The way you prepare your ingredients, how you cook them and taking time over your meals can all make a difference to how your body can utilise the food you eat. Try these simple measures to boost the nutritional potential of all your meals…
How to activate pseudograins, pulses, nuts and seeds
Pre-soaking or ‘activating’ these kinds of foods makes them easier to digest and helps you absorb more of the nutrients they contain. This is because nuts, seeds and pulses have naturally occurring compounds that inhibit our ability to absorb and access their goodness.
How to activate – place in a glass or ceramic bowl and top with double the volume of cold, filtered water. Cover and leave at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or overnight, then drain and rinse before use. If you don’t use the activated food immediately, cover and store for up to three days in the fridge, rinsing again before using.
Some nuts and seeds don’t need pre-soaking – these include Brazils, macadamias, pine nuts, hemp and pistachios. Cashews only need a short time, about 2-3 hours. However, beans and pulses need longer – aim for 12 hours or overnight. Pseudograins, including amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa, typically benefit from the addition of a little acid to the soaking water, such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
Raw vs cooked
Some vegetables are better eaten raw – including broccoli and watercress (both members of the cruciferous family). When these veg are heated an important enzyme is damaged, which means the potency of helpful, anti-cancer compounds called glucosinolates, are reduced. Enjoy these foods raw in a salad or lightly steamed to retain their phytonutrients, vitamin C, iron and chlorophyll content. The same applies to kale – cook lightly or enjoy raw by adding to a smoothie, green juice or make into a pesto – add a squeeze of lemon juice to boost your iron and calcium uptake.
How long to cook garlic
Stop adding garlic at the start of a recipe to get more from this nutrition powerhouse. Instead, prepare 10 minutes before you need it and add to the dish shortly before you finish cooking. That’s because garlic is less potent if heated for any length of time – the heat reduces the amount of health-promoting allicin.
Garlic also benefits from being allowed to sit for 5-10 minutes before use. This is because beneficial allicin is only formed once the garlic is cut, minced or pressed. Being part of the same family, onions are also best eaten raw or lightly cooked.
To peel or not to peel?
Don’t peel aubergines! The skin is rich in protective antioxidants, while the green skin of cucumbers is packed with the mineral silicon – needed for healthy hair and nails. Similarly, the skins of courgettes are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which protects and promotes healthy eyes, so wash well or lightly scrape clean rather than peel.
Don’t fear fat
Increase your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like beta-carotene by eating your veggies with a little oil. Enjoy a spinach salad with vinaigrette dressing, roasted vine tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and lightly stir-fry peppers.
Out of season
At certain times of year it’s worth considering frozen produce – fruit and veg are frozen quickly after picking, which means they retain more nutrients than some supposedly ‘fresh’ options.
For more healthy eating tips, take a look at our How to eat well section.