Getting the most nutrition from the foods you eat is the most sensible way to approach healthy eating, saving you time and money. How you store, prepare and cook your food can make a big difference. So to make the most of your eating, here’s some food for thought...
1. Cook your tomatoes and carrots.
Some vegetables actually have higher vitamin levels when they are cooked. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant which can help fight cancer, strokes and heart disease. While eating them raw still gets you plenty of vitamin C, once cooked (for example in tinned tomatoes, passata or ketchup), the lycopene levels increase by 5 or 6 times. So cover those chips with ketchup without guilt! This also applies to beta-carotene levels in carrots, which increase during the cooking process as the cell walls are broken down.
2. Don’t overheat virgin olive oil.
Researchers from the University of Porto recently reported that to get the most bioactive compounds and antioxidants out of expensive bottles of extra virgin olive oil we should use it as a salad dressing, or add drops during cooking to prevent overheating. The health benefits reaped from the popular oil are greatly reduced when the oil is heated. Any high-temperature cooking is best done with rapeseed or vegetable oils which don’t degrade so much, and are also a lot cheaper!
3. Combine foods to maximise nutrition.
We all remember how Popeye ate spinach to boost his muscles. I wonder if he knew that drinking glasses of orange juice alongside his cans of pureed green leaves would have given him even bigger biceps? Consuming vitamin C, for example from lemons or oranges, while eating leafy greens such as kale and spinach makes a huge difference in the amount of iron and folate our bodies absorb. Dairy and caffeine however, have been shown to inhibit iron absorption.
Other recommended food partners include eating carrots with meat to double iron levels and eating chicken with your broccoli to increase antioxidant levels over 10 times.
4. Add fat.
The latest finding is that adding fat can increase levels of the antioxidant lutein levels in foods like broccoli, peas and spinach, as well as beta-carotene levels. According to Dr. Steer, a nutritionist in Cambridgeshire, this is because “the oil helps it to hop onto the fatty acids in the gut and to be absorbed”. Some nutritionists also advise adding oil to vegetable cooking water.
5. Don’t scramble your eggs.
While you don’t have to give up your omelettes, the process of scrambling eggs overcooks the white, increasing levels of avadin, a protein which binds to the B vitamin Biotin and blocks its absorption, possibly creating vitamin deficiencies.
6. Eat and cook large.
Cutting your vegetables into larger pieces is a good way to preserve the nutrient levels. Leaving them whole means they will have to be cooked slightly longer but potatoes will retain 50% more potassium, while carrots retain a quarter more falcarinol, a potent cancer-fighting compound. Eating whole fruits also avoids exposing them to oxygen which loses vital vitamins.
7. Let garlic rest.
While eating raw garlic each day is the healthiest way to consume it, most of us are more than aware of the social impact of such a habit. Instead, maximise the benefits of this incredible food by allowing it to stand for 10 minutes after cutting. Hydrogen sulphide is then created, which in turn creates the beneficial compound allicin.
8. Season with black pepper.
Several studies indicate black pepper increases the absorption of nutrients. Just a few grinds means this has to be one of the easiest ways to boost your health. The piperine contained in freshly ground pepper stimulates digestive enzymes improving food transit time, while vastly improving bioavailability, for example the uptake of the anti-cancer nutrient curcumin is increased by up to twenty-fold.
9. Make good purchase decisions.
We can’t all afford to buy organic produce and evidence of its superior nutritional value is inconclusive. However, much research does indicate that slower-growing vegetables and meat contain higher levels of nutrients. For example, UCLA researchers found organic tomatoes contained 97% higher flavanoid levels, while a 2013 report carried out on behalf of the National Trust showed grass-fed beef to contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and a third of the saturated fat levels contained in grain-fed cattle. Whether you buy organic or not, buying locally and regularly means you will eat your fresh food at its highest nutrition levels, as well as the best flavour.
10. Store sensibly
Following food instructions such as refrigerating where necessary can slow the depletion of nutrients. However, you should store fruits at room temperature as this has been shown to increase the vitamin availability. Also avoid storing potatoes in the fridge, which can also increase acrylamide (a cancer-forming property) during cooking.
Just a few small changes can make a big difference to your nutrition. Why not make one change today, and gradually try to incorporate more until they become healthy lifestyle habits you don’t even think about.
by Jessica Ward
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