The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics he world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals has deemed plant-based diets ‘appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes’. That said, vegans do still sometimes get a rough ride from some who believe their diet to be nutritionally deficient.
Any diet has the potential to be bad for the health. It makes sense, therefore, for all of us to grab any nutrition boosts where we can. Here are five tricks that help maximize our body's ability to absorb goodness from food.
1: Eat Potato Skins
The first of these is easy, and I recently published a whole article about it; leave the skins on your potatoes. A good scrub rather than a peel will see your body benefit from the B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium, and other nutrients contained within the skin. There’s fibre in there too, about 4 grams in a medium baked potato. In fact, there are more nutrients gram for gram in the skin of a potato than in the flesh.
There are some words of caution to be observed when eating potato skin. Firstly, only eat the skins of fresh potatoes, and those which are blemish-free. If you have sad old spuds that are beginning to sprout eyes, then it’s better to forego the added nutrients and reach for the peeler. Be sure to scrub or thoroughly wash your potatoes before cooking if you intend to leave them fully clothed.
As nutritious as potato skins are, it is not advisable to overindulge on them, so enjoy a freshly baked potato, or some crispy potato wedges, but don’t overdo it.
2: Hack and Hold Cruciferous Vegetables
We all know that broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables around, but did you know there is a way to increase the health benefits of even this star of the show?
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetables family, which are so named because their flowers have four petals in the shape of a cross. It is a huge genus, with over 3000 species of plant, including cauliflower, kale, savoy cabbage, watercress and bok choi to name but a few.
The way to get a nutrition boost from your cruciferous vegetables is simple; just chop them ahead of time. That’s it.
If you chop your cruciferous vegetables at least 40 minutes before you intend to use them, in what Dr Michael Greger refers to as the hack and hold technique, a process takes place that is beneficial to our health. Here’s the science bit.
Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds called glucosinolates, and enzymes called myrosinase. When a cruciferous vegetable is cut, broken or nibbled, the glucosinolates and myrosinase combine, to create a compound called sulforaphane, which is anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, and possessed of other health benefits. The snag is that myrosinase is destroyed by heat, so if you cook your broccoli straight after chopping, then the reaction will not have had time to take place and the sulforaphane will not have formed. Chopping your cruciferous vegetables 40 minutes before cooking allows the enzymes time to react with the glucosinolates, and once it has happened you can cook the vegetables as long as you want because sulforaphane is heat stable.
If you don't have 40 minutes to spare, fear not. Sprinkling a pinch of mustard powder onto your cruciferous vegetables has the same effect, but without the wait. Instant sulforaphane.
3: Have Black Pepper With Turmeric
Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties. I went through a phase of making turmeric lattes every day, and for each one I made, I carried out a small ritual. I'd grind some black pepper into a teaspoon and then put that into my mouth and wash it down with a sip of the turmeric latte. I could have ground the pepper directly into the drink, but I didn't want to compromise the sweetness, so I swallowed the pepper separately at the outset to get it out of the way. But why did I do this at all?
Circumin is a substance found in turmeric. It’s the one that gives it that familiar yellow colour, and it has anti-inflammatory qualities. However, circumin can’t unleash the full potential of those benefits alone, it needs a helping hand. Step up to the plate piperine. Piperine is an alkaloid that is present black pepper, and ingesting it with circumin makes it easier for your digestive system to absorb micronutrients. Piperine also aids with the absorption of such minerals as calcium, iron and zinc. So the micronutrient message is, get grinding.
4: Give Your Mushrooms a Sun Bath
Humans get most of their vitamin D from sunlight. This is fine for most of the year, but it can lead to problems in some regions during the winter months, when the sun doesn't have his hat on, but you do. And a scarf, and a coat.
Some packaged mushrooms have vitamin D enriched on the label. This is a great source of that vitamin for vegans, but it also throws up a bit of a puzzle, because aren't mushrooms grown in the dark?
After picking, if we put those mushrooms into direct sunlight, it will boost their vitamin D levels just like in humans, and turning the mushrooms upside down, i.e., gills up, will maximize that Vitamin D conversion.
Mushrooms contain a so-called precursor to vitamin D, ergosterol, which converts to vitamin D2 in direct sunlight, or any UV light. To put it another way, ergosterol becomes ergocalciferol, which is vitamin D's Sunday name.
5: Add Citrus to Your Leafy Greens
I eat leafy greens every day. They are among the most nutrient rich foods, and a great source of iron, whether cooked as kale, collards or spinach, or raw, as romaine, rocket or spinach. However, we can maximize our absorption of iron from leafy greens simply by adding a sprinkle of lemon or lime juice.
Iron from food is absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Adding citrus juice to greens can increase iron absorption by over 50%. It's the vitamin C that we have to thank for this nutrient boost. It enables the body to store iron in a form that is more easily absorbed. So don't forget to drizzle every time you serve leafy greens,
Incidentally, if your leafy greens happen to be cruciferous, say bok choi or savoy cabbage, you could also apply the aforementioned hack and hold technique for a double benefit.
Nutrition Boost Playlist
The release of Devo's Are We Not Men? album was much anticipated round our way, and when it came out I got a copy on delicious light blue vinyl. I payed it over and over, and this song became a favourite. Many songs have intros that build up, but few match this, in my opinion.