At Green Living Gurus, we’ve talked a lot about what NOT to eat: hyperprocessed foods, foods laden with salt and preservatives, and so on. But it’s just as important to nourish your body with powerful, nutritious food that helps you achieve wellness. Humans are lucky enough to be omnivorous, with one of the broadest diets on Earth. There are hundreds of plants, fungi, and animals that help our bodies ward off oxidation and rediscover balance.
In the age of artifice, nature is still here to help us live healthily and happily. It’s not always feasible to eat raw, organic food, but that’s okay. It’s more important to eat as cleanly as possible, so you get the most vitamins and minerals from your meals. Here’s how.
Eat Your Vitamins
Countless companies have capitalized on the multivitamin trend, offering convenient capsules and tasty gummies to ensure you get your daily vitamins. There are even vitamin blends for various health concerns, such as skin & hair, energy, libido, and immunity. That’s all well and good, especially as nutrient levels in U.S. soil have been depleted.
However, it’s rarely a good idea to rely on supplements for your vitamins. Even if the concentration is higher, your gut still only absorbs so much. Some people have difficulty with gut absorption, especially if they’ve consumed a highly dissolvable capsule. There’s also a synergistic effect in some foods that cannot be replicated in synthetic vitamins.
Our core vitamins are:
Critical for immunity, reproduction, and vision, vitamin A is found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, liver, milk, fish, and eggs. Root vegetables also contain beneficial fiber and vitamin C, helping boost your gut health and ward off cancer. Vitamin A-rich meats are high in omega-3s for neurological function, as well as protein.
Vitamin B6 helps you digest food and balance your blood sugar. Chickpeas are the top source, with 55% of your daily recommended value. Other good sources include fish, liver, and poultry. If you struggle with gastrointestinal issues, load up on these foods.
A complement to iron, B12 supports healthy red-blood-cell levels and nervous system function. It can be found in liver and many types of seafood. Clams are particularly rich in B12.
Commonly known as an antioxidant and immunity booster, vitamin C is also vital to creating proteins and neurotransmitters. You can get it from bell peppers, citrus fruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. The latter two also provide you with vitamin K and extra dietary fiber.
Our bodies make vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, but in our indoor lives, that’s not always common. We can boost our vitamin D levels with cod liver oil and swordfish.
Another powerful antioxidant, vitamin E is crucial for immunity and good circulation. Seeds and nuts are excellent sources of vitamin E. Toss sunflower seeds or almonds into your food as a highly bioavailable source.
Vitamin K is a critical ingredient in coagulation and overall cardiovascular health. It is readily obtained from green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards, and turnip greens. These vegetables are also high in iron to further boost blood vessel function.
Ward Off Cancer with Antioxidants
Oxidation is a natural process in our cells, but cancer can emerge when that oxidation becomes excessive. Thankfully, plenty of foods reduce oxidation and therefore sustain the balance of oxygen electrons in our cells.
Nutritional antioxidants include:
Found in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and watermelon, lycopene seems to ward off heart disease and cancer.
Our bodies don’t require much selenium, but when we have it, it helps prevent cancer and modulate thyroid function. You can obtain it by eating just 6-8 Brazil nuts or a few ounces of canned tuna.
This plant pigment offers powerful antioxidant benefits. It is most commonly found in berries, including raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. These fruits also lower LDL cholesterol levels and modulate blood pressure.
It may sound scary, but this antioxidant is a key component of vegetables such as artichokes. Chlorogenic acid doubles as an anti-inflammatory agent and has been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Typically found in beans, kaempferol has been shown to suppress tumor growth and chronic inflammation. Beans are also an excellent source of fiber and protein.
Fruits and vegetables rapidly lose their nutrients upon cooking. You can often tell: consider the difference between bright green peas and those that have been boiled into mush. Heat chemically alters plant tissue, making its vitamins and minerals less bioavailable. So while that carrot soufflé or canned spinach may seem healthy, it pales in comparison (sometimes literally) to its uncooked counterparts.
Rather than cooking all your vegetables, add them raw to a salad, or lightly steam them for a more tender texture. Dress them in a heart-healthy blend of olive oil or sesame oil and seasonings.
Ideally, you consume farm-fresh fruits and vegetables grown close to your home. However, that may not be possible, and artificial ripening and long exposure to grocery stores’ bright lights can also degrade produce. In those cases, “fresh” is not always better. By contrast, frozen vegetables are preserved in a flash, allowing them to retain more of their nutrients. This is also a great option for lower-income families who are more likely to live in USDA-defined “food deserts,” in which fresh produce is not readily available.
Swap Out Refined Grains for Whole Grains — or Vegetables!
Many Americans fill out their plates with rice or coat their meats in flour. The problem is that refined grains have virtually no nutritional value. Food manufacturers may add it back, but it’s usually a better choice to consume whole grains in the first place.
Whole grains contain all three components of the plant: the bran, germ, and endosperm. By contrast, refined grains are milled, and therefore reduced into a fine powder devoid of vitamins, iron, and fiber. White bread and rice are prime examples of refined grains.
To get more vitamins and fiber from your grains, choose these options:
- whole-wheat bread
- brown rice
- wild rice
Want a grain-free option? Add a side of zucchini spirals, chickpea noodles, or riced cauliflower or broccoli to your meal. Any of those will offer a potent mix of vitamins and fiber, helping sustain your gut health and immunity response.
We are what we eat — and none of us want to be synthetic sugar blends. Our food plays an enormous role in our immune response, gastrointestinal health, and resistance to cancer. If fresh produce or raw ingredients are hard for you to obtain, opt for frozen vegetables, whole grains, and canned seafood rather than pre-packaged meals or refined grains. You’ll not only feel more satisfied but also healthier in the long run.
This article is inspired by a chat with Elaine Gibson, survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and raw-food advocate.