Many of us invest a lot of time, $$ and self control into eating a healthy, wholesome and nutritious diet. With Drive-ins and takeouts tempting us on every street corner, processed “junk” sitting at eye level in the supermarkets, $5 meal deals than win over your wallet, not to mention time-sensitive work schedules, demanding us to “grab and go”. Yet we health enthusiasts will not be seduced by these modern day conveniences. We will stand by our well being and we will prosper. Or will we? Turns out, the effort we put into making those healthier choices might not always be enough to reap the necessary rewards. Here are 6 nutrient-saving steps to ensure you are getting the health benefits you deserve.
1. Eat local but eat soon! This will require you to shop often but it will also prevent you from buying too much in one go and being wasteful. Eating locally grown produce that has been picked fresh, maximizes those essential vitamins and minerals we work so hard to consume. Plucking produce straight from it’s origin (soil, bush, tree or vine) means separating it from it’s nutrient source and the longer it’s parted, the more nutritional value it loses. It's estimated that by the time you pick up a “fresh” fruit or vegetables at the grocery store, it may have lost 15-60 percent of its many vital vitamins. So, where you can, try to hit up a nearby farmers market because when it comes to nutrients, local is at the top of the food chain.
2. Be savvy about storage Heat, light and oxygen can affect fresh produce in different ways, mostly degrading them. You can help slow down the loss of nutrients by following these simple rules: Fruits - store all fruits except berries (but including tomatoes and avocados) at room temperature, away from direct light to ripen and retain their juiciness. Refrigeration will cause them to lose flavour and develop a mealy texture. Vegetables - refrigerate all fresh vegetables, except those from the root variety, to avoid wilting from heat exposure. Herbs - lock in those fabulous phytonutrients and make your herbs last longer: Hardy Herbs - (Rosemary, Thyme, Savory, Sage & Chives) Arrange lengthwise in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel, roll up and transfer the bundle to a plastic zipper lock bag in the refrigerator. Tender Herbs - (Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, Tarragon) Snip off the bases of the stems and remove any discolored or wilted leaves. Transfer to a mason jar or small vase with an inch of water in the bottom. Seal the jar with the lid, or cover with an overturned plastic bag sealed with a rubber band in the refrigerator. Basil - Snip off the bases of the stems and place in a vase or mason jar with an inch or two of water in the bottom. Store at room temperature in a light area but out of direct sunlight.
2. Rinse, Crush, Soak. Always rinse fresh vegetables before use (even those with skins) to remove any nasty bacteria, insects, and as much pesticide as possible. Chopping onions and crushing garlic releases alliinase, a primary component of both garlic and onions that gives them their health benefits (and pungent odor), including the ability to prevent cancer. Allicin is produced when the enzyme alliinase is cut or chewed. Before consuming, it is best to allow the cut or crushed garlic/onion to be exposed to the air for at least 5 to 10 minutes in order for the compounds to become fully activated. Soak your grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Mother Nature equipped these foods with a whole host of anti-nutrients to protect them from insects, predators, and invasion by bacteria, viruses or fungi. Much of these anti-nutrients are naturally eliminated from the outer coating when there is enough moisture, warmth and acidity to sustain the plant seed once it enters the ground to germinate and by soaking, you are essentially imitating this process. The most common anti-nutrient found in grains, beans, nuts and seeds is phytic acid. When you consume foods with these phytic acids still intact, they bind with vital minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron and copper, preventing absorption.
4. Eat more Raw Avoid losing water-soluble vitamins like the B and C group by eating select vegetables raw, where possible. Boiling will denature these vitamins, so it’s best to eat them raw or choose cooking methods that require low heat and minimal water exposure (roast, steam, blanch or sautée). Examples of Vegetables containing water-soluble vitamins include:
- Sunflower seeds, peas, beet greens, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin B1)
- Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, avocado - (sources of vitamin B5),
- Spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin C)
5. Know what to cook Although 15 to 55% of nutrient loss occurs through cooking, particularly by boiling in water, some foods do deliver higher nutrient content when cooked. For example: Tomatoes - slow roasted or in a sauce - helps break down the plant cell walls and significantly increases the bioavailability of the antioxidant, Lycopene, by up to 25%. The same goes for warmer coloured plants like carrots and sweet potato; cooking increases the bioavailability of beta carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A. Meat and eggs - cooking denatures the protein, making them more digestible. Iron and other minerals - through cooking, you can increase the absorption of these minerals by decreasing oxalates, an acid that binds to minerals, making them inaccessible. Vitasave Tip: If you absolutely have to boil up those veggies, reserve the liquid for stock. This way you can eat those nutrients later and all is not “lost”.
6. Pair up PB&J, Cheese and wine, chips and dip; some foods are just made for each other. But did you know that by pairing certain produce together can make a very powerful combo and increase your nutrient intake further.
Fat with Fat Pair foods that contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (Squash, kale, mushrooms, spinach are some examples) with dietary fats such as olive/coconut oil or butter, 1-2 tbsp of mixed nuts or an avocado, to help dissolve the vitamins and prepare them for absorption. Fat Fact - Foods such as salmon (vitamin D), egg yolk and liver (vitamin A) and sunflower seeds (vitamin E) can look after themselves as they contain their own source of healthy fat.
Pumping Iron with Vitamin C
Iron from non-meat sources is referred to as nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, which is present in animal products (mostly red meat or dark poultry). Iron-rich foods are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream when a food that's high in vitamin C is eaten at the same time. You can absorb the nonheme iron from our plant friends up to 6 times better when you combine it with a source of Vitamin C. How? Vitamin C can help the plant food release the mineral. Vitamin C can block other dietary compounds that can inhibit absorption. Therefore, foods like spinach, kale, soybeans and lentils all go down better with a squeeze of lemon juice, orange slices, strawberries, or even chili peppers.
Protein+Carbs = Recovery A simple pairing of protein and healthy carbs such as a nut butter and a banana or apple, is a faithful post-workout winner. This combo has been proven to aid with muscle recovery.
Pepper and Spice makes all things nice
Turmeric, that bright yellow spice used in many of our favourite curries, is King in the nutritional world, with research linking it to everything from happier moods to reductions in chronic pain and inflammation. Most of the curcumin (chemical compounds in turmeric) gets metabolized before it can get absorbed. Research shows that a compound in black pepper, known as piperine, significantly improves the bioavailability of this superior superfood. The most important thing is to choose a wide range of fresh and colourful whole foods and not over complicate things. Remember, eating a bowl of freshly steamed broccoli is better than eating no broccoli at all! But going that little extra mile and doing your best for your food will in return, allow your food to do it’s best for you. Written by: Natasha Paulinyi