Garlic cloves and sliced garlic on vintage wooden background.

How Do I Optimize the Nutrients in My Food?

These surprising tips are easy and effective.

Janice Kleinschmidt Health & Wellness

Garlic cloves and sliced garlic on vintage wooden background.

As if you need another reason to rejoice in blue skies, here’s one anyway: You can magnify the dietary value of mushrooms by exposing them to the sun for a minimum of 15 minutes before using them in a dish. One of the only plant-based sources of vitamin D2 (with high concentrations, in fact), the fungi shift into nutrient overdrive when their gills bathe in UV rays.

Regina Basterrechea, a functional nutrition and lifestyle practitioner in Palm Desert, notes another plant that benefits from rest before hitting the pan. “Letting garlic stand 10 minutes before cooking enhances the formation of its antimicrobial compounds,” she advises. Heat reduces the level of those compounds. The more you break down the cloves before subjecting them to heat, the more you enhance the formation of those compounds before they reach a process where they are compromised.

Some foods yield the most nutritional benefit when paired with a complement. For example, black pepper and fats amplify the body’s absorption of turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil increases lycopene levels of tomatoes by 80 percent. Adding beans to rice makes it easier for your body to regulate carbohydrates.

As for cooking methods, everyone who pays even the slightest attention to diet-related reports knows that deep frying yields tasty but not necessarily healthy dishes. Boiling and poaching sound great in theory, but vegetables lose some 50 to 60 percent of vitamins B and C when cooked in water. Steaming lessens vitamin loss but only by some 9 to 15 percent. Grilling and oven roasting at high heat leaches up to 40 percent of vitamin B by as much as 40 percent.

Regardless of cooking method, peeling and cutting vegetables after cooking maximizes fiber and nutrient density. When boiling, poaching, or steaming, use smaller amounts of water to reduce vitamin loss (and/or use the cooking water for soup stock or sautéing liquid).

Rocky Balboa may have downed raw eggs while training for a boxing match, but that’s cinematic drama for you. The human body absorbs 51 percent of an egg’s protein in its raw form and 91 percent when cooked.

Basterrechea strikes a chord that often gets overlooked: preparation of the body itself.

“Set a nice environment, so you are not distracted, sit, and smell your food,” she advises. “In a stressed state, we have to get away from the tiger, and digestion is not a priority. Our body doesn’t know the difference between a tiger and being upset with our boss. When we relax, and our brain gets the signal that food is coming, it gets our digestive juices flowing to properly extract nutrients from our food.

“And,” Basterrechea adds, “the better we chew our food, the more exposure it has to digestive juices.”

Nutrition as a whole benefits from our attention to the complete process of preparation and consumption.