Retention factors are a way of calculating the amount of nutrients in foods that may have been lost or gained during the process of cooking and preparation. A change in nutrient value almost always occurs when a food is cooked. The process of calculating a retention factor typically involves using a protocol determined by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC).
A majority of the available nutritional information is based on uncooked and unprepared food. This information can generally be found on the packaging of the food product. Many grocery stores have this information available in the store for produce. However, the nutritional content of ingredients typically changes according to the methods of food storage and preparation. Many foods are cooked before they are eaten, and vitamin and mineral levels tend to decrease as food is cooked. However, depending on the ingredients, recipe, and the way that the food is prepared, some nutrients, such as fat, may actually increase during the cooking process.
The USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, Release 5
, is a popular source of information on retention factors. This table lists common foods, cooking techniques, and the retention factor for vitamins and minerals associated with each. Multiplying the retention factor by the uncooked nutrient level yields the actual nutritional value of the consumed food.
Patient groups that frequently make use of retention factors include athletes, diabetics, pregnant women, vegetarians, and those being treated for anorexia, bulimia, and individuals with high cholesterol. Individuals in these categories often must make sure that they are getting enough nutrients from their food. Nutritionists and other health care professionals may use retention factor calculations to advise patients on the best ways to prepare their favorite foods.
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