6 Ways to Maximize Your Food's Nutrients

Eat spaghetti with meat sauce for more ironEat spaghetti with meat sauce for more iron

Getting more nutrients in your diet doesn't mean stocking up on supplements -- what you eat and how you cook makes a difference, too. Get the most from your meals with these tips from Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, author of the Nutrition and You series, and Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet.

1. Get More: Iron
Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body, which helps keep you from feeling fatigued. Iron is better absorbed in the company of vitamin C, says Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. One delicious way to do that: Serve spaghetti with meat sauce. The meat provides the iron, and the tomatoes in the sauce supply the vitamin C.

Related: 6 Foods That Are Surprising Nutritional Powerhouses

2. Get More: Water-Soluble Vitamins
Cooking can diminish water-soluble vitamin levels present in your food because they're sensitive to water and heat. Gans and Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, author of the Nutrition and You series, both suggest steaming your leafy greens, like spinach, and other green veggies, like broccoli. Steaming cooks these veggies quickly with minimal water exposure. Plus, you don't have to add any oil -- which translates into extra calories -- when steaming food.

3. Get More: Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Next time you munch on a salad, don't pass on the dressing, says Gans. Saying no to it means you're foregoing the fat your body needs to unlock the advantages of the fat-soluble vitamins -- including A, D, E and K -- in your leafy greens. Of course, add the dressing in moderation. Your vinaigrette may contain the good kind of fat, but it's still adding calories.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Whole Grains

4. Get More: Vitamin C
Ah, unstable vitamin C. This beneficial vitamin is particularly sensitive to water and air exposure. To prevent nutrient loss, Gans and Salge Blake both recommend keeping vitamin C-rich produce -- such as oranges, strawberries, and red bell peppers -- whole, unpeeled, and unwashed until you're ready to eat them. Buying frozen strawberries is another smart strategy. The vitamin C is preserved in frozen fruit, and because it's frozen at the time of harvest, it doesn't lose nutrients during transport or while stored.

5. Get More: Lycopene
Studies suggest that this antioxidant -- especially abundant in canned tomato products like sauce and paste -- may reduce the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease. So how can you be sure you're getting the most lycopene you can? Pair them with a little healthy fat to promote optimal absorption, says Salge Blake. For example, try topping pasta with a tomato sauce that contains a little olive oil. If olive oil isn't an ingredient in your go-to sauce, simply drizzle a tiny amount on top. (But remember: Stick with a drizzle and not a pour to avoid too many extra calories.)

Related: The 8 Worst Snacks for an Afternoon Slump

6. Get More: Calcium
Crucial for keeping your bones and teeth in tip-top shape, this mineral plays a significant role in maintaining your body's framework, among other functions. But calcium can't do its job properly without the help of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb it. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk and yogurt, along with salmon and eggs, but it's hard to meet your needs from food alone. Most experts recommend getting 1,000 to 2,000 IUs daily. To get that amount, you'll need to take a supplement.

- JuJu Kim

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