1. Eat locally grown food soon after it’s been picked
Eating locally grown and “straight from the earth” maximizes the vitamins and minerals (and deliciousness) you get from your produce.
Plucking them from the soil (or vine, or bush, or tree) means separating them from their nutrient source. The longer they’re separated, the more nutritional value they lose.
2. Soak, chop, crush, blend.
These basics of food prep can make vitamins, minerals, and other compounds more available in a few ways:
Cutting up fruits and vegetables generally frees up the nutrients by breaking down rigid plant cell walls.
Crushing and chopping onion and garlic releases alliinase, an enzyme in these foods 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 might — in part — block your absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
3. Store fruits and vegetables the right way.
When thinking about storage, balance two things:
Make it easy to eat your plants: Keep fruits and vegetables where you’re most likely to access them.
Slow down nutrient loss: Heat, light, and oxygen degrade nutrients.
That’s why you should store…
all vegetables — except those of the root variety — in the refrigerator until you need them.
all fruits except berries — this includes tomatoes and avocados — at room temperature away from direct light.
all cut fruits and vegetables with a squeeze of lemon juice on them and in an airtight container. (Cut produce rapidly oxidizes and vitamin C, an antioxidant, slows decay.)
all herbs — with their amazing phytonutrients — chopped up and frozen in an ice cube tray with water. (Maughan says she sees a lot of clients leave them unused — and eventually unusable — when they’re stored in the produce drawer.)
4. Eat most sources of water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients raw.
Heat breaks down vitamin B1, vitamin B5, folate, and vitamin C, so you get more of these when you eat certain foods raw.
Thus, foods like:
sunflower seeds, peas, beet greens, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin B1),
broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and avocado (sources of vitamin B5),
spinach, turnip greens, broccoli (sources of folate), and
bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts (sources of vitamin C)
are generally best eaten raw to maximize absorption of these water-soluble nutrients.
For example, raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach.
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 them at low heat without exposing them to too much water.
5. Know which foods are best when cooked.
There’s actually a wide range of nutrient loss from cooking — anywhere from 15 to 55 percent. In most cases, you lose the most nutrients by boiling in water.
Pro tip: If you do end up boiling veggies, keep the liquid for something like soup stock. This way you can eat those nutrients later and they’re not really “lost”.
As always, keep the big picture in mind: Boiled potatoes are still far better than French fries.
6. Pair food strategically to maximize nutrient absorption.
Putting the right foods together doesn’t just taste awesome, it also helps you absorb all nutrients in the foods you do eat.
Here are a few examples.
Pair fat with fat.
Pair iron with vitamin C.
Pair iron and zinc with sulfur.
7. Keep it simple.
Don’t start creating spreadsheets to track all of this. Keep it simple and sane.
It’s still better to eat broccoli any way you can get it than to not eat it because it’s not “perfect”.
As Brian “Voice of Reason” St. Pierre likes to say:
“60 percent of something is still better than 0 percent of nothing.”
8. Don’t discount frozen foods.
Does frozen broccoli have the same nutritional value as the stuff you just picked from the earth and ate raw? Maybe not. But how often do you eat raw, straight from the earth?
Research shows that processing can decrease a food’s vitamin C content by 10-90 percent. But the reality is that frozen or canned fruits and veggies come in handy when you’re busy. And a little vitamin C is better than none.
“I’ve seen too many clients opt for pizza because they think the frozen broccoli is the nutritional equivalent of cardboard,”. Don’t be those people.
Remember, too that fiber isn’t affected much by freezing or canning. So eat your veggies … however you can get them.
9. If possible, try an animal source.
Many animal-based sources of vitamins and minerals are more bioavailable than plant-based sources (which may bind up vitamins and minerals chemically, or require a lot of steps to be converted to what our bodies prefer).
For instance, as we’ve noted, the iron you get from meat is more available for absorption than the iron you get from plants
10. Monitor your tolerance.
Nutrients don’t do you much good if you’ve got an undetected food intolerance that keeps you from absorbing them.
Unfortunately, not everyone tolerates raw foods very well even if they’re technically “better for you” sometimes.
Once you eliminate the foods that affect you the most, you can better optimize your nutrient intake.
Remember: We don’t believe in wondering and worrying, or making too much of a fuss about your food choices. Keep things sane and simple.