As you prepare, bite, chew, cut, slice, pound, pulverize, smash, purée, blend masticate and digest, you create a series of mechanical and chemical changes that affect: A food’s nutritional value/content (i.e. the nutrients it contains) and each nutrient’s “bioavailability” (i.e. the degree to which it can be absorbed by your body).
Some nutrients are indeed best available when the foods containing them are eaten raw, while other nutrients are best available when the foods containing them are cooked, or broken down by cutting or crushing, and/or eaten alongside other foods (the unbeatable bread and beans, Akara and pap)
Here are the 10 best ways to get the most nutrition from your food.
1. Choose locally grown foods.
“Eating locally grown and “straight from the earth” maximizes the vitamins and minerals (and deliciousness) you get from your produce.
Plucking them from the soil (or vine, or bush, or tree) means separating them from their nutrient source”. The longer they’re separated, the more nutritional value they lose.
Research has shown that freshly picked fruit or vegetables lose about 15-60% of most of their vitamins and minerals if not consumed after 72 hours.
Fresh is the main deal, it beats GMO foods any day as it retains all nutrients from the soil.
2. Soak, chop, crush, blend.
“These basics of food preparation can make vitamins, minerals, and other compounds (phytochemicals) more available in a few ways:
Cutting up fruits and vegetables generally frees up the nutrients by breaking down rigid plant cell walls.
Crushing and chopping onion and garlic releases alliinase, an enzyme in these foods that helps form a nutrient called allicin. Allicin, when eaten, helps form other compounds that may protect us against disease, fight against inflammation and offer antioxidant properties.
Soaking grains and beans reduces phytic acid, which might — in part — block your absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
Phytic acid is known as a food inhibitor which chelates micronutrient and prevents it to be bioavailable for monogastric animals, including humans, because they lack enzyme phytase in their digestive tract.
If you’ve already been doing these things, great. Now you know why they work.
3. Store fruits and vegetables the right way.
When thinking about storage, balance two things:
Make it easy to eat your plants: Keep fruits and vegetables where you’re most likely to access them.
Slow down nutrient loss: Heat, light, and oxygen degrade nutrients.
That’s the reason why you should store all vegetables (except those of the root variety) in the refrigerator until you need them.
- All Fruits except berries — this includes tomatoes and avocados — at room temperature away from direct light.
- All cut fruits and vegetables with a squeeze of lemon juice on them and in an airtight container. (Cut food products rapidly oxidizes and vitamin C, an antioxidant, slows decay).
- All herbs — with their amazing phytonutrients — chopped up and frozen in an ice cube tray with water.
4. Eat most sources of water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients raw.
Heat breaks down vitamin B1, vitamin B5, folate, and vitamin C (heat labile), so you get more of these when you eat certain foods raw.
So, foods like: sunflower seeds, peas, beet greens, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin B1), broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and avocado (sources of vitamin B5), spinach, turnip greens, broccoli (sources of folate), and bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin C) are generally best eaten raw to maximize absorption of these water-soluble nutrients.
For example, raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach.
You lose water-soluble B-vitamins and vitamin C when you boil them. So, if you’d like to cook these mentioned foods, cook them at low temperature without exposing them to too much water.
Best cooking methods to adopt includes:
5. Know which foods are best when cooked.
“There’s actually a wide range of nutrient loss from cooking — anywhere from 15 to 55 percent. In most cases, you lose the most nutrients by boiling in water”.
But some foods actually deliver the most nutrients when cooked.
For example, cooking:
- significantly increases bioavailability of lycopene, found in tomatoes. Research shows that lycopene increases by 25 percent when tomatoes are boiled for 30 minutes. significantly increases the bioavailability of beta carotene, found in red/orange/yellow plants like tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato, and spinach.
- Cooking helps here by breaking down the plants’ cell walls. Cooking could also denature protein in eggs and meat, making them much more digestible.
- makes iron and other minerals more available for absorption by decreasing oxalates, an acid that makes the minerals inaccessible by binding to them.
- reduces certain harmful food components, such as cyanide (found in tubers) and possible anti-nutrients (found in grains and beans), making way for all the good stuff those foods have to offer.
Pro tip: If you do end up boiling veggies, keep the liquid for something like soup stock. This way you can eat those nutrients later and they’re not really “lost”.
Boiled potatoes are beneficial than French fries literally because fried foods are termed empty calories (they are more energy dense than nutrient dense).
6.Pair food strategically to maximize nutrient absorption.
“Many world cuisines put particular foods together. (Think of greens with lemon and olive oil in Italian cooking, or the complex spice blends in Caribbean, African, or South Asian cooking.)
Combining the right foods together doesn’t just taste awesome, it also helps you absorb all nutrients in the foods you eat at the right amounts.
Lets see some examples .
