When you spend as much of each day talking, advising, writing, preparing and eating food as we nutritional therapists do, you inevitably pick up lots of great tips that just become part of everyday life. And what’s great is that many of these tips don’t take any more time, you just need to know what they are to be able to turn them into everyday habits of your own.
So here’s 10 simple diet hacks to improve your everyday nutrition. Most of them require very little time or effort; merely a sideways shuffle here and a tiny tweak there. It’s a bit like pressing the accelerator along the health highway; together these tips deliver massive benefits for minimal effort.
1. Chop or crush garlic, then leave to stand for 10 minutes before you cook.
When you chop or crush garlic, an enzyme called allinase is released. This enzyme promotes the formation of allicin; one of the most powerful health-promoting phytonutrients in garlic. Heat inactivates this enzyme, hence why it’s best to leave the crushed raw garlic to stand for 10 minutes to allow the enzyme to get to work on producing plenty of allicin, before it is inactivated by heat.
2. Add turmeric to oil or ghee before cooking.
The bright orangey-yellow spice turmeric has become famous for its powerful health benefits. Curcumin is a main active component of turmeric, best-known for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Curcumin is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb however, and stands the best chance of being absorbed when combined with a source of fat. When making dishes that require turmeric, make sure you first combine with a source of fat such as olive oil or ghee. This will help these powerful compounds to be absorbed into your system, where they can get to work on supporting your health.
3. Have vegetables at breakfast.
Many people will add vegetables to their lunch or evening meal, but few will think to add them to their breakfast. It’s now recommended that we aim for 10 portions of vegetables daily and this is no mean feat if you’ve only got lunch and dinner to work with. By introducing vegetables at breakfast you will find it easier to get closer to the 10-a-day target. Try scrambled eggs with steamed greens or a boiled egg with asparagus dipping soldiers!
4. Scrape your avocado skin.
The most nutritious part of an avocado is often discarded along with the skin. Yet the darker green flesh that lines the inside of the skin is packed with more health-boosting antioxidants than the yellower inner part. To achieve maximum nutrition from an avocado, make sure you scrape all the flesh off the skin before you donate it to the compost.
5. Add Daikon radish or a sprinkling of mustard seed powder when you cook frozen cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli contain an organic sulphur compound called sulforaphane which is considered to have powerful anti-microbial and anti-carcinogenic properties. Sulforaphane is only formed however when you chop or chew broccoli as this combines its precursor glucoraphanin with the enzyme myrosinase. Unfortunately, the commercial blanching process that is required before freezing can inactivate the myrosinase enzyme. This then inhibits the production of sulfurophane when broccoli is eaten, significantly reducing its potential health benefits. Daikon radish or mustard seed powder both naturally contain the enzyme myrosinase and so, when eaten alongside broccoli, can help to enable this beneficial process.
6. Have broccoli sprouts daily.
Sprouted seeds are nutrient powerhouses and broccoli sprouts in particular deserve a special mention. I try to include a handful of broccoli sprouts at least 3-4 times a week in my lunchtime salad, since they contain between 10 - 100 times more glucoraphanin and sulforaphane than the mature broccoli plant. You can buy broccoli sprouts ready-to-eat or if you have a bit more time, you can sprout them yourself at home. If you do sprout yourself, it’s worth noting that levels of these powerful phytonutrients are considered to hit their peak on day 3 of sprouting, making them one of the richest sources of this health-boosting nutrient on the planet.
7. Grind your own flaxseeds.
Ground seeds are now readily available to buy from most supermarkets in convenient zip-seal pouches. Although these are handy when you’re short on time, it really is best and takes hardly any time at all to grind your own. I buy whole organic flaxseeds in a large kilogram bag, which I keep in my store-cupboard. Once a week, I take a small portion and grind them in my food processor (you can use a Nutribullet, Vitamix or similar and it takes about 30 seconds from start to finish). I then store these in a dark, airtight container in the fridge to use for up to a week. One of the many health benefits of flaxseeds lie in the delicate oil contained within, however, it’s the outer seed shell that keeps this oil protected from damage by air, light and heat, keeping it fresh and stable. As soon as the seeds are ground, and the protective outer shell is detached, the oil is vulnerable to damage, and will start to deteriorate. Once the oil has deteriorated it can no longer deliver the same health benefits. That’s why it’s best to grind your own seeds weekly; to consume them as fresh as possible, and to store them in an airtight, dark container in the fridge.
8. Pause before you pick up your knife and fork.
The way you eat your food is just as important as what you eat. And perhaps the most significant way to improve your everyday nutrition is to alter the way you approach mealtimes. You can only realise the nutrient potential of your food if your digestive and absorptive processes are working optimally, and that’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to your habits around mealtimes. A great place to start is to build in a pause point before you pick up your knife and fork. Take time to notice the colours and textures on your plate and the aromas too. This pause can help to activate the cephalic stage of digestion, where your body gets ready to receive food by initiating essential digestive processes such as stomach acid production. Notice how your mouth starts to produce saliva in response to this mindful pause; a good sign that your digestive system is springing into action.
9. Incorporate bitter vegetables into your salad.
When the tongue receptors recognise a bitter taste, a chain of events called the ‘bitter reflex’ happens and results in an overall stimulation of digestive processes. This is a great way to support optimal digestion at the start of a meal. Bitter vegetables, like chicory, raddichio, dandelion, endive, arugula or pain de sucre work particularly well in a small starter salad eaten before a main meal and are a great way to incorporate bitter tastes into your diet.
10. Add fresh organic culinary herbs to everything.
People usually add fresh herbs to dishes only when a recipe calls for it. Yet culinary herbs can be a powerhouse of essential nutrients and phytonutrients, and are a great addition to many aspects of your daily diet. Chop any selection of fresh herbs and add to salads, scrambled eggs, on top of steamed vegetables, fish, chicken or pretty much anything you like. You can even dice them finely and add to water in an ice cube tray for a refreshing and super healthy addition to a glass of water. It’s always best to buy organic and even better to grow your own. It will take a bit longer to cultivate your own window-box of fresh herbs but easy to keep once you’ve got it going, and well worth the investment of time.