Bioavailability is probably a word you have never heard or may never say. By definition, bioavailability is the degree to which food nutrients are available for absorption and utilization in the body. We know the health benefits of fruits and vegetables — loaded with vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, antioxidants to ward off and prevent diseases, anti-aging benefits and the list goes on and on.
What if there was a way to absorb more nutrients from our food? Well, there is, and it starts in your kitchen. Learning about the best preparation and cooking methods as well as food combinations for your produce can help you get the greatest nutritional bang for your buck.
For example, vegetables that are rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), like sweet potatoes, require fat to be absorbed, so it's best to pair them with a source of healthy fats. Think beyond salad dressings: Add a few slices of avocado to your salad, drizzle some high quality olive oil over your butternut squash soup, or add some nuts and seeds to salads, soups, and roasted vegetables.
Heating lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes and other red- and orange-hued vegetables, increases its bioavailability, which means that your body will absorb more of the cancer-fighting compound. Enjoy tomatoes in sauces, soups and stews; you can even add roasted tomatoes to a salsa for a smoky flavor.
Some nutrients (polyphenols, glucosinolates, beta-carotene, lutein) are increased in broccoli when it’s cooked, while others (vitamin C) are destroyed — so you can enjoy broccoli raw or cooked.
Chopping garlic to a fine mince and letting it sit for 10 minutes allows for more allicin, a sulfur-containing compound with anti-inflammatory benefits, to form. Chop garlic at the start of your prep work and then move on to any other vegetables. By the time you're done with all of your chopping, your garlic will be much more nutritious!
The folate in asparagus, broccoli and Brussels sprouts is sensitive to heat. Lightly steam these vegetables to preserve the most folate.
The vitamin C in spinach and other veggies is water-soluble, so it can leach out in the water if you steam or boil it. Serve vitamin C-rich veggies raw, or, if need be, lightly sauté them.
Here's a handy infographic to help you remember.
Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. She holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan.
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