Eating a balanced diet is an essential part of healthy living, and people are now more aware of this than any time before. This is especially important for those eating more plant-based food as certain plant nutrients are not easily absorbed by our bodies. Also, there is the trend of people harvesting fresh produce from their fruit and vegetable gardens as they are organic, safe, and cost-effective. In this article, we will investigate ways to get the maximum nutrients out of your plant-based food; read on to know more about them.
Is Raw Or Cooked Plant-Based Food Good For Health?
The process of preparing and eating plant-based food, i.e. cooking, chewing, and digestion affects their nutritional content and the bioavailability of nutrients. Some foods are best when eaten raw, while others are better when cooked or broken down by methods like chopping or crushing. Besides, the bioavailability of certain nutrients is increased when they are combined with other foods. For example, rice has low amounts of amino acid lysine, and this is overcome by combining it with lentils in a plant-based meal.
What Are The Best Ways To Get The Most Nutrition From Plant-Based Food?
Eat Locally Sourced Foods
Eating locally grown and fresh plant-based foods maximize the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables. This is because, when you pluck them from the vine, bush, or tree, some of the nutrients begin to disintegrate. It has been found from studies that when you buy fruits and vegetables from the grocery store or supermarket, they may have lost up to 15 to 60% of vitamins. Besides, to retain the maximum amount of nutrients, they must be consumed within 72 hours of harvesting. So, the ideal way to maximize the nutritional content in the food is to eat locally grown produce.
Common food processing techniques like cutting, soaking, crushing, and blending increases the bioavailability of nutrients in plant-based food.
- Cutting: It increases the bioavailability of nutrients in fruits and vegetables as it frees them from the rigid plant cell walls.
- Crushing: Crushing increases the bioavailability of plant-based nutrients and the reason is the same as that for cutting. For example, crushing or chopping garlic and onion releases the enzyme alliinase that helps to form the nutrient allicin which has disease protecting effects.
- Soaking: Soaking plant-based food like grains and beans increase their nutrient bioavailability. This is because it leaches out phytic acid that inhibits the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc contained in them.
So, when eating any plant-based food, identify the best food processing method to increase their nutritional bioavailability. This is because choosing the wrong method might reduce or destroy certain nutrients.
Know Which Plant-Based Food Are Best When Cooked
The bioavailability of certain plant-based nutrients increases when you cook them, and they are listed below.
- The bioavailability of beta carotene found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes is increased when you cook them.
- Lycopene found in tomatoes is more readily absorbed by the body when you cook them.
- Cooking increases the bioavailability of iron, calcium, and other minerals found in plant-based food. This is because heat reduces oxalates that inhibit the absorption of minerals.
The method of storing fruits and vegetables affects their nutrient content as certain nutrients like vitamins begin to degrade slowly after they are harvested. During the storage of plant-based food, you must ensure two things.
- Slow down the nutrient loss in plant-based food by reducing their exposure to light, oxygen, and heat.
- Keep fruits and vegetables where they are easily accessible.
Shred below are the important points that you must observe when storing plant-based food.
- It is ideal to refrigerate most vegetables until they are needed, and the exception to this are root vegetables like carrot, beets, etc.
- It is better to store fruits like berries at room temperature away from direct light; some of these are tomatoes and avocados.
- Store cut fruits and vegetables in an airtight container after coating the exposed side with lemon juice. This reduces exposure to oxygen that oxidizes and accelerates decay. Moreover, vitamin C is an antioxidant that slows down decay.
- Store herbs by chopping and freezing them inside ice cubes.
Consuming Heat Sensitive And Water Soluble Sources Of Plant-Based Nutrients
Vitamins B1, B5, folate, and vitamin C are both heat-sensitive and water-soluble. For example, raw spinach contains 3 times more vitamin C than cooked spinach. So, it is ideal to consume plant-based food that contains these vitamins in the raw form, and listed below are some of these foods.
- Peas, brussels sprouts, sunflower seeds, and beet greens are good sources of vitamin B1.
- Spinach, broccoli, and turnip greens are good sources of folate.
- Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, and broccoli are good sources of vitamin C.
- Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and avocado are good sources of vitamin B5.
Food processing methods like steaming, blanching, sautéing, microwaving, and roasting reduces the loss of heat-sensitive and water-soluble nutrients from plant-based food.
These are some of the important ways by which you can increase the nutritional quality of plant-based foods that you eat.