You’re reading a blog about nutrition. You’re clicking links to scientific studies and abstracts. You’re in deep. You obviously care about the quality of the food you eat and the effect it has on your health.
But you also know that perfect is a myth. We can’t achieve it, and if we think we can and spend all our time obsessing over perfection, we usually subvert our own goals. Perfection becomes the enemy. But better is always within reach, and today I’m going to give you a few ways to improve your nutrient intake and make your food healthier and safer. Who’s in?
I’ve already discussed optimizing your meat intake and given you tips for cooking eggs. Today will be more far-reaching. Here are 10 tips for quickly and painlessly improving the nutrient quality of your food.
Eggs are in many ways the perfect food. Almost every dietary ideology allows their consumption, whether it’s vegetarian, standard American, Primal, or carnivore. Even a low-fatter can slip a few in and stay under the threshold. And I’d argue that vegans should consider raising their own chickens in a loving environment for the eggs.
But what about the oxidized cholesterol? We now know that cholesterol isn’t a bad thing to eat, and it can even provide benefits, but oxidized, fully-damaged cholesterol is an issue. When you scramble an egg, you’re introducing heat and oxygen while increasing the surface area of the yolk exposed to those oxidative forces.
But scrambled eggs are great. And while I’m pretty sure regular scrambled eggs are perfectly fine to eat, there is a better way:
You get scrambled eggs with runny yolks, intact cholesterol, and fully cooked whites.
Years ago, I offered a mea culpa: rice isn’t all that bad actually. In fact, it’s fairly inoffensive, if somewhat lacking in nutrition. Rice can be a useful, safe source of starch for people who need to replenish glycogen stores after a workout. But let’s face it. White rice is basically pure glucose. What if there were a way to dress it up a bit?
Consider this two-parter idea….
First, use mineralized cooking water or bone broth. What I do is dump a half teaspoon to a teaspoon or so of Trace Mineral Drops into the cooking liquid, along with some kelp granules for the iodine (or sometimes a drop of liquid iodine) and a little butter, olive oil, or coconut oil. If you have some leftover mineral water, you can use this too. The end result is high in magnesium, iodine, and various other trace minerals. Most water consumed throughout human history was high in minerals, so this is just emulating that ancestral milieu.
Second, make your rice ahead of time and refrigerate it before use for at least 12 hours. This increases the resistant starch content of the rice. Not to cooked and cooled potato levels, but it’s significant enough to reduce the amount of digestible glucose available.
French fries are good. Don’t lie, folks. A crispy potato is incredible. But as they’re commonly found, they’re awful for you—the rancid oil used to fry them, the high-heat carcinogens formed, the lack of any fiber at all. Luckily, there’s a way to make healthier, (IMO) better French fries.
Since they’re already cooked, you just need to sear the sides and develop a crust. You can have crispy, creamy French fries in about 8 minutes (minus the previous day’s cooking time) that haven’t been exposed to enough heat for a long enough time to develop acrylamide and oxidize the cooking fats. Plus, the cooked and cooled potatoes provide resistant starch to feed your gut bacteria and reduce the amount of glucose you absorb.
I love reducing a quart of bone broth down to a syrup, swirling in some cold butter, and making a luscious, velvety sauce as much as anyone, but I don’t always have the time.
Keeping a can of gelatin powder on hand works almost as well. You don’t get the essence of the roasted bones and veggies that go into a good broth, but you do get as much collagen as you want. Just shake a tablespoon or two into the pan in a thin layer across the top as the liquid cooks, and whisk until smooth.
Say you’re making clam chowder, and you’ve only got boxed chicken stock. Or you’re doing veggie soup, and all you have is some weird veggie broth. The real thing would be great, but you simply don’t have it. Luckily you do have powdered gelatin.
Mix some powdered gelatin with cold water—enough to bloom it. Let it sit for 5 minutes, and stir it into the hot soup. There: impromptu bone broth.
Every time you prepare vegetables, you’re throwing stuff away. You’re tossing the ends of asparagus and carrots. You’re eating the leafy part of the kale and discarding the stemmy sections. You’re composting potato peels, onion skins, tomato pith. Stop doing it, and start eating them.
Well, maybe not eat them directly. All those bits contain nutrients, but they’re not exactly appetizing. Freeze all the veggie trimmings as you produce them. If you’re ever making bone broth or soup, bring out the trimmings and add a handful.
Vegetables are some of the only foods everyone can agree on. They’re low-calorie, high-nutrient, high-satiety. Most research has found strong links between their consumption and copious health benefits. “Eat lots of plants and animals,” as I’ve always said. But not everyone likes them (and I’m not just talking about toddlers).
I’ve given tips for learning to eat more vegetables before. Those are good, so you should read them. But there’s another way to make yourself enjoy vegetables (or any food, really): add umami.
Umami is the fifth flavor, providing a kind of meaty unctuousness. That’s the glutamate. To capitalize on it, add a few splashes of high quality fish sauce (I like Red Boat) to anything you want to like more. It adds a depth of flavor to any dish and doesn’t actually taste fishy. Its coolest application, however, may be as a training tool to condition people to like novel flavors. Splashing some fish sauce onto bitter greens can help just about anyone learn to enjoy them, even after the source of glutamate has been removed.
Garlic and onion (and, I guess, shallot and leek and the others) are nutrition powerhouses—not so much in terms of vitamins and minerals but because of phytonutrients with remarkable capacities for blocking inflammation and reducing oxidative stress. But there’s a simple recipe to make those phytonutrients even stronger: a little compressive force and a little patience.
Rupturing the cell walls on a clove of garlic or an onion triggers the enzymatic production of new and more potent phytonutrients. The process takes 5-10 minutes, so wait about that long after smashing, chopping, or dicing your alliums to begin eating or cooking with them.
Liver is the great white whale for many Primal eaters. They know they’re supposed to be eating it, but they can’t figure out how. I understand. Liver goes bad pretty quickly in the fridge. It’s tricky to cook without ruining the texture. It’s messy. That’s why you should let someone else handle it for you.
Next time you’re at your local butcher, ask if they’ll make a custom set of sausages that contain liver for you. In my experience, they will. I recommend a pork breakfast sausage with 20% chicken liver subbed in for some of the pork meat. That’s an easy way to get your liver, and chicken liver is mild enough that you probably won’t notice.
Prefer lamb? Have them slip 15% lamb liver into merguez sausage. Beef? Do 15% beef liver within a spicy Italian sausage. And so on.
Offer to buy in bulk (say, 10 pounds or so), and they’ll likely accommodate the request.
Ounce for ounce, egg yolks trump all other sources of fat when it comes to nutrient density. There simply isn’t any other argument. But yolks aren’t as easy to use as, say, olive or avocado oil. You can’t sauté in egg yolk. You can’t just pop one out of the fridge and eat it.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate more yolks into my diet is to add them to sauces and curries at the end of cooking. The lecithin contained in the yolk is a great thickener. You’re getting tons of nutrients without subjecting the yolk to an hour of cooking, and it lends a velvety richness.
Two yolks added to your tomato basil spaghetti sauce after it comes off the heat? Incredible.
So, those are my 10 tips for general nutrition improvement today. What about you? How have you learned to enhance or preserve the nutrient content of your Primal meals?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.