Eating real whole foods is extremely important in nourishing your body and ensuring ultimate health for the rest of your life.
Once you have learned to focus on real food, the next step is to start paying attention to getting the most nutrients out of your food.
It’s not as simple as buying broccoli and letting it sit in the fridge for 2 weeks then boiling it and eating it. Doing this, you lose most of the nutrients that you were hoping to get from the broccoli in the first place. What’s the point?
If your food has lost half of its nutritional value by the time you eat it, you will have to eat twice as much to obtain the full benefit. Sounds wasteful to me if you could just simply take some small steps to ensure maximum nutritional value from the get go.
Not only does taking care of your food ensure nutritional benefits, but it also creates less waste and saves you time and money. No more throwing out that bad batch of nuts or the limp carrot.
Below is a summary of each whole food category and some tips about storage, cooking, and purchasing. Note that there is no category for pre-packaged and highly processed goods… because these aren’t real foods.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are jam packed with nutrition. Loaded with protein, healthy fats, vital vitamins, and minerals. Without proper care and storage, many of these nutrients are easily damaged.
Most nuts and seeds contain an array of very delicate and important fats. These fats are easily damaged by light, air, and heat. Storing most nuts and seeds in a cool dry space (ie. fridge or freezer) can help retain the structure of these fats and nutrients.
The most important nuts/seeds to keep cool are:
Cooking seeds and nuts (especially those sensitive as listed above) will drastically reduce the amount of beneficial fats in them. By cooking/roasting nuts, you essentially kill the good fats within. Most of the other nutrients within the nut can also be damaged by heat cooking.
Purchase amounts of nuts that you plan to use within a couple of months. This will ensure you are always using fresh nuts as much as possible.
Raw, unsalted, and unroasted nuts and seeds. Many nuts and mixes on the market these days are roasted (killing beneficial nutrients) and loaded with salt (which most of us don’t need more of in our diets). I always opt for raw nuts and seeds and then choose to dry roast them myself if I so choose.
Salted, roasted, or stale nuts and seeds. The oils used to roast are more often than not damaged and rancid by the time they reach the shelves of your grocery store. The added salt is just unnecessary as we obtain plenty of salt and sodium from other sources in our diets. If you want to add more pizazz and flavor to your trail mix, add some dry fruit.
Grains & Legumes
Grains and legumes are a huge part of a healthy diet (for those who can handle and digest them properly). They are rich sources of proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Proper storage and cooking can ensure nutritional content in these foods.
Grains include wheat, rice, corn, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oats, millet, sorghum, quinoa, and rye. Legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts.
When you buy whole grains, the outer shell (nutrient rich) is sensitive to heat, light, and air. Grains should be stored in a cold dry place in an airtight container. Fresh legumes should be stored in the fridge, while dried legumes can be stored at room temperature safely for months.
Grains should always be rinsed or soaked before cooking. Many contain a protective film or pesticides that are best washed off before cooking. Give them a quick rinse and then proceed according to the cooking instructions.
Dry legumes should be soaked for at least 8 hours in fresh water to help break down the indigestible acids within them. Not only will this ensure better digestion but will also allow your body to access the full nutrients within the legume once cooked.
The most important way to retain nutritional content of any grain is to ensure it is in a whole natural state when you purchase it. Many grains have been stripped of their outer layer (where the nutrients live) and refined for longer shelf life and fluffier baked goods. If you want the nutrients from the grain, buy it whole.
Legumes are best purchased fresh, dry or frozen. Canned legumes are often tainted with BHA or heavy metals and are more difficult to digest.
Whole grain, organic, fresh, frozen, or dry grains and legumes.
Refined grains and canned legumes.
Flours made from grains and legumes are a great addition to most diets. They can be used for a variety of products and if purchased in whole grain form, can be very nutritious.
Flours that are made from whole grains should be stored in a dry and cold place like the fridge to ensure total nutritional stability. Whole grains can easily turn rancid if left in heat and light for too long.
All flours are produced to be used in cooking.
Purchase fresh whole grain or legume flours for best nutritional value. Sprouted grains and legumes can provide additional benefits and ease of digestion.
Fresh, sprouted, whole grain, and organic.
Bleached, refined, white, enriched, bulk bins, and stale flours.
The wide variety of vegetables contain a diverse selection of nutrients. They are a huge contributor of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to our bodies. Vegetables should make up a large portion of your daily diet.
Most vegetables are best stored at a cool temperature (in the fridge). A few vegetables will last longer and retain their nutrients more if stored at room temperature:
Store at room temp: Onions, garlic, eggplant, potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin, and tomatoes.
