We hear a lot about the benefits of a plant-based diet; but did you know there are a variety of ways to get more out of your fruits and veggies?
Here’s a list of seven ways you might never have thought about that help you retain and absorb more nutrients from your meals.
Buy frozen foods or fresh
I would even suggest frozen before fresh for many fruits and veggies, unless getting it from a local farmer or other locavore shopping source. Some food takes up to 2000 miles to get from the vine to the grocery store, all the while the vitamins and minerals in your foods are breaking down, and very quickly.
When frozen, fruits and veggies usually come right off of the farms and pretty quickly into the freezing stage, therefore slowing down the degradation process.
This also applies after defrosting and cutting up your foods. Eating foods sooner (rather than later, such as waiting an hour or two after prepping) can ensure you get the highest amount of beneficial nutrients, before oxygen begins to break them down.
Steam or bake, don’t boil
Eating fruits and veggies raw are great for a variety of reasons. Raw foods have high fiber content, which supports our digestive systems. It’s when we start to cook our foods that we begin to lose a little bit of nutritional integrity.
If you get nothing else out of reading this blog today, I hope it’s to NOT BOIL or COOK IN WATER any fruit or veggie. All B vitamins and Vitamin C leach very quickly into water, and unless you are making a soup, you will lose most of those wonderful vitamins when you throw away the cooking water.
Even frying some veggies can impact your nutritive values. vitamins A, D and E are fat soluble and can easily leach into cooking oils.
Vitamin C is the most vulnerable vitamin, as it is susceptible to degradation from air, heat and water – and these foods cooked in water can lose up to two-thirds of its Vitamin C content!
So when cooking, choose the foods highest in Vitamin C to hopefully retain what you can, and steaming them or baking them is the best way to do so. Fruits high in Vitamin C aren’t much of an issue when cooking (like oranges, strawberries, guava), but you might want to look out for high Vitamin C content veggies like bell peppers (especially sweet yellow peppers), broccoli, kale, red chilis, and snow peas. Some of these foods such as bell peppers and kale can offer even more nutrition when cooked, as well as tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and other extremely tough veggies like asparagus and artichokes.
Cooking helps break down the cell walls in these veggies, therefore increasing how many vitamins and minerals are available to you when you eat them!
But again, safest way to so is steaming or baking them.
Pair plants with fatty ingredients
There are two different kinds of vitamins – ones that are water soluble, such as your B Vitamins, and Vitamin C, and your fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. Water soluble vitamins are easily absorbed into the body. When eating foods high in fat-soluble vitamins, though, it is beneficial to consume them with fat during the same meal (e.g., vegetable oils like olive or sesame seed oil with salad, avocado dip with vegetables, or mixing coconut milk or nut butters in with your fruit smoothie).
Our bodies do absorb these vitamins on their own, but fats can boost our body’s ability to absorb more of it more efficiently. But be careful when taking vitamin supplements, as fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for longer amounts of time than water-soluble, and can easily get to toxic levels if over-supplementing. Toxicity is rare when simply getting A, D, E and K from your diet.
Be cautious with caffeine
We are a coffee-loving culture, and I get it – the first week of cutting out coffee cold turkey for me was a test of will power. But it’s honestly for the best, especially for women.
Caffeine interferes with the absorption of key vitamins that support digestion like your B vitamins. With B vitamins in short supply, your body sees a reduction of absorption of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. Because caffeine is a diuretic, your body increases the excretion of the important minerals like magnesium, potassium, sodium and phosphate. That’s a lot of imbalance when we start to overdo it on the coffee, and can lead to noticeable deficiencies and stress on the body.
You can find caffeine in a lot of places, including the obvious ones such as coffee and tea. You can find them in soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and cocoa, some supplements, and some pain relievers (such as for headaches).
While one coffee or a green/black tea can actually be beneficial, it can easily lead to excess and addiction as we increase our intake to stay awake and steal minutes and even hours away from our much needed rest time. This can start to impact our blood sugars, fuel inflammation in the body, negatively affect restful sleep at night, aggravate stress or anxiety, and especially for ladies, create havoc during our monthly periods as well as lead to weight gain.
So watch your caffeine intake.
Mix vitamin C foods with plant-based proteins
Iron is a mineral we need in our diet for the ability to carry oxygen through our bloodstream, as well as support our immune system. We more easily absorb iron from animal products such as animal meats (beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, fish), but iron from other sources are not so easily taken in.
But pairing Vitamin C rich foods alongside iron fortified cereals or grains, or plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, spinach or tofu can help our bodies make that absorption process more efficient. Having fruits like berries or oranges with your iron fortified cereal, tomato sauce with your iron-fortified pasta, or adding a side of broccoli with your beans can make your body much more open to plant-based iron.
And try to avoid pairing your dairy with your iron, as they can be direct competitors in your body! If supplementing, eat your dairy at the opposite end of the day. Also avoid taking iron and drinking coffee or other caffeine-containing beverage, as caffeine inhibits iron absorption.
Splash a dollop of sunshine!
Foods high in Vitamin C are also best absorbed with a high blood levels of Vitamin D. Most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and don’t spend enough time outdoors to create sufficient amounts in our bodies, or are thwarted by smog or cloudy skies, or simply by having darker skin tones. And you can’t even make Vitamin D by standing next to a sunny window. So many of us have to supplement with Vitamin D.
There are several types of Vitamin D, and the recommended type of supplement is D3 (cholecalciferol), and the recommended daily amount is 15 mcg (600 IU). Since it is fat soluble, be sure to take your supplement alongside a fat-rich food.
Before running out for a supplement, check with your doctor to ensure supplementation D is right for you.
Can you get Vitamin D from foods? Sure!
Quite a few everyday foods are fortified with Vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals, cow milk, as well as many dairy alternatives such as soy, almond or oat milks, and some orange juices and yogurts. Unfortunately products that use milk as an ingredient such as cheese or ice cream are not fortified, but may offer tiny amounts.
Many fatty fish and fish liver oils are the highest in natural sources of vitamin D, but be wary of the mercury content. Salmon is one of the lowest mercury fish and offers 66% of your daily Vitamin D intake in a single serving.
Some mushrooms may provide some Vitamin D, if they’ve been exposed to ultraviolet light. Beef liver and egg yolks also have a little Vitamin D to offer.
Cut with a sharp knife
Cutting with a dull knife can actually mangle and destroy plant cell walls and cause the loss of electrolytes such as calcium and potassium as it leaks from your food. Cutting your foods with a sharp and more precise knife doesn’t necessarily increase the healthy nutritive value, but rather preserves what nutrition the food has left.
Polyphenols are chemicals such as flavonoids that have been known to be very effective antioxidants in our fruits and vegetables. Some studies have shown that a higher polyphenol content can be induced by cutting a plant and letting it sit, as its natural self-protection increases this chemical as a defense against wounds even if it isn’t in the ground anymore.
While cutting up veggies can help increase antioxidant values, it can sabotage other nutrient values. The more cut up a plant is and the longer it sits there, the more oxygen can get into the plant and oxidize, or break down, beneficial nutrients such as Vitamins C or A.
Shredding up your veggies, therefore, would also not increase antioxidant values significantly enough to forego eating the recommended five servings to fruits/veggies a day. So maybe forego the need to supercharge your polyphenols.
So eat foods as fresh off of the vine as possible to be sure your food has retained its top nutritive value of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and all that great taste. And cut and eat your foods as close together as you can to avoid any extra loss of vital healthy components.
Read more about this last topic here: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=345