Sunday, August 8, 2010

maximum value.

So my boyfriend, Erik, and I have this inside joke about getting "maximum value" out of everything (Ok, fine, it's not really a joke. We're really that big of nerds). One common example of this is buying the largest coffee drink size and saving half of it for later (sometimes there's only a 75 cent difference between the small and large sizes!). This poor-college-student mentality has spilled over from just financial concerns into other areas of our lives as well, such as (no surprise) nutrition and health. This is no new idea, of course; our bodies are programmed to crave calorie-dense foods so we stock up on as many calories as possible in preparation for famine. Nowadays, however, many of us never face such a time and those genes end up up hurting us much more than helping.

Another term being thrown around lately is "nutrient density," which refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber you get for your calories. This is a much more relevant concept in a world where obesity rates are sharply increasing. But nutrient density is still not what I'm getting at. When I'm thinking about getting "maximum value" out of my meals, I'm talking about helping my body absorb as many of the nutrients in the food as possible. Many people don't realize that just because a box of Total cereal says it provides you with 100 percent of your daily needs of 12 vitamins and minerals, that doesn't mean your body is able to take up all of those nutrients. Many of them pass right on through. For example, Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, which means they need to be eaten with fat in order to be absorbed and used by your body. Makes you think twice about pouring fat-free milk into your cereal, doesn't it?

You don't need to be a dietitian to have a basic  understanding of how to eat to maximize the value of your meals (aka absorb as many vitamins and minerals as possible). Make these few simple tricks a part of your daily routine, and your body will thank you:

1. Eat at least a little fat with every meal and snack. Go ahead and use full-fat ranch or guacamole for your veggies, enjoy your baked potatoes with some real butter, cook with olive oil, and feel good about eating your strawberries with cream. Same goes if you take a multi-vitamin; take it with a meal or a fatty snack like cheese or nuts.

2. Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic and onions to your rice and bean dishes. It is believed that the sulfur compounds that make garlic and onions so pungent also aid in the absorption of dietary zinc (here's a recent study abstract if you're interested). This is especially nifty information for vegetarians, who can have trouble getting enough of this important mineral. While some plant-based foods are rich in zinc (especially whole grains and legumes), the body has a harder time extracting zinc from plants than from animal food sources. Enlist the help of these cousins from the Allium genus to help prevent zinc deficiency (as if you really needed an excuse to add a couple extra cloves of garlic or one more onion than that recipe called for...)

3. Combine calcium and Vitamin D. This is a tricky one, since Vitamin D is not easily found in foods. But it's also very important, as your body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. One quick way to solve this is to buy dairy or soy products fortified with Vitamin D.  The few foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D include sardines, tuna, and salmon (aka fatty fish). Pure cod liver oil is also a great source.

4. Eat something citrus-y with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C goes a long way in aiding iron absorption. So get adventurous and make orange sauce for your next beef and rice dish and add chopped strawberries to your spinach salad. Use the Vitamin Wheel widget below to find other high-C foods.

Photo Credit: WordRidden

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