Always wash vegetables before consuming to rid their skins of chemical and pesticides. Most vegetables are more nutrient dense if eaten raw. Some harder to digest vegetables (carrots, asparagus, broccoli, and root vegetables) are best lightly cooked before eating. The best way to cook most vegetables is to lightly steam them (save the water for soups/sauces) or roast them slowly over a low temperature. High heat cooking and boiling vegetables can cause loss and damage of nutrients.
Purchase vegetables as fresh as possible and consume within a few days. Looking for local farms and markets can ensure the freshest produce possible. The best is to grow your own vegetables and eat them the same day as picked. Nutrient content decreases steadily from the date the vegetable was picked.
In season, local, fresh, frozen and organic.
Canned, dried, limp, or moldy vegetables.
Most fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants making them important for a healthy diet. They are high in fiber and water while being low in calories. Caution: Some fruits are very high in natural sugars and those with sensitivities should monitor consumption. Whole, fresh fruits are best to ensure maximum nutrient content.
Most fruit is best stored at room temperature until ripe. Once ripened you may store fruit in the fridge for 1-2 days to delay the process. Fruit can be frozen to retain nutrients and used in recipes and smoothies as a great snack.
Always wash fruit before consuming. Fruit isn’t usually cooked often, but when you do you can lightly stew or bake fruits without losing many nutrients.
Purchase fresh or frozen fruits as close to the day you plan to eat them as possible. Nutrient quantities steadily decrease from the time the fruit was picked. Looking for fruit that was ripened on the tree/vine will contain more nutrients than those picked “green” and ripened with chemicals in your grocery store.
Fresh, fresh frozen, locally grown, vine-ripened, in-season, and organic.
Rotten, canned, juiced, or moldy fruit.
Meat & Dairy
Meat and dairy can be rich in some nutrients. Animal products mainly consist of protein, fat, and cholesterol. Most meat and dairy products are very stable when it comes to heat, light, and air.
The issue with this food group is that as living organisms themselves, they can easily attract other, not so good, bacteria that can be harmful to humans. Taking special care with these products is important to avoid sickness.
All meat and dairy products should be stored at a cold temperature in the fridge or freezer to limit the growth of bacteria. Consume within days of purchasing or within the recommended time period on the package. Freezing meat in airtight containers can last for a couple of months.
Meat and eggs must be cooked before consuming to ensure proper digestion and disease avoidance. Dairy products are safely consumed cooked or raw.
Yogurt and kefir are best eaten cold and fresh to preserve the beneficial bacteria within them. Cooking and heating will kill these good guys off.
Buy fresh and local products as much as possible to ensure freshness and the maximum amount of nutrients.
Local, organic, fresh, pasture raised, hormone free, and clean meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
Old, discolored, or foreign products.
Herbs & Spices
Spices and herbs are a wonderful addition to any meal. They are rich in nutrients and compounds that can aid in digestion and overall health.
Fresh herbs should be stored in water at cool room temperature for up to a week. Dried herbs should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.
When using dried herbs, add them to your meals at any time during the cooking process. Fresh herbs should be added at the end of cooking to contain nutritional value and flavor.
Purchase dry herbs packaged in sealed containers or bags to ensure freshness. Fresh herbs should be consumed within a week of purchasing.
Tightly sealed dry herbs or fresh herbs.
Bulk bins, limp, or brown looking herbs.
Fats & Oils
Fat is necessary to life. A lot of our body processes rely on different types of fats from our diet in order to function and keep us alive. It is important to focus on the right types of fats. Click here for more information.
Fats can come from animal sources (meat, butter, cheese, milk, fish) or from plant sources (soy, corn, canola, flax, olive, pumpkin seeds, walnut, sunflower, grapeseed, coconut, avocado, sesame…)
Depending on the structure of the fat molecules, some are stable at room temperature and others are best stored away from heat, light and air. Stable room temperature fats are butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and canola oil. Oils best stored in a cold, dry and dark place are flax oil, hemp oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and fish oil.
The same fats or oils that are safe to store at room temperature are the same ones that are best used in cooking with heat. The more delicate oils are best used fresh in salad dressings or drizzled on food after it is cooked.
As most pesticides and chemicals used in the food industry are easily stored in the fat cells of animals and plants they are very important to purchase organic. Soy, corn, and canola are the most popular GMO crops produced in the USA and thus best avoided.
Organic, fresh, cold-pressed, and virgin.
Stale, heat processed, soy, canola, corn, hydrogenated, or trans fats.
Your assignment now is to choose one of these categories and, using my suggestions above, re-organize and store them appropriately.
Work through the categories one at a time until you have stored and organized everything in your kitchen and pantry.
Love & Nutrients,