Firstly it is good to know that, nutritional profile of all food groups is heavily dependent upon the soil on which our food is grown. A healthy soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem, teeming with microscopic and larger organisms that perform many vital functions including converting organic matter as well as minerals to plant nutrients (nutrient cycling); controlling plant disease, insect and weed pests. Soils supply the essential nutrients, water, oxygen and root support that our food-producing plants need to grow and flourish.
Secondly, to ensure a healthy balanced body and mind, it is essential that, along with consuming Carbs/ Proteins/ Fats/ Vitamins, intake of major and trace minerals through a varied diet of quality organically grown foods is maintained.
Thirdly, do observe the following food preparation tips to preserve nutrients in food and to maximize mineral absorption. Below are the major food nutrients that we have categorized the food preparation techniques in.
Grains: In general, whole grains are higher in minerals than refined grains, but they can be hard to digest.
- Therefore, in ayurveda, grains are typically dehusked to improve digestibility and enable mineral absorption.
- Grains can also be fermented to improve mineral availability(sour tastes complements the saltiness)
- Grains can be stone-ground like “dalia” and eaten which is easy to digest.
- Grains can also be sprouted to make them easier to digest. (Wheat grass and barley grass are high in easily digestible calcium and magnesium)
Legumes / Beans
- The husk is removed and the bean is split in half before cooking.
- All beans are typically soaked before cooking.
- They are then boiled with spices which contain an impressive array of trace minerals.
- Another technique is to add a piece of kombu sea vegetable to the bean pot which also adds trace minerals and aids digestibility.
- Traditional soy foods are excellent for their mineral content. Traditional tofu is processed with nigari which is rich in trace minerals or with a calcium salt which adds a significant amount of easily digestible calcium.
Vegetables: Ayurveda prefers bioavailable foods. Cook your veggies rather than eating them raw. Although raw veggies “may” contain more vitamins and nutrients, they can be harder for our bodies to metabolize. Also plants help breakdown minerals into minute particles suspended in water. These are termed colloidal minerals which are easier for us to absorb.
Green leafy vegetables have high mineral content, especially calcium, magnesium and iron. However, various plant compounds such as phytates and oxalates can block their absorption. For example, oxalic acid in spinach and chard blocks the absorption of iron. Other vegetables that contain oxalic acic are beets, beet greens, and to a lesser extent, kale, celery and parsley.
- Blanching – For this reason, all green leafy vegetables are typically blanched or boiled and the cooking water is discarded to remove some of the undesirable compounds. The blanched greens are then cooked down in ghee or vegetable oil with spices and perhaps other vegetables.
- Cooking Utensil – Cooking is done in an iron skillet so that the minerals are chelated or bound into more digestible compounds. Also, a small amount of iron from the skillet may be absorbed into the food.
- This is why aluminum cookware is not recommended as minute particles of aluminum may be leaked into food, especially if cooked with anything acidic like tomatoes.
- They can be served with lemon juice which further increases the mineral absorption.
- Juicing – Vegetables can also be juiced to remove fiber or pulped to help break down fiber.
- Salad greens can be lightly salted. In fact, the term ‘salad’ actually means ‘salted.” If a natural salt such as sea salt or rock salt is used this can add important trace minerals. Adding a good quality oil and vinegar dressing helps in their digestion and assimilation.
- Sea vegetables are a great source of trace minerals. However, sea vegetables do not mix well with dairy products in everyday cuisine. Therefore, they can be served at different times or one can be excluded in favor of the other. They are both excellent sources of calcium and magnesium.
Fruits: Organic fruits are rich in easily digestible colloidal minerals.
- Some fruits can be peeled to remove the indigestible portion or juiced.
- Dried fruits often have high iron and can be soaked or cooked into cereal.
- Some fruit is salted like plums or olives to add to their mineral profile and alkalinizing effect.
- A mildly acidic fruit juice like apple juice can be sipped about half an hour after a meal to increase mineral absorption of the meal.
- Most meats are preserved with salt, tenderized with sodium based tenderizers, or cooked with salt. Therefore, a high meat diet is often sodium excessive. It tends to be high in phosphorous. Excessive sodium and phosphorus intake competes with calcium absorption.
- Therefore, a better choice for supplemental protein is dairy which is low sodium/ low phosphorous and high calcium.
- Fermented dairy (sour taste aiding salt taste) such as yogurt ranks near the top for easily absorbed calcium.
Fish and poultry can be rich in minerals. But depending on what they themselves have eaten, they are often high in toxic metals as well.
- Almost all fresh water fish is contaminated with mercury.
- Smaller fish like sardines are less likely to be contaminated and when eaten with the bones are high in calcium.
Nuts, Seeds & Oils: Ayurveda considers sesame oil as nutritious and wholesome while safflower oil as unwholesome as it increases pitta as well as not nutritious also. The proportion of fat and /oils should be 1/3 saturated fatty acid (ghee, butter), 1/3 omega 3 (mustard etc.) and 1/3 omega 6 (sesame, coconut). Hydrogenated oil is harmful for body. It increases pitta. It should not be used for cooking.
