One of the best things I love about studying nutrition is that I come across nuggets of information that I can apply to my everyday life.
The below is a list of things that have stuck with me, not only from studying nutrition, but from picking the brains of various health food coaches, nutritionists and authors working at Prevention.
I wish I’d known these things a long time ago, but if I had, I don’t think I would be so eager to share and learn about living a healthy lifestyle as much as I do now! Yep, health nerd alert!
1. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron
So eat some grilled beef with some stir-fried broccoli or pair a spinach salad or some mussels with a glass of orange juice. Or squeeze lemon on kale.
2. You need to eat healthy fats to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble – meaning they need fat to be absorbed in the body – so eat your greens with some avocado or olive oil to increase the bioavailability of the vitamins in them. For example, cooking orange veggies such as carrots and pumpkin in olive oil increases the absorption of the cancer-fighting carotenoids that’s found in these veggies. Also, you need the fat in milk to absorb calcium, so drinking skim milk purely for its calcium content may not be the best option!
3. Wholegrain means grain products that use every part of the grain
This means it retains the the germ (contains vitamins and minerals), endosperm (mostly starch) and bran (contains most of the fibre, often removed in processed foods). Some examples include brown rice (white is refined), millet, buckwheat and quinoa.
4. ‘Fat-free’ can mean more crap added in
Usually a lower fat version of a product has more sugar and salt than its full fat version to make it taste better. “Fat-free” really should be re-labelled “sugar-laden”. For example, fat-free frozen yoghurt often has so much sugar added that the kilojoule content can be just as high as the regular-fat product.
5. The colour of a fruit or vegetable is a good indication of what phytochemicals it contains
Phytochemicals are health-promoting compounds found in plant foods. Some examples include beta-carotene which is known to help protect against some cancers and heart disease (found in orange foods like carrots, papaya, peaches and pumpkin) and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has anti-cancer properties (found in red foods such as tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit).
Putting this into practise: if we aim to eat the colours of the rainbow, that is, include lots of colour on our plate (in the form of mostly veg and some fruit) – we are sure to be including an abundance of phytochemicals.
6. Sugar is a source of energy but provides no other nutrients
Sugar is naturally occurring in fruit and milk and it’s also added to muesli bars, yoghurt, sauces, cereals and many other types of food. Some of the worst offenders are the products we think are ‘healthy’ but are generally not. The added sugars in processed foods can increase your risk of heart disease, speed up the ageing process, increase your risk of diabetes and various cancers, and can cause unwanted weight gain. Sugar can be listed under the names sucrose, glucose, fructose and maltose in the ingredients.
7. Always read the label
Ingredients are listed in descending order of content with the highest content being listed first, so a product saying it has ‘real fruit’ can have fruit in it but it isn’t necessarily the main ingredient.
8. Gluten is a protein found in some grains
These include wheat (including spelt and kamut), rye, oats and barley and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Gluten-free grains include rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat and millet. Gluten intolerance is when someone can’t digest the protein gluten. It’s one of the most common reactive foods we eat.
9. We don’t need to eat dairy to get calcium
Bok choy, kale, parsley, broccoli, sardines (with bones) and almonds all contain good amounts of highly bioavailable calcium. This means our body can digest and absorb lots of calcium from these foods. The calcium in many green vegetables (such as those mentioned above, as well as brussels sprouts and watercress) is even more bioavailable than the calcium in milk, tofu, cheese and yoghurt.
10. If you’re confused about what you should eat, eat plants
As bestselling author Michael Pollen says: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” These days, there are so many foods with ingredients your grandmother probably wouldn’t recognise. These aren’t real food. They are highly processed concoctions (think chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavourings, emulsifiers etc) designed by food scientists trying to satisfy your taste buds, not your health.
PS. If you found this info useful at all, you might like to read 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Food – Part 2.