We all know that our soil is being depleted, most of our farms grow the same few varietals, our food often travels long distances to reach us, and most of our grocery store shelves are filled with refined, processed foods. The result of all of this is that our food is less nutrient dense than it used to be. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to help increase the nutrition we gain from our food.
The number one thing we can do to help our bodies absorb the nutrients we are eating is to eat slowly, in a relaxed environment, and chew our food well. When we take time to smell our food before we take the first bite, we signal the digestive enzymes all the way down our digestive system that food is coming. If you are a fast eater, practice slowing down and putting your fork or spoon down between bites.
Fresh is best, but frozen can be a great option because frozen foods are generally picked and frozen at the height of their season and you don’t open the back of the freezer to find frozen vegetables wilted or slimy.
Shopping the rainbow is key. Phytonutrients in different foods react to the nutrients in other foods. Variety is key and our choices are much more limited than they used to be. In her book “Eating on the Wild Side”, Jo Robinson takes about choosing varietals of produce that closely resemble ancient wild plants because their phytonutrient content will be more similar. Arugula, scallions, herbs, purple cauliflower, carrots, and tomatoes are some good examples. Robinson recommends adding a cup of herbs to a pound of ground meat to help bring back the missing phytonutrients. Sprouts are also especially rich in nutrients and a great topper to salads and soups.
Learn how to best store foods to preserve freshness. I admit I am still learning how best to store produce. Here is an article I found particularly helpful with tips, explanations, and a handy chart.
At some point, most of us have heard that raw vegetables are the most nutrient-dense, however, this is not always true. It is usually best to aim for a mix of raw and cooked foods. Cooking can make some nutrients, like lycopene (one of the heart-healthy compounds in tomatoes) and others more easily absorbed. In addition, breaks down parts of some plants that can be hard to digest (beans, lentils, potatoes, …).
In general, shorter, more gentle cooking methods help to retain the most nutrients. When we cook something for a long time in liquid (think soup and stew) the nutrients leach into the liquid so make sure to include it as part of your meal. In our house, we save the water after we steam artichokes to drink later. When sauteing food make sure to consume any liquids too.
Cooking something in fat or oil will help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Think about cooking dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard …), winter squash, eggs, and salmon in some healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or butter (if tolerated) when cooking in higher heat.
And one more tip from Jo Robinson’s excellent book, chopping garlic and letting it sit for ten minutes before cooking helps preserve the nutrients.
What we eat and how we prepare it are important pieces in building our health and wellness. My goal is to support my clients while they make changes in a doable, long-term way. If you are interested in learning more book an exploratory call (for new clients) or a follow-up visit (for existing clients) at book an appointment so we can dive deeper together.