- Nuts and seeds can also be processed to reduce their indigestible portions and maximize their nutritional components.
- Almonds, which are high in calcium and magnesium are typically soaked overnight to wake up the life force and slip off the husk which is indigestible and can block mineral absorption.
- Sesame seeds, also rich in calcium and magnesium, are often roasted and ground. They can be made into a paste called tahini, or combined with a natural salt to be sprinkled on food.
- Cold-pressed oils remove fiber for easy digestion of oil. Oil can help assimilate minerals, but limit your added oil to three spoons a day.
Condiments: Internationally, there are many condiments besides table salt. Pickles, chutneys, pastes and sauces are often very salty.
Soy sauce, tamari, miso, gomashio, fish sauce, brown sauce, Worcestershire sauce and liquid amino condiments are highly salty and often high in glutamates. Hence they should be sparingly used.
Glutamates: Since 1908, glutamates have been recognized as an additional taste which is referred to as umami or savory taste. Ayurveda simply includes this group under the salty taste.
- The strongest glutamate is mono-sodium-glutamate, which is used as a flavor enhancer and often causes headaches or allergic type reactions.
- Parmesan cheese is nearly as high in glutamates as MSG. Roquefort and blue cheeses are also very high, and most aged cheeses have glutamates.
- Meats are high in glutamates since glutamic acid is one of the amino acid proteins.
- Hydrolized vegetable protein is high in glutamates. Soy sauce, miso and fish sauce contain glutamates. Sea vegetables, mushrooms, milk, anchovies, bacon, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, brown sauce and even tomatoes and grapes contain glutamates.
One cooking technique that Ayuveda offers is to brown some high quality mushrooms along with other vegetables in a mixture of ghee and spices. When the vegetable dish is nearly ready, a small amount of milk is cooked into the dish which creates a savoury gravy.
Supplements: Ayurveda normally recommends obtaining minerals from a well-balanced diet rather than from supplements since they often compete with one another in absorption. There are a few minerals that may require supplementation however like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Calcium and magnesium are usually found together in foods and should be combined and taken in small doses if taken as a supplement. Some are herb based or are biochemic cell salts calcium flouride and magnesium phosphate taken in between meals to restore proper mineral metabolism at the cellular level.
Iron absorption can be maximized using the food preparation tips described above like by using iron skillet.
- In addition, vitamin C or vitamin C rich foods like lemon or tomato can boost iron absorption.
- Good sources of iron are beans, spinach, kale, collards, raisins, apricots, molasses, whole grains and burdock root.
- Many people do well on a liquid iron supplement or which is herb based like alfalfa, dandelion, mullein, nettles, rosemary, sarsaparilla, scullcap and yellow dock.
- The cell salt ferrum phosphate can be used to maximise iron absorption and utilization on the cellular level.
Zinc – The most reliable sources of zinc are animal foods and sea foods.
- Vegetarians are often deficient in zinc. The zinc present in plant foods is often blocked by various plant fibers or absent due to zinc-deficient soils.
- One of the signs of zinc deficiency is difficulty tasting your food. This can lead to a craving for extra table salt which can mask the underlying deficiency. Other signs of zinc deficiency are an impaired ability to smell, poor appetite, underweight, poor resistance to infections, skin and nail problems, reproductive problems, slow wound healing, poor memory and even depression. Fortunately, zinc supplements are easily available and relatively easy to absorb.
Herbs & Spices: Herbs and spices contain an impressive array of trace minerals.
- Ayurveda has several recipes for combining herbs and spices into ferments, pastes, powders, soups or pills to be used as medicines, restoratives, and rejuvenatives.
- One famous rejuvenative paste is called Chavyan Prash which typically includes up to 40 or more herbs and fruits which are rich in trace minerals. It can be considered like a daily multi-vitamin-mineral supplement and has all six tastes combined.
- Trace minerals in the diet can block absorption and get rid of build-up of toxic metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum and arsenic. Selenium is particularly helpful. Also, cilantro and chlorella may be helpful in removing them from tissues.
Roots / Tea Roots – interact directly with the soil and are often the richest in trace minerals. Alfalfa root is particularly noted for its wide array of trace minerals and can be considered like a single source multi-mineral supplement
Tea also deserves a special mention. Although high in certain trace minerals, the tanins in the tea can block absorption of other trace minerals such as iron. For this reason it is not recommended to drink tea with meals.
Salt has a long history that stretches back to the dawn of time. Perhaps more than any other substance salt symbolizes our common bond with the planet earth. Salt taste decreases Vata. It increases Pitta and Kapha Dosha. Because of solid element, it is heavy and unctuous. Because of fire, it has hot quality. Because of its fire element, it increases Pitta Dosha. Because of its solid (heaviness), it balances Vata and increases Kapha.