One of the fundamentals of living a healthier life is to eat a healthy diet. Proper nutrition includes eating vegetables, fruits, fish, and meat to ensure your body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. By eating too many processed foods and excluding healthy ones, people can develop a variety of ailments.
Eating for Health
The purpose of eating a proper diet is to ensure your body gets the vitamins, amino acids, and minerals it needs to be healthy. Fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, and meat contain the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, which are essential nutrients, which help the human body function properly.
The body relies on 13 essential vitamins to build bones, boost the immune system, heal sores, and hundreds of other functions. They are considered essential because the body cannot synthesize them, so they must come from outside sources like food.
The 13 essential vitamins are A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, and Folate. All vitamins are available in food sources. For instance, to boost your immune system during cold and flu season, you could drink orange juice, eat grapefruit or other foods containing high levels of Vitamin C.
Vitamins are split into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins, which include Vitamins A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body’s fat tissues. They can be stored for up to six months to help supply the body with them.
Water-soluble vitamins, which include all the B vitamins, Biotin, Folate, Pantothenic acid and Vitamin C, are circulated through the body via your bloodstream. The only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored is Vitamin B12, which is stored in the liver for several years. Otherwise, the others need to be replaced regularly.
Along with vitamins, the body also needs certain minerals to stay healthy. The essential minerals that are required include:
These essential nutrients also come from the foods that you eat. While many people get calcium from dairy products, it can also be gained through eating plants like dark green leafy vegetables, bok choy, kale, broccoli or turnip greens.
Sometimes vitamins and minerals need to work together to help the body better absorb these nutrients. For instance, to better absorb calcium, you can eat foods containing Vitamin D. Seafood, salmon and eggs all contain the vitamin and can help your body absorb calcium. Spending a few minutes in the sun will also produce Vitamin D.
You don’t need to memorize all the nutritional information about the foods you eat. However, it is important to eat a variety of foods, including an assortment of fresh vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious foods, to help your body get the vitamins and minerals it needs to function and thrive.
Along with the essential vitamins and minerals, the body also needs amino acids.
Important Amino Acids
Another essential nutrient that the body needs to survive is protein. Protein generally comes from foods like yogurt, cheese, beans, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. It is needed to help build cells, as it is their main component, and to assist in the building and healing of body tissues.
Protein is broken down into amino acids, which are known as the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids, including nine essential ones that need to be replenished through foods. The essential amino acids include:
The other remaining amino acids can be synthesized within the body.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you don’t need to eat animal protein to get the essential amino acids your body needs to build protein. Plant sources that contain essential amino acids include:
- Whole grains
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Sunflower seeds
Only soybeans are considered a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. The others are considered incomplete because they only contain some of them. To ensure you intake all the essential amino acids, you can supplement your diet with protein powders like pea protein. The only essential amino acid it doesn’t contain is methionine.
Are Canned and Frozen Produce Okay?
Although most people think that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is better than canned or frozen, research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found it isn’t necessarily true. Canned produce turned out to have just as much nutrition as fresh produce. Also, some vegetables are healthier than fresh or frozen once they are canned.
Canned tomatoes showed improvements in nutrients like the B vitamins, Vitamin E, and carotenoids after canning. The fiber in beans was more soluble after the canning process, so it became easier for the body to digest it.
The study also found that adults and children who ate canned produce approximately six times in two-weeks had better eating habits than people who only ate one or two cans in the same time frame. Since the cost of canned produce is less than fresh or frozen, families can use them to get the nutrients they need and save money.
Reading the nutrition label on a can of food tells you the nutrition facts and the amounts of sodium and sugar in it. This information can give you some insight into how healthy the food is that you would be consuming.
Frozen Vegetables and Fruits
The process of freezing fruits and vegetables can result in the loss of some nutrients, but frozen produce can be as nutrient-rich as fresh. Produce that is to be frozen is picked when it contains the most nutrients, which is at peak ripeness.
The process of freezing it, which includes washing, blanching, cutting and packaging the fruit and vegetables, takes place in few hours. Most of the nutrients lost during the process are when vegetables are blanched. Blanching involves boiling them in water for a few minutes to kill harmful bacteria.
Studies show that some vegetables can lose up to 80% of their nutrients during the blanching process. Fruits do not undergo blanching, but they may be preserved by adding ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C, or sugar. It is also important to note that there are no chemicals used when freezing produce.
In general, if you cannot have fresh fruits or vegetables, like in the winter, then frozen are a good alternative. Their total nutrition competes well with fresh produce and spoilage isn’t as much of a problem with frozen fruits and vegetables as it can be for fresh produce if it isn’t eaten right away.
How to Prepare Foods to Keep Nutrients Intact
It can be a challenge to cook healthy foods to retain the nutrients they contain. Some cooking methods destroy vitamins and minerals, while others can keep them intact. Some people eat their foods raw to ensure they are getting the optimum nutrition from them. However, if you don’t like raw food, you can try these healthy cooking methods.
To steam foods like vegetables or seafood, you can use a bamboo steamer or covered perforated steaming basket over a pan of boiling water. Electric steamers are a good option as well. Steaming foods helps seal in their flavor, oils are not necessary during the cooking process, and foods retain more of their nutrients than any other method besides microwaving.
When foods are microwaved, it is the same as steaming them. Microwaves use the moisture within foods to cook, or steam, them. Microwaving vegetables, fruits, chicken or fish allows them to retain all their nutrients and color. When using a microwave to cook food, cover the container to hold in steam and moisture to make foods juicier.
Pressure cooking not only makes the job of preparing foods faster, but it helps retain the nutrients inside of them. A pressure cooker creates steam from the boiling liquid to cook the food. It also acts to intensify the flavors of whatever you’re cooking. There is no need to use oils, fat, and you can use seasonings sparingly when pressure cooking.
When you broil food, you are cooking it at high heat in an oven as close to or as far from the flames as you can get the pan. It is a good method for cooking meats, fish and some produce like onions, zucchini, bell peppers or summer squash. It depends on dry-heat to cook foods, so no oils are necessary. Broiling helps to retain most of the nutrients in foods.
Other cooking methods can be used for retaining nutrients, such as stir-frying or poaching, but the methods above are among the healthiest for retaining the nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, and fish.
A healthy diet requires a healthy cooking method because adding fats and oils can offset the benefit of eating nutritional foods. A diet consisting of a variety of foods can provide the nutrition that your body needs to function at its best and ensure that you stay healthy.
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