Getting the most nutrition from your food
In my recent post Get the Most Nutrients from your Food I gave three of the simplest ways to get the most nutrition from what you eat: eat as many vegetables and fruits as you can, preferably fresh local, but something is better than nothing and store them correctly. This week things get a bit more complicated, but just follow some of these suggestions and you will be getting real value from your produce.
- Let the animals eat the veggies: Studies have shown that vitamins and minerals are better absorbed by the body when they come from animal sources. These nutrients are much harder for the body to process and utilize when they come from plant based foods. For example, iron from a vegetable such as spinach is altered when it comes into contact with other nutrients in the digestive system, meaning that you probably won’t get the full amount otherwise available. Many other vitamins and minerals are more readily available from animals. It would be much better then to eat grass fed, preferably organic animal produce. Vegetarians have to work a bit harder, but there are ways using food pairing in the case of iron, as illustrated in 4 below.
- Eat some foods raw: Heat destroys some vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, B1, B5 and folate. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, peppers, peas, beet greens, green beans, cabbage and spinach should be eaten raw sometimes so that you get the most from the vitamin and minerals content. Spinach is a good example here: you will get around three times more vitamin C is you have a nice raw spinach salad.
- Some are better cooked: Over-cooking will destroy the nutrition in your food by up to 50%, so take care and try to steam when possible or blanch, sautee or roast. If you must boil, try to use the water in which the vegetables were cooked in something else like soups, gravy or casseroles. But some nutrients actually increase in value when cooked. Beta carotene, found mostly in the yellow/orange/red coloured vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, peppers and sweet potatoes increases due to cooking breaking down the cell walls of the plant. Cooking animal products makes the protein more easily digestible. Lycopene, linked to the prevention of heart problems and bone health, increases significantly when you cook tomatoes (think tomato sauce). Iron is better absorbed when food is cooked as it destroys oxalates which bind minerals together, making them unavailable. So you see the importance of eating some vegetables both raw and cooked as spinach is a good source of vitamin C but also contains oxalates.
- Combine foods: Vegetables high in vitamins A, D, E and K (fat soluble) go well with dietary fats as they help break down the vitamins making them more easily absorbable. Some examples are spinach, kale, asparagus, eggs, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and squash go well with nuts, avocado, olive/coconut oil and butter. It’s worth noting that some food sources high in healthy fats contain fat soluble vitamins such as oily fish, liver and eggs. I mentioned in 1 above that iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than from plant sources, but with the correct pairing, you will have a better chance of getting your daily dose of iron. For example, foods high in vitamin C helps plant foods release iron and can block compounds that inhibit absorption. A spinach, kale and quinoa salad with a squeeze of lemon juice will give you the iron you require in a readily available form.
A complex subject, but food for thought.