When hearing the phrase “processed food,” we tend to picture hard-to-pronounce ingredients, brightly colored packaging and convenience at the expense of quality. But not all food processing is bad. While you all know that we are hard-core advocates of keeping it real, sometimes real ingredients need a helping hand to release their full goodness of vitamins and minerals our bodies need. So here’s to healthy food processing. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite prep tricks for maximum nutrient absorption.
Flaxseeds are a great pantry staple to have on hand. They are packed with nutrients, healthy fats and fiber. Mix them into smoothies, use in salad dressings, or add a dash to soups for a nutritional boost! The key with flax is eating it ground as opposed to whole. Because those tiny seeds are too small to chew, whole flaxseeds pass through the body undigested, and we end up missing out on all of those nutrients and benefits. The seeds can simply be ground up in a coffee grinder, blender or food processor. It may be tempting to buy them pre-ground, but spending the extra few minutes to grind at home is worth the while. Pre-ground flax is exposed to oxygen longer, which causes the breakdown of polyunsaturated fats – one of the key nutrients we want from them! To get the most bang for your buck, opt for whole seeds and grind at home as needed.
2. Soaked nuts and seeds
Soaking nuts and seeds makes them easier to digest, for a few different reasons. They contain phytic acid, which needs to be broken down through soaking for proper digestion. Otherwise, the phytic acid binds to minerals which prevents nutrients from being absorbed in the small intestine. Enzyme inhibitors are also present in nuts and seeds, which can also interfere with nutrient absorption. Check out this article if you'd like to learn more. Soaking times vary – chia seeds only need about 20 minutes, whereas some nuts should be left to soak overnight. Luckily, this is where the internet comes in handy!
3. Cooked veggies
There’s a popular notion that cooking vegetables depletes nutrients. This may be true in some cases, but not always. The calcium in spinach is more easily absorbed when it’s cooked, and phytochemicals called glucosinolates in broccoli actually increase after lightly steaming. Cooking food helps our bodies break it down for easier digestion. As the weather starts to get cooler, it’s natural to crave more warm, soft, grounding dishes. As long as we’re not drowning our veggies in oil or overcooking them, some gentle cooking can go a long way!