The way you eat and prepare certain foods can actually make or break the health benefits they provide. You may not think twice about boiling veggies, peeling apples, or drinking a cup of coffee as soon you wake up—but there are actually better and healthier ways to consume them all.
So, we’re taking a second look at 18 foods that are probably staples in your diet and offering up the best ways to slice, dice, cook, and devour them so you’ll be sure to reap every vitamin and nutritious compound it offers. Take a deep breath; you’ll never eat some of your favorite meals and snacks the same again! Inspired? Then cross-check your kitchen with this list of 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen!
If you’re eating your apples peeled or in sauce form, you’re missing out on some major nutritional value. “Apple skin is particularly rich in nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants,” explains Edwina Clark, MS, RD, APD (Aus), CSSD and head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. “If you remove the skin, you may miss out on important health benefits such as improved fullness, cholesterol control, and inflammation reduction.” Speaking of inflammation, don’t miss these 20 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Weight Loss!
If you boil your veggies for your family dinners, you’re actually sending key nutrients (like vitamin C) into the water—and therefore down the drain—rather than into your system. For maximum nutrient retention, Clark suggests always steaming your veggies.
Meat, Poultry, and Seafood
If you’re char-broiling meat, poultry, and seafood, the high temperature causes the proteins in the meat to change—and even become dangerous. “Cook your meats at a lower temperature to reduce carcinogen build-up on your dinner,” suggests Clark. Marinating meat and flipping frequently can also help minimize cancer-promoting (yikes!) compounds.
Tea and milk go together like peanut butter and jelly—but it’s a pairing that needs an intervention. When you add milk to your teacup, you instantly take away the heart-protecting benefits of drinking tea. “The milk proteins called caseins decrease a compound in tea called catechins, which boost protection against heart disease,” explains Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. Instead, drink your tea plain or add just a splash of lemon. The connection between weight loss and tea is amazing—find out more with these 23 Ways to Melt Fat with Tea.
If you’re a fan of salty treats, pistachios are a great choice. Not only are they the lowest in calories of all the nuts—but also they’re the lowest in fat. But if you’re buying pre-peeled pistachios, then cutting out that extra step is actually doing you harm. “You can save almost 200 calories by purchasing them still in the shell,” says Dr. Albers. “Having to open them up will slow you down and also create a pile so you can visually see how much you’ve eaten.”
We live in a low-fat, low-calorie world ,but that doesn’t always mean that those offerings are the healthiest. When it comes to dairy, you don’t always need to grab the low-fat variety because you’re going to end up eating a lot of sugar—yes sugar—instead. “The issue is that when you remove a nutrient like fat, you need to add another—sugar—in order to make it palatable to the masses,” explains Dr. Raymond Tolmos, DC, DABCI and Founder of Frontier Spine and Health Care in Miami. “This tradeoff, however, is more deleterious. The fat provides not only a creamy flavor but also allows your body to absorb essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, promoting a lower glycemic response and keeping you feeling full for longer.” Never feel that full? Find out 20 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry now!
Grabbing a handful of raw nuts is a fast fix to curbing your hunger—but there are a few extra steps you need to take before consuming them if you want to benefit from all the nutrients they offer. “Nuts naturally contain anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytic acid that prevent them from being properly digested, thus decreasing the amount of nutrients absorbed and possibly also causing irritation in the gut,” explains Dr. Tolmos. “To decrease the content of anti-nutrients in nuts, soak them and dry them prior to consumption.” As a rule of thumb, soak pecans, walnuts and peanuts for 12 hours, almonds and macadamias for seven hours, and cashews for no more than four to six hours. After soaking, dry in a 150F oven or a dehydrator.
Raw spinach makes a great base for a salad, but you should opt for a warmer version and lightly steam your spinach instead. “Cooking spinach decreases oxalic acid and increases the bioavailability of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, calcium and its most popular nutrient—iron,” explains Dr. Tolmos. Another trick? Pair your raw spinach with vitamin C (tangerines, oranges, etc.) to give your body the tools it needs to absorb the iron.
So, you’re always cooking away and chopping/crushing/mincing garlic just seconds before throwing it into a hot skillet? You actually need to wait a bit—five to ten minutes to be exact—before cooking your garlic. “What happens is that alliin and the enzyme alliinase that catalyzes the conversion of alliin to allicin—its health promoting compound—are physically separated and only come into contact once the garlic is crushed,” says Dr. Tolmos. “If you immediately apply heat to the garlic after crushing it, there’s not enough time for this reaction to take place.”
