This past year I had the pleasure of being invited to an old farmstead on the Eastern plains by a client of mine. They had a two acre home garden that they sustained themselves on throughout the year. What I learned that night sitting around the table, enjoying family and serenaded by a guitarist has changed me for the better. I thought I would share a little with you.
Your body absorbs nutrients through the process of biting, chewing, and digesting your food. But do you know the chemical process that take place while this all is happening? Sure, it has to do with spit and how long you chew your food, but lets get into the technical part of it to really see how to best get nutrients from your food.
A food has nutritional content along with a bio-availability factor. What this means for you is that sometimes the way you prepare and cook your food can affect how your body will receive those nutrients. Bio-availability is affected by whether you eat your food raw, cooked, crushed, or in conjunction with other foods. So I'm going to list the best ways to reach your maximum nutritional profile or any given food.
1. Buy food local and in season- Being able to get to your food as close to the time as it was plucked from the Earth or harvested is the best. Buying local helps with the speed in which food is available to you. The longer it sits, the more nutrients it will lose. Also, if a fruit or vegetable is harvested off season, it tends to lack the vitamin and nutrition content of a fruit or vegetable harvested in the peak of it's growing season. Think of it this way. An orange grown in the dead of winter under a lamp is not going to be as nutritious as a ripe orange clinging to a sunny vine in California during it's peak season.
2. Store your food the right way- Did you know tomatoes do not get refrigerated when you store them? I didn't know this for a long time. By storing your fruits and vegetables the right way, you minimize their exposure to heat, light, and oxygen that is hell bent on deteriorating their condition. All fruits, except berries are to be stored at room temperature. (this includes avocados and tomatoes) All root vegetables are to be stored in a cool, dark area and away from heat. All vegetables (except root) go in the crisper until ready to eat. Adding a damp paper towel or two to the drawer helps keep your vegetables fresher longer as well. And a little tip I go from my friend... Chop up your herbs and put them in ice trays with water. Freezing them will preserve their nutrient content and creating ice cubes helps stave off freezer burn. When storing any cut produce, keep a lemon handy and squeeze some good 'ol Vitamin C on them. This helps reduce decay.
3. Soak, Crush, and Chopping- Rigid cell walls in plants can be reduced simply by cutting up or blending your fruits and vegetables. Crushing and chopping garlic and onion will release a chemical that leads to the production of allicin. When eaten, allicin helps form compounds that prevent disease. It's always suggested to soak any type of grains. Grains have a natural defense mechanism (phytic acid) designed to keep them from being digested in the system. This helps the grain pass through the system unharmed and reseed in the Earth. Because we are not so worried about reseeding the Earth through our excrement in today's society, it is better to soak your grains to release their nutritional content. This is done by soaking beans and grains to reduce phytic acid which blocks the absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc in your system.
4. Symbiotic Foods help maximize each other's potential for nutritional content- Fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, K, and E should be combined with good dietary fats to maximize their bio-availability. Therefore foods like sweet potato, carrots, squash, zucchini, kale, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, asparagus, and mushrooms should have a small amount of butter, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, or mixed nuts to go with them. Iron and Vitamin C go hand in hand, so spinach and kale should have a fresh squeeze of lemon juice paired with them, or a bit of strawberries, orange slices, or pepper slices. Soybeans and lentils also fall in the category of iron rich foods to pair with citrus.
5. Raw or cooked? - Water soluble vitamins are heat sensitive, so foods with these vitamins (B1, B5, folate, and Vit C) are best eaten raw. These foods may include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, peas, and avocado. Just as an example, when cooked, spinach losses 3Xs as much Vit C than if you would have not cooked it. If you absolutely have to cook a food use low heat methods such as blanching or steaming. Now sticking with that same example of spinach, when cooked sometimes cooking releases nutrients as well. So, in the case of spinach, it looses it's Vit C content, but the beta carotene availability is unlocked. But in most cases, cooking can reduce up to 15-55% of the nutrients in food. One good food to cook though is tomatoes with a whopping 25% increase in lycopene just by boiling for 30 minutes. Others are carrots and sweet potatoes among other red, orange, or yellow plants. Beans and grains also do well cooked because of the reduction in non-beneficial chemicals such as cyanide and anti-nutrients.
6. Prepackaged foods- Choose flash frozen in a bag vegetables and fruits as apposed to canned ones. The nutrient content is significantly enhanced as well as the added benefit of avoiding BPA lined cans that are still used in manufacturing.
Taking all of this in, the best way to keep in track is to simply mix it up. Eat a combination of raw, cooked, chopped, soaked, etc... A wide nutrient profile goes a long way as compared to eating the same old foods the same old way. Keep these tips in mind and you will be well on your way to making your life so much better in every way.
As a side note, if you notice that any one of these foods is upsetting your GI tract or you just don't seem to be tolerating it well, talk with your doctor about food sensitivity testing or trying an elimination diet. Just because you are doing things the way it's laid out here doesn't mean it's always right for you. There may be underlying issues you are unaware of, and only talking to a doctor will get you where you need to be.