I am no expert on nutrition, by any means. I find many claims about nutrition conflicting and confusing, and am particularly leery of those that focus on a few elite “superfoods” or demonize major food groups. Everyone’s body is different and interacts with food differently, and I don’t believe that there is one perfect diet for everyone. Nonetheless, there are a few basic tenets of nutrition that I hold to, and a few simple techniques that I believe help increase the nutrients we can receive and utilize. I am continually learning, and welcome your thoughts and insights on nutritious food and preparations.
1. Back to Basics – Start with simple ingredients that are grown and raised rather than manufactured, with as little processing as possible from harvest to your home. Beware of packaging, barcodes, and a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
2. Compare Apples and Oranges – Not all apples, or oranges, or lettuce, eggs, milk, meat, flour… are created equal. Some plants and animals have been bred primarily for nutrient density, others for taste or texture, others for appearance, size, uniformity, shelf life, transport, or pest and disease resistance. Often, this requires trade-offs. The nutritional properties between varieties can differ slightly or dramatically. In addition, the way food is produced directly affects its nutritional value. Several studies suggest that organic produce is more nutrient dense than that which is produced conventionally. Healthy, well-nourished plants and animals are naturally healthier and more nourishing than those produced in poor soils or stressful, overcrowded, chemical laced conditions.
Finally, fresh foods deteriorate in quality and nutrients the longer they age. Buying from local producers as directly and frequently as possible (or growing your own!) is the best way to eat highly nutritious food, while offering the opportunity to learn how your food is produced and to support the local economy.
Learn more about the importance of organic, local food, and strategies to help make it accessible and affordable.
3. Eat The Rainbow – Enjoy a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein rich foods, and fats, combined and prepared in a variety of ways. For instance, quick breads can be a creative way to enjoy whole grains and a whole host of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and other fun ingredients. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of muffins, biscuits and, of course, cornbread.) However, if you depend on quick breads as a major staple of your diet, you risk elevated levels of sodium and deprive yourself of some of the benefits of whole grains, most notable thiamine, or B vitamins, which are destroyed by chemical reactions with baking soda and powder. Quick breads also tend to call for lots of sugar. Whole grain yeast breads, especially those with a longer rise and sourdough, preserve more of the nutritional integrity of whole grains. However, consuming too many foods containing yeast can aggavate candida infections. Thankfully, the solution is simple: Eat a range of different foods, and don’t lean too heavily on any one ingredient or preparation.
4. Make The Most Of It – Store and prepare food in ways that preserve and increase the amount of nutrition you derive from it.
Fermentation is a great way to enhance the nutrition of fresh produce, and store it for an extended period of time, while introducing probiotics into your diet!
Store milled whole grains (such as flour), seeds, or nuts in the freezer to preserve nutrients and keep volatile oils from turning rancid.
Sprout or soak seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains overnight before cooking them. Nixomalizing corn is another traditional process for unlocking more of the nutrients in this incredible grain.
After chopping onions and garlic, let them rest for at least ten minutes before you cook them.
Whole Foods: Special Diets – A wealth of information on nutrition for those following a variety of restricted diets, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar, and more.
Non-dairy sources of calcium – a closer look at the amount of calcium in many alternate sources and brief discussion of bio-availability
The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide For the Healthiest Way of Eating by George Mateljan