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When it comes to nutrition, take a food-first approach, though supplement companies try to tell you otherwise — it is entirely possible to get everything you need to thrive from food. This is true for anything from vitamins and minerals to protein and fiber. (The one exception to this “rule” is vitamin D, which can be challenging to get enough from your diet).

Want to make sure you’re getting the most out of the foods you eat? Here’s how:

Emphasize Whole Foods

Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, meat, and even dairy products are packed with nutrients we need to live our healthiest lives. They not only contain a mix of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), but also offer an abundance of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants).

Nutrition science often looks at the benefits of eating specific foods (not just the nutrients) because foods offer a synergistic effect. For example, we know that blueberries offer many health benefits — but it’s not just one vitamin, mineral, or antioxidant that provides all of those benefits. It’s a combination of many that add up to more than the sum of its parts. Plus, new nutrients are being discovered all the time, so there may be an antioxidant that we don’t know about yet that gives blueberries their superfood powers!

Eat a Variety of Foods

Every food offers something different. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the color of each signifies different vitamins and antioxidants that exist in those foods (hence the recommendation to eat the rainbow). But this advice goes beyond produce. Every nut and seed provides a different nutrient profile (so try all of our BeBOLD bar flavors!), different grains contain varying amounts of fiber and protein, and eating a variety of protein sources — whether from animals or plants — will ensure you’re getting a mix of nutrients as well.

Eat both Raw & Cooked Vegetables

Interestingly when it comes to vegetables, some nutrients are more available when a vegetable is raw, while others are better absorbed when eaten cooked. For example, some antioxidants found in tomatoes such as lycopene are more easily absorbed (up to 50% more!)  when cooked whereas other nutrients, such as vitamin C, may be reduced in the cooking process.

Mind Your Cooking Method

Some cooking methods promote more nutrient retention than others. Cooking methods that retain the most nutrients require the shortest heating time and least amount of water. Steaming, microwaving, blanching, sauteing and grilling will retain more nutrients than slow roasting or boiling. But if you eat the water that you boiled the vegetables in (such as in a soup), you will still get the benefit of those nutrients. While some nutrients are lost in the cooking process, many are still retained (even with boiling), so don’t stress about a little loss if your favorite cooking method is to slow roast or boil.

A Final Word

A varied whole foods diet is ideal to get the most benefit from your food. And remember, calories tell us very little about the nutritional value of a food and low calorie does not always mean it’s better-for-you.

Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice and nutrition communications consulting business in the suburbs of Boston. She empowers busy moms to learn to eat to feel their best without the stress.

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