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Nutrient Dense Kitchen 101

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Today I want to talk about how we can make some small changes to “tune up” our kitchen and our health. You don’t need a big overhaul to make impactful changes to you and your families health!

The 3 things I want to cover today are:

  • Selection of high quality foods
  • Preparation of foods to improve nutrients and digestibility
  • Selection of cookware and storage containers
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Selection of High Quality Foods

Sourcing high quality meats and vegetables are paramount to our health and to the sustainability of our natural resources. Its easy to gravitate towards very cheap meats to feed you and your family, it feels like kids are a never ending pit after all! But those low cost meats are loaded with chemicals (from the animal having eaten grains sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides) as well as hormones and antibiotics. These directly affect our health when we eat the meat of these animals. By sourcing grass-fed beef and pastured chicken and pork, you will be eating much more nutrient dense meats since those animals were allowed to eat wild grasses, bugs, and are not living in such close proximity to each other. Selecting fruits and vegetables which are organic or not sprayed with synthetic pesticides is also important. Even better, eating foods that are seasonally grown in your area will provide the biggest nutrient punch. Produce shipped from other countries are picked when they are not yet ripe in order to get it to you around the time it is ripe. If allowed to ripen fully prior to picking, our fruits and veggies are able to uptake and develop the most about of vitamins and minerals.

The best sources of sustainable meats and vegetables can be found at a local farmers market or a butcher shop that sources from small local farms. You might even sign up for a CSA (Community Sharing Agriculture) or CCSA (Combined CSA) which works with one or many local farmers and provides you a box, or share, of food each week. This allows you to support your local economy and help to pay local farmers a fair wage. For those in the St. Louis area, I love Fair Shares CCSA because of the variety you get in a share. There are other options as well, such as meat delivery services that work with small farms to supply high quality meats, right to your door. Two worth mentioning are Crowd Cow and Butcher Box. You can typically find vegetable delivery in your local area as well. Or, look for an open produce stand, or maybe experiment with growing some of your own!

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Preparation of Foods to Improve Nutrients and Digestibility

Not only is sourcing important, but how you prepare the foods is also key to getting the most nutrients as you can. Plus, some foods, are more difficult to digest than others, so there are preparation techniques that can help start to breakdown the foods prior to consuming to help with this.

Let me give some examples of a good, better, best approach. Depending on where you are right now, you can select an entry point that is an improvement to your current approach, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.

Dairy:
Dairy can be difficult for many to digest, but there are some ways to make it easier to digest.

Good:
Instead of drinking conventional milk, you could switch to organic milk and try to purchase brands that come in a paper carton or glass over plastic jugs. This would apply to cheese, yogurt, and all other dairy products as well. Try to switch all of these products to organic sources.

Better:
Instead of pasteurized and homogenized milk, you might try to find a source of raw milk and see if that changes the way you feel after drinking it. Again, apply this to all of your dairy products. Many people who do not digest pasteurized dairy very well, can do well on raw dairy products since pasteurization destroys the enzymes that help us to break down the lactose in these foods.

Best:
Forgo any diary that is not fermented or cultured. Focus on milk products like kefir, yogurt, or cottage cheese that is loaded with probiotics which help balance your gut microbiome and improve digestion. Eventually, you might experiment with making your own fermented and cultured dairy!

If you find that you still do not tolerate dairy very well, then you might try goat or sheeps milk, or eliminate it from your diet for a period of time, and use non-dairy milks instead.

Beans and Legumes (Pluses):
Beans and legumes (like lentils) can also be difficult to digest, but if you haven’t tried some of the suggestions below, you may be surprised at how well your body can tolerate them. Pluses can be an economical way to add protein and fiber into your diet and can be used to complement meat dishes or have the occasional vegetable-based meal.

Good:
Focus on buying organic canned beans over conventional in order to avoid synthetic pesticide residue that is present on non-organically grown veggies.

Better:
Purchase organic canned beans that come in BPA free cans, like Eden Foods brand who soak their beans before cooking. Soaking beans is an great way to start to break down the beans and make them more digestible.

Best:
Try soaking and/or sprouting your own dry pulses. One way that soaking helps improve digestion is by minimizing raffinose in beans. Raffinose is a complex carbohydrate that is difficult to break down and can lead to bloating and/or gas after consuming beans. Soaking your dried beans in water with baking soda can help to break it down and make beans easier to digest. “To further reduce the gas-producing properties of beans, add a large strip of dried kombu seaweed to the pot of beans and water prior to boiling.” (www.drweil.com) Beans can be made in large batches and frozen for future use. And as an added bonus, dried beans are a fraction of the cost of ready-to-eat canned beans.
Here is a great reference guide by the Nutritional Therapy Association on the best ways to soak and sprout your grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Above, I gave just two examples of how you can baby step your way into better preparations of your foods to make them more nutrient dense and digestible. With every food, you can find a good/better/best approach. Take your time, be patient, and soon you will have incorporated a number of these approaches into your daily food prep!

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Selection of Cookware and Storage Containers

One final and simple way to improve your kitchen is through your selection of cookware and storage containers.
Pots and pans with non-stick coatings as well as plastic storage containers both utilize plastics which can leach (or leak) chemicals from the plastic into your food. This is more prone to happen when the plastics are heated, which is why cookware is of particular concern and why you never want to microwave food in plastic containers.

This can be an expensive endeavor, but don’t feel like you need to do it all at once. In terms of priorities, here are the top three swamps you can make with minimal cost to greatly reduce the chemical load on your body.

  1. Buy one cast iron skillet and a good knife.
    • You can buy one new, but I have also found some nicely seasoned previously owned pans at antique shops for around $20. These pans will last more than your lifetime if properly cared for.
    • Your knife should be forged from a single piece of steel (avoid those screwed at the top to a handle). These knives can be sharpened over and over.
  2. Be sure to cool your food prior to storing in plastic containers.
    • This minimizes the “leaching” effect from hot food in the container.
    • Along these lines, transfer food to a non-plastic container to reheat it.
    • Over time, replace your plastic containers with glass.
  3. Swap out foil with unbleached parchment paper
    • Foil will leach aluminum into your foods.
    • If you commonly wrap baked potatoes in foil, wrap fish or other meats in foil for baking, try swapping to parchment paper instead.

As you can see, there are a number of simple, and affordable ways to upgrade your kitchen game! Try some of these simple swaps and see if you notice a difference in your body.

If you like this content and want to learn more, please comment below or drop me a dm on Instagram @dailybagofgoodness and Ill focus more on topics like these on future posts.

References:
NTA (2020). Soaking & Sprouting Guide
NTA (2020). Culinary Wellness Pt1. Student Guide
https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/cooking-with-beans-legumes/