Just like dairy, going low fat with salad dressing is actually not the healthiest way to go. It’s much better to reach for a dressing with fat. “Along with increasing the feeling of fullness, the bioavailability of certain nutrients, including lutein and beta-carotene, is higher when the full-fat counterparts are consumed,” says Jessica Holst, RDN, LD and Wellness Dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “Good choices include oil and vinegar or herb-infused olive oils.”
A banana is one of the easiest snacks to take on the go and there are 21 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When You Eat Bananas. But if you’re eating them solo, you’re actually eating the yellow fruit all wrong. “Never eat them plain,” says Dr. Daryl Gioffre, a health and wellness coach to celebs. “Always eat them with some kind of fat like almond butter because the fat helps metabolize the fruit’s high sugar content.” Mind, blown.
Are you adding chia to your juice, even your green juices? No? Then you’re missing out! “Chia is a very healthy fat, containing 50 percent omega-3 fatty acids and 20 percent protein. All juice, even alkaline green drinks, contain a small amount of sugar since they’re complex carbohydrates,” says Dr. Gioffre. “Chia slows down the metabolization of any of these sugars, thus preventing an insulin spike in your blood. By adding the chia, you will turn this short burst of energy into a slow burning fuel—just like how coal burns—that will give you energy all day long.”
Straight up plain yogurt is out. Mixing your yogurt with hemp seeds, flax, or chia is in! “Yogurt is loaded with sugar and yeast, both of which are highly acidic to your body. Chia, hemp, and flax are very alkaline,” explains Dr. Gioffre. “They will help neutralize the acid in your body created by the yogurt, and they will also help prevent the sugars in the yogurt from fermenting in your body, causing all sorts of problems in your digestive system.” Side note: Yogurt can actually clog your digestive system. The fiber in the chia, hemp, or flax helps your body digest the yogurt and prevent constipation from happening.
Whole Grains and Beans
Whole grains and beans are delicious and versatile—eat them as part of a main course or a side dish and you’ve got a great and nutritious meal. But not if you’ve been taking the grains/beans right from the box to the stove. According to Ashvini Mashru, MA, RD, LDN and author of Small Steps to Slim, you actually need to soak them overnight before cooking. “These healthy foods contain an antioxidant called phytates. But the problem with this compound is that it binds to vitamins and minerals and prevents your body from absorbing them,” she explains. “To release the phytates, soak whole grains and beans overnight.” An added benefit of soaking is it means less work for your digestive tract. But note that semi-refined or unhulled types of grains like pearled barley or instant oats do not need to be soaked.
Ahh, nothing is more delicious or nutritious than a bowl of fresh, juicy strawberries. But if you slice ’em up ahead of time, you’re literally letting the good stuff air out. “Whole strawberries contain eight to twelve percent more vitamin C than their cut counterpart,” says Mashru. “That’s because vitamin C is sensitive to light and oxygen, and when you cut a strawberry, this compound begins to break down.” Try storing this fruit in the fridge and eat it whole the next time you need a berry fix.
For some, caffeine is such necessity that your coffee pot is on a timer so it’s ready for you to guzzle down the minute you’ve woken up. But if you’re drinking coffee first thing, then you’re actually drinking it wrong! Your body’s cortisol levels are highest in the morning—it peaks about 20-30 minutes after you wake u—and then is lowest at night to help your body relax for sleep. Mixing high levels of cortisol with caffeine can increase your tolerance, making caffeine less effective. Moral of the story? Train yourself to drink your much-needed cup of joe in the mid-morning (or mid-afternoon) when your cortisol is lowest. You can watch and share this video on Facebook to help others understand, too!
Sure, raw onions are guaranteed to make you tear up. And yes, there’s nothing more delicious than some sauteed onions on a burger. But raw onions have minerals and oils that help to break down fat deposits and speed up your metabolism. “It has more power than garlic and with the milder smell, and they will make an excellent addition to your diet,” says Dr. Goglia.
If you’re sprinkling flax seeds on your salad, in your yogurt (as we suggested above) or into your smoothies, then you know that you’re on track to reducing your risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. But if you’re using the whole seed and not grinding up—then you’re not getting the most out of this powerful plant. “Inside these little pods are heart-healthy omega-3s, lignans that contain cancer-protecting properties and a high content of fiber,” explains Mashru. “Your body will not break down the whole flaxseed thus not providing you with its best nutrients.” So, either buy them already ground or make sure to do yourself before sprinkling them on anything. But you must store your ground-up flax seeds in the fridge because otherwise they turn toxic. It’s one of the 11 Surprising Foods You Should Keep in the Fridge. Check it out to find out why opened peanut butter and other common foods are on the list!