By Dee McCaffrey, Director of Nutrition, Processed-Free America
March is National Nutrition Month®, the annual campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that aims to focus the nation’s attention on the importance of making healthy food choices. Since its inception in 1980, this annual campaign has made inroads with Americans. The results of a recent Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey of 30,000 people reveal that more and more consumers want healthy foods, and 88 percent of those surveyed said they are willing to pay more for them. The reason for this is a shift in consumer focus on the role diet plays in health. Healthy eating is now a way of life for many people.
The National Nutrition Month® theme for 2018 is "Go Further With Food.” Whether you’re a nutrition novice or veggie veteran, there’s always more you can do to get the most from the foods you eat. This year's theme encourages us to achieve the numerous benefits healthy eating habits offer, but it also urges us to find ways to reduce food waste and increase the nutrients we derive from our foods.
One way to reduce waste and increase nutrients is to properly store your salad greens to use for meals during the week. There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a big bunch of salad greens or lettuces only to find they’ve turned bad a few days later. Greens are chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants for a strong immune system and healthy bowel, so you want to get the most out of your purchase.
Once you’ve washed the greens, it’s important to remove excess water to prevent the leaves from wilting or losing valuable nutrients and flavor. Greens can be dried by using a salad spinner, or by using paper towels to soak up the excess water remaining on the leaves. Lay out the greens on paper towels, then roll up like a jelly roll. Place the rolls of greens and paper towels into a perforated produce bag and seal, making sure to remove as much air as possible.
While in storage, the damp towels will help draw out the surface moisture that is on the leaves and then, when the greens need it, gives it back. Removing excess air prevents oxidation, which can turn greens brown. When stored this way, clean greens can last anywhere from four days to two weeks.
Proper storage of fresh greens is essential for ensuring their quality and safety. Store greens in the crisper drawer at temperatures between 34°F and 40°F with relatively high levels of humidity. They should be kept away from fruits, especially apples, tomatoes, bananas, and melons, as these give off a great deal of ethylene gas that accelerates the ripening process and hastens spoilage of all produce in the refrigerator.
Another way to increase your absorption of nutrients is to switch out some of the grains you eat for the sprouted type. For example, if you’re already eating brown rice, you can go further by eating sprouted brown rice. It looks and cooks the same as unsprouted brown rice, but you get more nutrition when it has been sprouted. Sprouting grains increases many of the grains’ key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, ﬁber, and essential amino acids. Sprouted grains may also be less allergenic to those with grain protein sensitivities.
Although sprouted grains may be new to some people, they’ve actually been eaten by people all over the world for centuries. Until about a hundred years ago, farmers harvested their grains, tied them into sheaves, and left them in the field until they used them or sold them. Inevitably, with this exposure to the light, moisture, and temperature of the weather, the grains would begin to sprout. Sprouting can be done at home on a small scale or commercially on a large scale by soaking grains in water, draining, and rinsing, and keeping them in a moist temperature-controlled setting to allow the sprouted process to occur. Once the sprout forms, the grains can be dried and stored until used for cooking.
The sprouting process increases the amount and absorbability of some vitamins (notably Vitamin C) and minerals like calcium and magnesium, making sprouted grains much more nutritious than unsprouted grains. What’s more, the sprouting process deactivates certain compounds that block the absorption of some of the grain’s nutrients and that irritate the lining of our intestines, which is why sprouted grains are much more nutritious and less damaging to the intestinal tract than grains that have not been sprouted.
Before the Industrial Revolution, people ate grains in the sprouted form, not necessarily on purpose, but because that’s the way nature provided them. Also, most flour used before the Industrial Revolution was made from these sprouted grains. With the invention of the combine harvester, the practice of sprouting grains was cast aside, and with it, the valuable vitamins and minerals that the sprouting process produced.
You can now purchase grains that have been sprouted for just the right amount of time, then dried and packaged. You can cook the grains in the same way you cook unsprouted grains, or they can be milled into flours to produce sprouted grain products such as breads, cereals, and pasta.
Celebrate National Nutrition Month® this March by going further with food. The little choices you make each day can reduce waste and increase the myriad of nutrients in your healthy foods.
Dee McCaffrey is an organic chemist, nutritionist, and author of The Science of Skinny and The Science of Skinny Cookbook. Dee lost 100 pounds and has kept the weight off for 25 years by following a whole-foods diet. She is the founder of Processed-Free America, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing a national awareness of the effect processed foods have on our health, and the healing properties of natural whole foods. She offers fee based one-on-one nutrition counseling to help clients find the right nutritional balance for their lifestyle. Contact Dee at 602-666-6257 or www.processedfreeamerica.org.
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