When it comes to choosing healthy food nutritional value is a priority.
So what is nutritional value all about?
We'll show you the 5 things that affect food nutritional value, and the foods with the highest nutritional value, are listed right here.
It's also important to mention where superfoods and raw foods fit in. Keep reading to find out!
The nutritional value of food simply means the quantity, range and quality energy (calories), vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals* that are found in a food (1):
*Phytochemicals: only found in plants.
They are known for their antioxidant activity and include anthocyanins (e.g. red pigments in fruits) and flavonols (like compounds found in cranberries.
Already, you can see that some foods (e.g. plant foods) have special nutrients that are found in no other foods.
The five main things that affect food nutritional value are:
Let’s look at those in more detail.
1. How soil, water and growing conditions affect food nutritional value.
The nutritional value of food is only as good as the soil and water used to grow it.
Soil with lowered nutrient content means lower food nutritional value for food crops grown in that soil. Things that deplete soil nutrients include: years of intensive agriculture (soil nutrient depletion), poor irrigation practices, erosion, the use of pesticides and herbicides.
Just like humans, low levels of nutrients in plants means that the plants have trouble fighting off predators and diseases.
Several long term studies of food crops show massive and worrying declines in the nutritional values of vegetables and fruit (1).
The growing conditions for our stock animals also have a huge impact on the quality of meat. There are many instances where animals have been fed poor quality feeds which reduce the health of the animal….and who wants to eat something unhealthy? It’s lower quality meat and has lower nutritional value. Know your farmer.
2. How the plant variety influences food nutritional value.
Shiny, large, luscious fruits look great, but usually come from plants which make a lot of large fruit.
Plants that make fewer smaller, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables usually have higher nutritional value, but they are less popular at the market so growers tend to avoid them (1).
Livestock (farmed cattle, sheep) tends to have lower nutritional value than its wild counterpart. The animal with a healthy natural diet, good dietary variety and lots of exercise is healthier and more nutritious to eat.
3. Food storage has a big impact on nutritional value – is it fresh, dried, stored, frozen or canned?
Local fresh food that’s been ripened on the plant before picking is usually highest in nutrients…. IF picked and used immediately.
Once picked, fruit or vegetables start decaying and losing vitamins, even at low temperatures. For example, the nutritional value of green beans is highest in the first five days after picking. Pick and eat immediately!
Sometimes this is difficult, especially when food has to be shipped long distances and kept on display for several days.
Food preservation and storage methods have been developed to slow the rate of decay and loss of nutrients, and these methods affect the nutritional value of foods:
The nutritional value of frozen and canned food varies according to the water content of the food, which differs between methods of preservation (8).
Foods are often also processed to reduce spoilage and increase shelf life.
But processing can really reduce the nutritional value of foods and make the food downright unhealthy.
Do you want to know how to identify and start eliminating processed foods from your diet? Click here.
4. The raw food vs cooked food debate. Is raw food really better for you?
Many ‘experts’ claim that by mainly eating raw food and little or no cooked food, you’re getting greater health benefits. But is this really true?
5. Cooking methods affect nutritional value too. Choose the right healthy cooking method!
Cooking certainly plays a role in our modern society. This comes from the practices of our ancestors who discovered fire and food cooking, thousands of years ago.
Despite what you might think, cooking plays an important role in maintaining the nutritional value of food and in keeping you safe and healthy. Click here to find out why.
You guessed it, these foods are vegetables and herbs.
For more info, check out these links: