Nutrition encompasses myriad components to consider when selecting, preparing, and consuming food for an optimal life. All three areas need to be considered to achieve and maintain optimal health. Food selection determines the quality of food. Food preparation determines the bioavailability of the nutrients within food. How you consume food determines how digestion occurs. Select. Prepare. Consume.
Personal nutrition includes a series of selection, preparation, and consumption responses. Selection of food involves both where an individual chooses to obtain food and what food is chosen. Topographically it may include buying an item at a vending machine or grocery store, picking what to eat on a menu, or picking up and placing items on a tray in a cafeteria. With respect to healthy eating, people may select generally healthy or unhealthy locations and subsequent selection of what to eat may then be limited. However, an individual may still select something healthy from a fast food restaurant or something unhealthy from a grocery store.
Nutrition may include a single or multiple selection, preparation, and consumption response(s). For example, an individual may purchase potatoes at a store (selection response), but then he or she must wash, chop, and cook the potatoes (preparation responses) before consumption. Alternatively, a person may “eat,” but not engage in all types of responses in the chain. For example, an individual will be asked to consume a food that they neither selected nor prepared, such as a child eating dinner in the home.
Grass fed sirloin with asparagus and broccoli should be among common meal choices. Unfortunately, most of today’s food is prepared and consumed for pleasure not for nutritional superiority. Our society is plagued by metabolic syndrome, to which our dietary choices can often be the prime culprit. The reality is that “you are what you eat”. A simple meal like the one stated above can have many variants that will impact how your body will respond once ingested. Was the animal devoid of antibiotics and hormones, were the vegetables exposed to any chemicals, and was the food prepared in seed oil? All of these factors are vital elements of nutrition that are often abstracted away “out of sight, out of mind” if you will. It is important to understand that many of these elements are what ultimately lead to a healthy meal that provides satiation and promotes longevity.
Proper nutrition starts with an understanding of the macronutrient and the micronutrient components of food. Macronutrients are fats, carbohydrate and proteins. These are the essential building blocks of food. Micronutrients or vitamins and minerals, are the cofactors needed to have and maintain a healthy metabolism. Hippocrates stated “Let food be your medicine, and your medicine be food” a balanced nutritional regimen is essential to developing health and happiness. Taking the time to understand these components of food makes it easier to determine which foods are needed to optimize or improve health. In short, certain foods are suited for certain situations.
The ancients survived on basic nutrients such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, eggs, and meats. Modern day nutritional needs have changed due to environmental toxins our ancestors didn’t have to deal with, this in turn increases different dietary and supplemental needs to stay healthy. The food we eat today is not the same food our ancestors ate. Soil, cultivation, and processes have all changed.
The biggest concern with the way most people currently eat is the constant effect on blood sugar. It is believed that the average American adult consumes more than 100lbs of sugar a year. This constant consumption of sugar causes repeated spikes in blood sugar, which also causes repeated spikes in insulin. Insulin creates an anabolic state in the body, simply meaning the body will look to deposit energy as opposed to burning it. This is a state you would like to avoid most of the day. An anabolic state is only ideal immediately following exercise. Post exercise provides a window of time where the body efficiently stores and utilizes nutrients to promote health and recovery.
Overtime repeated spikes in insulin within your body will begin to make you resistant to insulin. This in turns leads to weight gain and potentially developing diabetes. Blood sugar deregulation can also lead to an increase in blood lipids, atherosclerosis, elevated cortisol, depletion of certain vitamins and minerals, oxidative stress and a weakened immune system all covered under the umbrella term Metabolic Syndrome.
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, the iron you get from meat is more available for absorption than the iron you get from plants:
Heme iron, found in animal protein, is encased in hemoglobin molecules, which protect the nutrient from getting degraded by other nutrients and minerals in your GI tract. That means you’re absorbing the iron intact via gut cells that are specifically designed to take up the nutrient.
Nonheme iron, from vegetable sources like spinach, starts to change the minute it comes into contact with other stuff in your intestines, meaning you can only absorb a small fraction of it.
The same is true of many other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium or vitamin A.
Preparation includes any behaviors a person engages in to move from selection to consumption. The degree of preparation can vary greatly, ranging from minimal, such as unwrapping a candy bar from a vending machine, to several hours of peeling, chopping, and cooking in an individual’s kitchen. Preparation of food can be healthy or unhealthy, similar to selection. For example, baking a fish versus frying the fish in unhealthy oils.
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. Some experts estimate that by the time you pick up a “fresh” fruit or vegetable at the grocery store, it may have lost 15–60 percent of many vitamins … unless you can buy and eat it within 72 hours of harvest.
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 reduce phytic acid, which might — in part — block your absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
If you’ve already been doing these things, great. Now you know why they work.
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.)
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.
But some foods actually deliver the most nutrients when cooked.
For example, cooking:
significantly increases bioavailability of lycopene, found in tomatoes. Research shows that lycopene increases by 25 percent when tomatoes are boiled for 30 minutes.
significantly increases the bioavailability of beta carotene, found in red/orange/yellow plants like tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato, and spinach. Cooking helps here by breaking down the plants’ cell walls.
denatures protein in eggs and meat, making them much more digestible.
makes iron and other minerals more available for absorption by decreasing oxalates, an acid that makes the minerals inaccessible by binding to them.
reduces certain harmful food components, such as cyanide (found in yuca) and possible anti-nutrients (found in grains and beans), making way for all the good stuff those foods have to offer.
“60 percent of something is still better than 0 percent of nothing.”
It’s also important to factor in things like the quantity. For example, it’s a lot easier to eat five cups of cooked spinach (and all the nutrients therein) than five cups of raw spinach.
Sometimes the cooked and raw versions of a food are equally nutritious, just in different ways. For example, raw spinach might have more iron, but it also has more of the chemicals that block your absorption of iron.
Here’s a great rule of thumb in case you carry a little of the “to cook” or “not to cook” angst.
Water soluble vitamins (vitamins B and C) lose the most nutrients when cooked.
Fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K) lose the fewest nutrients when cooked.
Research shows that processing can decrease a food’s vitamin C content by 10–90 percent.
Consumption involves actually eating the food selected, specifically at the appropriate serving size. Although an individual may buy items from a store or place items on a tray, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will consume all, or even part, of the food item. An individual may also over-consume and eat more of a particular food than would be considered healthy.
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.
Pair food strategically to maximize nutrient absorption.
Many world cuisines put particular foods together. (Think of greens with lemon and olive oil in Italian cooking, or the complex spice blends in Caribbean, African, or South Asian cooking.) Perhaps over 20,000-odd years of trial and error, cooks figured out instinctively that a “balanced” diet with a wide variety of foods is the best kind.
Pair fat with fat.
Eat foods that contain the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K with dietary fats, which help dissolve the vitamins and ready them for absorption.
Therefore, foods like:
sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash (vitamin A),
eggs and mushrooms (vitamin D),
spinach, Swiss chard, and asparagus (vitamin E), and
kale, spinach, and broccoli (vitamin K)
all go better with 1–2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats like:
coconut oil; and/or
Foods like salmon (which contains vitamin D), egg yolk and liver(vitamin A) and sunflower seeds (vitamin E) take care of themselves, since they’ve got their own healthy fat.
Pair iron with vitamin C.
Iron from non-meat sources is known as nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron, which is found in animal foods (such as red meat or dark poultry).
To absorb the nonheme iron from our plant friends up to 6 times better, pair them with foods rich in vitamin C.
This works in two ways:
Vitamin C can help the plant food “let go of” the mineral.
Vitamin C can block other dietary compounds that can inhibit absorption.
Therefore, foods like:
all go better with:
a squeeze of lemon juice,
Think: Spinach salad with orange slices, strawberries, and a lemon juice vinaigrette. Or braised kale with chilis and a squeeze of lemon.
Pair iron and zinc with sulfur.
Finally, foods rich in iron and zinc are usually best eaten with foods rich in sulfur. Sulfur binds to these minerals and helps you absorb them better.
Therefore, foods like:
liver, beef, and turkey (rich in iron)
oysters, beef, and turkey (rich in zinc)
all go better with garlic, onion, and egg yolks. (Visit your local deli to get Bobbie’s delicious chicken liver and egg yolk pâté.
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.
If you have GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, or problems with your stool, consider an elimination diet to figure out what you’re not tolerating.Once you eliminate the foods that affect you the most, you can better optimize your nutrient intake.
In summary, it is important we consume foods that support health and avoid foods that inhibit it. A quality dietary regimen is one of the most important elements to complete health and happiness. That is why selecting, preparing and consuming the right nutrients are key. Select foods that have been raised and cultivated in a manner that promotes health and vitality in the those who consume it. Prepare foods in a manner that accentuates the natural aspects of the food while not diminishing the bioavailability of the intrinsic nutrients. Consume foods in a mindful way, do not rush, rather take time to enjoy the food.