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How to Get the Most Out of What You Eat

As mentioned in part one of this series, a key principle to healthy eating is to eat nutrient-rich foods. Vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and eggs are good examples of health-promoting, nutrient-rich foods.

Unfortunately, simply wolfing down nutrient-rich foods doesn't guarantee optimal nourishment of your cells. Your digestive system has to be able to extract nutrients out of the foods that you eat - this is why chewing thoroughly is vital to your health.

This is also why most people thrive when they eat a variety of foods in different forms.

Consider a large serving of salad greens. Fresh and uncooked leafy greens are exceptionally rich in nutrients - they're naturally abundant in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, water, fiber, and countless phytonutrients.

Unfortunately, the tough fiber content and small overall surface area of leafy greens make them difficult to chew thoroughly to allow optimal extraction of nutrients. This isn't to say that you shouldn't bother eating leafy green vegetables - they're excellent for promoting good overall health, and they're well tolerated by the masses. I generally recommend that most people aim to eat the equivalent of a head of romaine lettuce a day.

The point is to consider eating leafy greens in a variety of forms to ensure that your body is optimally nourished.

For example, juicing a head of romaine lettuce unlocks virtually all of the health-promoting nutrients in lettuce, ensuring that your bloodstream has easy access to these nutrients.

Taking a high quality organic green food powder that has been micropulverized is another way of squeezing the goodness out of leafy greens.

Cooking softens the fiber in vegetables, which makes it easier for your body to extract nutrients from within - this is especially true of firm vegetables like carrots and cabbage. Some heat-sensitive nutrients in plant foods may be lost with some forms of cooking, but the overall net gain is typically more than enough to justify eating a diet that includes both uncooked and cooked vegetables.

Steaming and boiling are cooking methods that effectively soften fiber in plant foods while preserving the integrity of most of the nutrients found in vegetables.

When you boil vegetables, consider using the water as a base for soups, as some of the micronutrients in vegetables make their way into the water. This is why homemade vegetable and chicken broths are so nourishing - if made with a variety of vegetables and with care, they're rich in a variety of nutrients that are extremely easy to absorb.

In our home, we like to keep batches of vegetable and chicken broth in our refrigerator to use as bases for all of our soups.

Homemade broth is nourishing for people of all ages, but they're especially good for the young and the elderly because they're power-packed with easily absorbed nutrients - mainly minerals - that are essential to developing and maintaining healthy bones, teeth, nerve function, and muscle function.

As we age, our bodies tend to produce less stomach acid, which is needed in generous quantities to properly break down protein. This is one of the ways in which digestive capacity is weakened as we get older. This is also a chief reason to consider making homemade broths a regular part of your diet, as broths are pretty close to being devoid of protein - they provide many of the micronutrients found in plant and animal foods, but without a need for large quantities of stomach acid to become accessible to your bloodstream.

When looking to introduce nutrient-rich foods to babies who are ready for solids, I generally recommend serving some type of stew that is made with vegetable or chicken broth - this is a reliable way of effectively providing growing babies and growing children with many of the minerals that they need to develop their organ systems.

Homemade broths don't pose the same risks to health that pasteurized and homogenized dairy products do; the risk of developing any of the health challenges associated with regular dairy intake - intermittent ear infections, sinus infections, nasal congestion, diarrhea, bloody stools, stomach cramping, skin rashes like eczema, and diabetes type 1, to name a just a few - can be dramatically reduced and even eliminated by feeding our children homemade broths instead of dairy.

To make vegetable broth, combine onions, carrots, celery, and any other vegetables that you have on hand in a large pot, fill with cold water until vegetables are fully covered, bring to a boil, lower heat and cover while left to simmer for one hour. Strain well, season with sea salt, and voila, you have a pot of gold to nourish your loved ones with.

To make chicken broth, simply add a whole chicken, or part of one (with bones) to the vegetables and follow the same directions. If you can make use of chicken meat, keep boiling time down to about 20 to 30 minutes, as this will impart nutrient-goodness to the broth and keep the meat tender and sweet. If you can't make use of chicken meat, ask someone at your local grocery store for some chicken backs. The key is to include some bones in the broth for their micronutrient content.

One final note on making broths: When you're finished making broth and it's been strained, be sure to let it cool for a while in the pot before transferring to a glass jar - you never know how thick a glass jar is and how easily it might break. Vegetable and chicken broth keep for several days when stored in air-tight glass jars in the refrigerator.

Next up in this series on what to eat is a look at another food preparation technique that is guaranteed to allow you to get more out of what you eat.


Other articles in this What to Eat series:

What to Eat - Principles of Healthy Eating

What to Eat - More on Getting the Most Out of What You Eat


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I love to make bone and veggie broths. I keep left over meat bones and chicken carcasses from a roasted chicken in the freezer then pressure cook for a few hours until the bones are soft. I keep any vegetable scraps (carrot peels, zucchini ends, celery leaves, onion skins and ends, etc) in the freezer and boil them for about an hour covered in water to make broth. I also add them to my chicken broth after I've removed the bones and boil for about an hour. I use broth in place of water/milk whenever possible, cooking rice or lentils, in place of milk in mashed potatoes, etc. It's a little extra work but I love knowing that my family is getting healthier food, even if they don't like to drink broths normally.

Just wanted to thank you for these timely reminders. I am a health educator and I teach people every day the importance of chewing their food, but there are times when my day gets rushed and I find my self finishing salads in just a few bites.... I chewed all my food today. And my body is much happier. It helps with weight loss too. I think if we all really chewed our food the way we were supposed to, we'd eat a whole lot less :)

In Asia, it is not uncommon for the older generation of Chinese mothers to do a steam extraction of whole chicken for a few hours. Then the steam extract itself in the form of a soup is served to those recuperating from illness or those in need of a boost in energy. I have often doubted the value of this traditional practice. Can you please comment on the nutritional value of the extract?
Often the extracted chicken is discarded as it is devoid of taste. I find this wasteful since the discarded chicken contained valuable protein which cannot be extracted by steam.

I don't know about the nutritional value of the extract you're describing--but there's a traditional American/European/Jewish thing called "Beef Tea" that is almost identical--you can use a cheap cut of beef, but you steam it in a glass jar without water:
Beef Tea
One pound of lean beef, cut into small pieces. Put into a glass canning jar, without a drop of water, cover tightly and set in a pot of cold water. Heat gradually to a boil and continue this steadily for three or four hours, until the meat is like white rags and the juice all drawn out. Season with salt to taste and, when cold, skim.

I imagine you get plenty of protein from even the chicken or beef "tea"--but it does seem a little wasteful at today's prices.