As you prepare, cook, bite, chew, and digest you create a series of mechanical and chemical changes that affect a food’s nutritional content and each nutrient’s “bioavailability” (i.e. the degree to which it can be absorbed by your body).
This means some nutrients are indeed best available when the foods containing them are eaten raw; while other nutrients are best available when the foods containing them are cooked, or broken down by cutting or crushing, and/or eaten alongside other foods.
Here are 5 top ways you can boost the nutritional content in your meals:
Chop, crush, soak or blend
The way you prepare your food can make vitamins, minerals, and other compounds more available. For example, cutting up fruits and vegetables generally frees up the nutrients by breaking down rigid plant cell walls.
Crushing and chopping onion and garlic releases an enzyme called alliinase that helps form a nutrient called allicin. Allicin, when eaten, helps form other compounds that may protect us against disease. Soaking grains and beans reduces phytic acid, which may block your absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
"We all know that fruits and vegetables are great for our health and are abundant in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and that we should be eating more of them. Some studies suggest 8 to 10 servings a day are ideal, but very few people actually manage this."
Eat foods that contain water-soluble and heat-sensitive vitamins raw
Heat breaks down vitamin B1, vitamin B5, folate, and vitamin C, so you get more of these when you eat certain foods raw. You lose water-soluble B-vitamins and vitamin C when you boil them. So, if you’d like to cook these types of foods, cook or steam them at low heat without exposing them to too much water.
Foods that are generally best eaten raw to maximize absorption of these water-soluble nutrients are:
- Sunflower seeds, nuts, peas, beet greens and oats (sources of vitamin B1)
- Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, sunflower seeds and avocado (sources of vitamin B5)
- Spinach, beetroot, broccoli, lettuce and citrus fruits (sources of folate)
- Bell peppers, spinach, broccoli and most fruits (sources of vitamin C)
For example, raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach. Also, try soaking your oats overnight in a milk of choice, rather than cooking them to make porridge.
Cook foods to increase the nutrient content
Anywhere from 15 to 55% of some nutrients can be lost while cooking, especially when boiled, however some foods actually increase their nutrient bioavailability when cooked.
For example, cooking significantly increases the bioavailability of lycopene, found in tomatoes. Research shows that lycopene increases by 25% when tomatoes are exposed to heat for 30 minutes. Cooking also significantly increases the bioavailability of beta carotene, found in red/orange/yellow
plants like tomatoes, carrots and sweet potato. Cooking these foods help by breaking down the plants’ cell walls.
Top your food with chopped almonds
Almonds are incredibly healthy. Almonds are high in magnesium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B2 and calcium. They are also rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, yet low in digestible carbohydrates.
In one 28g serving of almonds (about 23 almonds) there are 6 grams of protein and 4g of fibre, which makes them a good source of protein to boost your meal and fibre to aid digestion.
Although a serving of almonds contains around 163 calories, those calories come in the form of healthy fats and protein, which will balance sugar cravings and make you feel fuller for longer. Therefore, reducing unnecessary snacking and extra calorie consumption later in the day.
So sprinkle a few tablespoons of chopped almonds over yogurt, cottage cheese, salads or oats to increase your nutrient, protein, healthy fats and fibre intake.
Add more fruits and veggies
We all know that fruits and vegetables are great for our health and are abundant in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and that we should be eating more of them. Some studies suggest 8 to 10 servings a day are ideal, but very few people actually manage this.
Here are some tips on how to add these to your meals and snacks:
Health pancakes or waffles: Slice some fruit on top and add spinach or grated carrot to the batter
Smoothies: Celery, cucumber, spinach, kale, steamed carrots and beetroot all combine well with fruits like banana, apple and pears.
Muffins: Add grated carrots / courgette or steamed sweet potato
Yogurt : Top with berries, pear and banana
Homemade ice cream: Top buying store bought ice creams that have no nutritional value. Instead make your own with frozen bananas, frozen berries and avocado.
Green salad, pasta salad, or rice salad: Add a mixture of cooked and raw vegetables like steamed broccoli, carrots, sweet peppers, tomatoes, red onion, courgette, roasted sweet potato and beetroot
- Omelette and scrambled eggs: Add 2-3 different vegetables to the egg dish. For example, make an omelette with red onion, grated broccoli and swiss chard. Not only will this increase the vitamins and minerals but will also add fibre to the protein rich egg dish.