Feel like you already have a healthy diet, but want to know how you can improve it even further? Use these (easy) tips to make your healthy meals even better for you…
1. Know when to choose organic
Choosing organic produce can reduce exposure to toxins and pesticide residues, but eating entirely organic is, for many of us, impractical and prohibitively expensive. Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the US analyse the pesticide content of a wide range of non-organic fruit and vegetables to identify the good, the bad and the ugly.
From this they publish an annual list titled The Dirty Dozen, containing the top 12 fruit and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. If you want to start eating some organic produce, this can be a great place to start:The Dirty Dozen list for 2016 includes, strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.However, do remember that the health benefits of eating a diet plentiful in fruits and vegetables outweigh the potential risks of pesticide residues. So definitely don't stop eating produce on the 'Dirty Dozen' list if you can't source them organically.
2. Combine your foods to boost nutrient absorption
Just like some of our favourite combinations - fish and chips, apple crumble and custard, cheese and pickle - certain nutrients just work better together. This a concept known as 'food synergy,' or combining certain foods to boost nutrient absorption. Here are four examples:
- Tomatoes and olive oil - Lycopene, the powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant in tomatoes that gives them their bright red colour, is best absorbed by the body when combined with a healthy fat such as olive oil. It has also been shown that lycopene is more efficiently absorbed and utilised by the body in processed tomato products, such as tomato puree and tomato paste.
- Spinach and lemon juice - By giving your leafy greens a generous squeeze of lemon before serving, you are making the iron they contain more bioavailable to the body. The presence of vitamin C enhances iron absorption from plant sources by up to six times.
- Turmeric and black pepper - This bright-yellow Indian spice contains an active component called curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Black pepper contains a compound called piperine that helps the body absorb 1000 times the curcumin. Sprinkle both generously onto your veggies, or combine in a curry.
- Eggs and avocado - As well as being a match made in heaven taste-wise, the good fats in avocado enhance the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamin D found in eggs. As a general rule, always consume foods containing fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) with a source of fat (e.g. olive oil, butter, avocado or nuts).
3. Eat slowly and chewIt's the simplest advice, but the importance of chewing your food properly extends much further than just avoiding a bit of indigestion and heartburn. Chewing breaks your food down from large particles into smaller particles that are more easily digested. This also makes it easier for your gut to absorb both nutrients and energy from the food.4. Know when to soak, sprout and crush
- Soak: Soaking dried beans and legumes overnight before cooking, improves their nutritional value. Soaking reduces what are known as 'anti-nutrients' such as lectins and phytates, which reduce the body's ability to absorb minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. These anti-nutrients are water-soluble, so when soaked will simply dissolve away.
- Sprout: Pulses (such as alfalfa, chickpea and mung bean) require a bit more effort, but similar to soaking, the process of sprouting increases the availability of nutrients in these pulses by destroying anti-nutrients.Sprinkle sprouts onto salads for a nutrient boost.
- Crush: The active ingredient in garlic, allicin, which has powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, is released when the bulbs are crushed. To maximise the potency of your garlic, crush it, and then leave it to stand for 10 minutes before cooking.You have at least half of these things in your kitchen right now.
5. Know what to eat raw and what to eat cookedRaw or cooked, all vegetables are nutritional powerhouses. However, the way in which they're prepared can impact on the nutritional bang you get for your buck. Vitamin B1, vitamin B5, folate, and vitamin C are all sensitive to heat, so more of these vitamins are present when you eat certain foods raw. For this reason, broccoli, spinach, kale and peppers contain more nutrients when eaten in their natural, uncooked state. On the other hand, some nutrients become more readily available to the body when they are cooked. For example, cooking vegetables rich in beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, squash and carrots) and lycopene (tomatoes) makes these more nutrients more easily absorbable to the body.6. Don't dismiss the frozen aisleDo you ever bypass the frozen section because you think the fruit and vegetables found there must be inferior to their fresh counterparts? In two independent UK studies, researchers at the University of Chester and Leatherhead Food Research found that frozen fruit and vegetables actually tend to be richer in compounds like vitamin C, polyphenols, and antioxidants such as lutein and beta-carotene. Frozen fruit and vegetables are often blanched and flash frozen straight after picking, and this minimizes nutrient losses. In contrast, fresh produce can spend days or even weeks being transported, sat in storage, and then in our fridges - during which time nutrients are slowly degrading. In particular,frozen carrots and blueberries were found to be higher in key nutrients than their fresh alternatives.7. Minimise wastageWhen it comes to preparing fruit and vegetables, it's often the bits that we throw away that contain the highest amount of goodness! Don't be too quick to throw these scraps into the compost...
- Vegetable peelings: The skin of carrots, potatoes, squash and many other veggies are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, so don't be too quick to reach for the peeler. Give them a good wash instead, and away you go.
- Orange and lemon rind: If you're making a citrus based salad dressing, don't just use the juice, finely grate some of the rind in too for extra flavour and antioxidants. Also, don't be too quick to peel off the white part of your orange, it contains as much vitamin C as the flesh, and is a rich source of soluble fibre.
- Broccoli stems: There's more vitamin C and calcium in broccoli stems than the florets, so instead of throwing these chunky stems away, finely slice and steam alongside the florets. They are also delicious stir-fried with garlic.
- Pineapple core: The hard centre core of the pineapple contains the highest concentration of bromelain, an enzyme that aids digestion and has anti-inflammatory properties.