PAIR FAT WITH FAT:
Eat foods that contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K with dietary fats, which help dissolve the vitamins and ready them for absorption.
Therefore, foods like:
sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash (vitamin A),
eggs and mushrooms (vitamin D),
spinach, Swiss chard, and asparagus (vitamin E), and
kale, spinach, and broccoli (vitamin K), all go better with small-sized portions of healthy fats like:
Mixed nuts, avocado,olive oil,coconut oil; and/or butter.
It’s good to note that foods like salmon (which contains vitamin D), egg yolk and liver (vitamin A) and sunflower seeds (vitamin E) take care of themselves, since they’ve got their own healthy fat.
PAIR IRON WITH VITAMIN C:
Iron from non-animal protein sources is known as nonheme iron. Non-Heme iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, which is found in animal foods (such as red meat or dark poultry). To absorb the nonheme iron from our plant sources and utilize them we pair them with foods rich in vitamin C.
This works in two ways:
Vitamin C can help the plant food “let go of” the mineral.
Vitamin C can block other dietary compounds that can inhibit absorption.
Therefore foods like:
spinach, kale,soybeans, and lentils all go better with:
a squeeze of lemon juice,
Try this: Spinach salad with orange slices, strawberries, and a lemon juice vinaigrette. Or braised kale with chilis and a squeeze of lemon.
PAIR IRON AND ZINC WITH SULFUR:
Also, foods rich in iron and zinc are usually best eaten with foods rich in sulfur. Sulfur binds to these minerals and helps you absorb them better.
Therefore foods like:
liver, beef, and turkey (rich in iron)
oysters, beef, and turkey (rich in zinc)
all go better with garlic, onion, and egg yolks.
PROTEIN COMPLEMENTATION ESPECIALLY FOR VEGETARIANS
This way is the most effective way to get all 9 essential amino acid into a vegetarian diet.
- Foods like beans and vegetables that are limited in methionine should be complemented with grains, nuts and seeds
- Grains, nuts,seeds and corn are limited in tryptophan,lysine and threonine should be complemented with legumes.
By this, every meal is a win-win.
7. Keep it simple.
Keep it simple and sane.
It’s still better to eat broccoli any way you can get it than to not eat it
because it’s not “perfect”. As Brian “Voice of Reason” St. Pierre likes to say:
It’s also important to factor in things like the quantity.
Sometimes the cooked and raw versions of a food are equally nutritious, just in different ways. For example, raw spinach might have more iron, but it also has more of the chemicals that block your absorption of iron.
Rule of thumb:
Water soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C) lose the most nutrients when cooked.
Fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) lose the fewest nutrients when cooked.
“Just eat some darn vegetables already”.
8. Don’t discount frozen foods.
Does frozen broccoli have the same nutritional value as the stuff you just picked from the earth and ate raw? Maybe not. But how often do you eat raw, straight from the earth?
Research shows that processing can decrease a food’s vitamin C content by 10-90 percent. But the reality is that frozen or canned fruits and veggies come in handy when you’re busy. And a little vitamin C is better than none.
Remember, too that fiber isn’t affected much by freezing or canning. So eat your veggies … however you can get them.
9. You can still be flexible with animal source (flexitarian).
Many animal-based sources of vitamins and minerals are more bioavailable than plant-based sources (which may bind up vitamins and minerals chemically, or require a lot of steps to be converted to what our bodies prefer). For instance, as we’ve noted, the iron you get from meat is more available for absorption than the iron you get from plants:
Heme iron, found in animal protein, is encased in hemoglobin molecules, which protect the nutrient from getting degraded by other nutrients and minerals in your GI tract. That means you’re absorbing the iron intact via gut cells that are specifically designed to take up the nutrient.
Nonheme iron, from vegetable sources like spinach, starts to change the minute it comes into contact with other stuff in your intestines, meaning you can only absorb a small fraction of it.
The same is true of many other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium or vitamin A.
If you’re an exclusively plant-based eater, you might want to be flexible a little bit and add a bit of animal source to your diet from time to time.
10. Monitor your tolerance.
Nutrients don’t do you much good if there is an undetected food intolerance that keeps you from absorbing them (IBS especially or lactose intolerance).
Unfortunately, not everyone tolerates raw foods very well even if they’re technically “better for you” sometimes.
If you have GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, or problems with your stool, consider an elimination and re-introduction diet to figure out what you’re not tolerating, and see a dietitian (nutrient deficiencies are more common than you might think).
Once you eliminate and re introduce the foods that affect you the most, you can better optimize your nutrient intake and lead a healthy life while enjoying every meal.
Each meal should be enjoyed because of the variety involved in an adequate diet. This helps to gain every nutrient there is and make you healthier on the long run. When foods are combined accurately, there won’t be any need to run to supplements at all unless in very critical cases or in the case of prescription.
Always make sure you speak to a dietitian before making any nutritional decision .