If you think buying, cooking and eating fresh, natural, organic whole foods would be adequate to get the most nutrition, you would only be partially correct. Using the highest quality raw ingredients is step one. The second part of the equation is learning a few strategies that enable you to prepare those foods in a way that unlocks every bit of their nutritional value. Here are 7 simple things you can do:
1. Eat some of your food raw daily. Cooking destroys enzymes in the food that assist in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Raw food enthusiasts avoid cooking food above 114 degrees, the point at which they believe enzymes are destroyed. Studies have also shown that eating a raw food diet lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides, increases energy, improves overall health, and may even help with weight loss. At the very least, shoot for one raw salad consisting of a variety of fresh vegetables, some fresh fruit, and raw nuts and seeds daily.
2. While eating vegetables raw preserves enzyme activity, some vegetables are better when cooked. For example the lycopene, a phytochemical, in tomatoes and carrots, is actually made more bioavailable when these vegetables are cooked. Lycopene makes up about 50% of the carotenoids in the body, along with alpha and beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. You can try stir frying or lightly steaming to fully release their nutrients. Combining them with a small amount of healthy fat, such as extra virgin olive oil also enables your body to absorb those nutrients more fully. You get the most nutritional value from cooked tomato products like pasta sauce, ketchup and tomato soup.
3. Cruciferous vegetables that are part of the Brassica family such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts can actually be eaten either raw or cooked. However, they contain “goitrogenic” compounds that, when eaten raw depress thyroid function in sensitive people. If you have an under active thyroid, you do not have to totally avoid those vegetables. Simply cook them. Parboiling them for several minutes will deactivate the compounds and make them safe for you to eat.
4. It is recommended that regardless of your method of cooking you cook your food at lower temperatures. Cooking at very high temperatures, which would include grilling and broiling, not only destroys vital nutrients, but also produces advanced glycation end products (AGES). That acronym says it all because these substances cause inflammation and aging. If you are roasting or baking your food, simply extend the cooking time and lower the temperature.
5. When cooking with oil, be careful to choose a stable fat, otherwise the heat will damage it. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils like canola, corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oil should never be heated or used for cooking. The reason for this is that they easily combine with oxygen in the air to become rancid. These oils degrade very easily because of this tendency. Extra virgin coconut oil and organic butter are best for cooking as they are very stable saturated fats. They withstand high temperatures without damage to their chemical structure. Regular olive oil should not be heated above 400 degrees, so it is suitable for stir frying or light sauteing at moderate temperatures. Extra virgin olive oil, flax oil, sesame oil, pumpkin seed oil and macadamia nut oil should not be heated. Use them as condiments, drizzling over vegetables, in salad dressings and smoothies or as a dip for whole grain bread.
6. Raw nuts, seeds and seed-like grains such as quinoa, millet and amaranth, as well as whole grains like steel cut oats and brown rice, should be soaked before you cook and eat them. They contain phytic acid which is a naturally occurring substance that prevents absorption of certain minerals and nutrients in those foods. By simply soaking them in filtered water for at least 8 hours, the phytic acid is deactivated.
7. Garlic is a power-packed food that has been studied for years and has many health benefits. The way to get the most from garlic is to crush the cloves. Allicin, a powerful anti-fungal and antibacterial compound, is produced when you crush or chop the garlic cloves. It’s also usually suggested that you wait ten minutes for the compound to develop fully. The effects of allicin are strongest in raw garlic, so to get the most benefit, use a small amount of crushed or chopped garlic raw or combine with your cooked food just before serving it. Cooking destroys it and the longer the garlic is cooked the more these properties are destroyed.
Try these simple strategies for getting the most nutrition from your meals.