11 Ways to Boost Nutrients

Healthy foods like fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals—all of which benefit our health. As health-conscious shoppers, we are more apt to fill our grocery carts with wholesome foods. But various things like the way foods are prepared or whether they contain added preservatives can affect their nutritional content. While buying healthful ingredients to make meals is a good start, there are some things that we can do to maximize the nutrients in the food that we eat.

In both my upcoming book, The Gene Therapy Plan, which will be published on April 21 by Viking, and YouTube video series, I provide tips on the best ways to prepare food that boosts its nutritional value. These tips, however, are simply recommendations, not prescriptions on how you should always cook or combine specific food items. Although these tips are helpful, your goal is to eat healthy food prepared in ways that you and your family can enjoy.

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1. Take your time and chew your food: 

The power of mastication is often overlooked when it comes to nutrition. In digestion, all of the attention is centered on our tummies—from the churning of food in our stomachs to the peristaltic movements of food along our intestines. But before all of that takes place, there’s some important stuff that’s happening to the food that is in your mouth. To turn whole food into micronutrients that your cells can use, food is initially broken down into smaller pieces by our teeth, while salivary enzymes pitch in to break down the food even more. So don’t rush through meals. Be mindful when you’re chewing your food because it helps to make the rest of the digestive process easier, and it allows you to take your time and enjoy having a good meal.

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2. Serve vegetables raw, boiled, or steamed:

Different cooking methods increase the bioavailability of nutrients and antioxidants in certain vegetables. Broccoli, for instance, contains sulforaphane, a potent antioxidant that decreases the longer broccoli is cooked. Steaming broccoli for two to four minutes is best for maximizing sulforaphane. So while steaming is suggested for cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and kale, the carotenes found in carrots increase the most when it’s boiled. Onions, however, pack a powerful punch when eaten raw. Chewing raw onions release compounds that are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called organosulfides. So go ahead and add a few onion slices to your salad or sandwich. As a rule of thumb, however, avoid fried vegetables. It may seem like you’re getting the best of both worlds—crunchy, crispy texture and a vegetable serving. But the fact is, frying destroys nutrients. Now repeat after me: French fries aren’t a food group.

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3. Put a lid on it:

Although slicing vegetables in smaller pieces means that your food will cook faster, you increase the chance that more nutrients will be destroyed when exposed to air. So cut vegetables into big pieces, and cover your pan with a lid. This will help to keep the steam and heat inside, which will help to cook food faster.

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4. Don’t cook with olive oil:

I know you’re probably thinking: Isn’t olive oil healthy for us? Yes, it is. Olive oil is a good fat that has many important nutrients. Unfortunately, many of those substances are destroyed when olive oil is used for cooking. Olive oil becomes denatured at very low heat. To ensure that you’re getting the best that olive oil has to offer, reserve its use for pouring over salads or for food that’s already been cooked.

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5. Include probiotics in your diet:

While bacteria are often thought of as things that need to be treated with antibiotics, there are such things as healthy bacteria. A large number of bacteria reside in our gut. In fact, the gut bacterial genome is 150 times that of our own genetic composition and that goes to show that these microorganisms play a significant role in digestive health. Gut bacteria break down food to its nutritive components that the body can use for energy. So consume foods that will balance the gut’s bacterial ecosystem. Eat fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and miso.

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6. Use dried beans:

Beans are good for our health because they are a wonderful source of protein and fiber, which help to keep us feeling full longer. Beans are also high in healthy carbs and low in fat, and they contain nutrients like B vitamins and iron. Think the packaging of beans doesn’t matter? Think again. Unlike its canned counterpart, dried beans are low in sodium. Although dry beans aren’t as convenient to cook with (soaking beans, usually overnight, takes hours), you can rest assured that you know exactly what ingredients your beans contain, whereas canned beans comprise preservatives (not good) that help maintain their long shelf life.

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7. Choose lean meat:

When you cook lean meats, you are eating a rich source of nutrients like protein, iron, and B vitamins. Lean meats also contain less saturated fat. Also, buy grass-fed or organic meat. Poultry or beef that is grass-fed contains less fat and includes healthful nutrients like omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidants. Organic meat is free of harmful chemicals like hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics.

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8. Eat organic produce:

When selecting fruits and vegetables, it’s best to buy organic because they haven’t been treated with harmful pesticides. However, that doesn’t mean that you should skip the produce section at your grocery store just because organic fruits and vegetables aren’t readily available. Eating fruits and vegetables is better than not eating them at all—just be sure to wash them thoroughly.

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9. Get more vitamin C:

Vitamin C is an antioxidant compound that has been shown to destroy cancer cells, which is a good reason why you should eat foods that are rich in vitamin C like oranges, strawberries, and red bell peppers. But vitamin C is highly sensitive to air and water and will degrade once exposed to them. To prevent the loss of vitamin C, don’t cut, wash, or peel fruits and veggies that are loaded in this nutrient until you’re ready to eat or cook them.

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10. Consume cooked tomatoes:

Lycopene is a phytonutrient that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and is found in various fruits and vegetables like apricots, pink grapefruit, papaya, and tomatoes, which contain the highest concentration of this nutrient. Studies involving people who consumed either raw or cooked tomatoes found that cooked tomatoes led to the highest levels of lycopene in the blood.

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11. Help Nutrients Hitch a Ride:

To increase lycopene absorption, like cooked tomatoes, drizzle a small amount of healthy fat like olive oil over lycopene-rich foods. Fats increase the bioavailability of lycopene and other carotenoids. And vitamin C pays it forward by helping another nutrient: iron. Iron is a crucial nutrient that keeps us energized because it helps to move oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. Another dynamic nutrient duo includes calcium and vitamin D. Calcium tackles bone loss and low bone density. But to do its job effectively, calcium needs the support of vitamin D. Sunlight is a major source of vitamin D; however, during the winter months people tend to be vitamin D deficient. So eat foods that contain vitamin D like eggs, milk, and yogurt. And as the weather warms up, be sure to spend time outdoors. If your vitamin D levels are still low, speak with your doctor about vitamin D supplements.