraction healthier with even slightly less chemicals, then it's probably going to look worse but taste better. An organic apple may not be as presentable as a perfect looking, waxed one, but where it's going nobody's going to see it. I'd rather have a healthy-looking body than a healthy-looking apple in my fridge.
Many things happen to our fruits and vegetables before they get to the local supermarket. These foods are much more nutritious when allowed to ripen on the plant. You could say that they develop to their full potential that way. Because of lengthy transit times to the market many items are picked green and then stored for weeks. Some types of produce, such as bananas and tomatoes, are gassed to continue the ripening process.
Here are a few things you can do to maintain the content of your produce purchases:
» Avoid prolonged soaking or precutting of fruits and vegetables; this causes them to lose some of their nutrients.
» Cook vegetables only until they're tender but still crisp. Overcooking breaks down the vegetable and leeches many nutrients from it.
» Try not to peel fruits and vegetables unless it's absolutely necessary. It's kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, many of the food's beneficial nutrients are contained in the peel or skin. On the other hand, the outer skin is often exposed to pesticides, waxes and gasses.
Raw foods can offer many advantages over cooked or processed foods. The fibers are in an unprocessed, natural state, something your body can use immediately. Think about the chemicals and highly processed products we expect our bodies to derive nutritional value from. Isn't it possible that we might not be able to process some of these substances that we can't even pronounce? The body may excrete them from our pores or spend precious energy trying vainly to digest them.
Try cutting some fresh corn off the cob and eating it raw. You'll probably never overcook corn again.