Expanding Your Diet…With Science!

Jun 11, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…


Did you know that the way you make your food can make a difference in how good it is for your body?  Eating a raw vegetable instead of a steamed one may actually change its ability to nourish your body.

And…did you know that the way you prepare the food also impacts your ability to digest it?  If you are having trouble digesting foods, you may have realized at this point that raw, whole foods just are not going down anywhere near as well as other things, like smoothies, soups, and cooked items.

If you have been surfing the internet for information, you’ve likely come across a number of guides, or even cookbooks, encouraging you to blend and ‘juice’ your foods as much as possible.  Maybe you were encouraged to apply nutrients to your skin.  Perhaps you’ve heard that baby food makers will save your life.

So which is it?  Juiced? Blended? Steamed? Baked? Cooked?  All of the above?  AND WHY?!

We’re going to answer all those questions here!  (And before you ask – I am a pharmacist, not a dietician.  Making this an article about the “why” of everything, so that you can understand your options and come up with creative solutions to your problems.)

From the Dish to the Ingredients

Probably more so than at any other time in our lives, those of us receiving a GI diagnosis find ourselves focusing in on individual ingredients.  No longer are meals and dishes the exciting product of ingredient combinations and cooking techniques.  Instead they are composed of Ingredient A, B, and C, and prepared through Method X.  Chefs and food scientists may live in this world every day, but for the average person, it is all new territory.

It sure tends to take the fun out of things.  But the good news is that it really doesn’t have to.  We can understand how our foods are transformed, and how mixing ingredients together can work to our advantage.  This makes us able to develop creative solutions to our problems – sometimes with very positive outcomes.

In fact, many of us find that beefing up our cooking skills and recipe collection is one of the first steps to feeling better.  It’s a way to take back some control and have an active role in your own health.  If you are interested in learning more about understanding what is going into your body, I have a review of a great book here (it’s the one that opened my eyes to a whole new world of managing my gastroparesis).  And the internet abounds with food and cooking blogs to get your creative juices flowing.  But I’ll leave the cooking to the masters.  Let’s talk about the ingredients!

One Ingredient = A World of Options

Almost every food that we eat is only one version of that ingredient.  Everything can be manipulated.  In fact, the food author Michael Pollan makes the very astute observation that cooking is the “transform[ation] of the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.”

And our menus and diets rely heavily on this manipulation.  If not for that, we’d all be eating the same boring thing, every day.  And there would be nothing exciting about having a salad vs. an entrée, or going out for Mexican vs. Indian.

Take the pinto bean, for example.  So simple.  Right?

The raw form of a pinto bean is very different than the one that we eat.  It’s hard as a rock and basically inedible.  To make it edible, it has to be soaked for hours on end.  At that point, it could technically be eaten, but it wouldn’t be very enjoyable – it’s still pretty darn hard.  Once soaked, it is typically boiled…for awhile.  Finally!  We have soft, edible beans that make us think “food!”.  Now you could throw them into something yummy, like a bean salad.

But we don’t always stop there.  Pinto beans are often refried, meaning that they are smashed into a pile of mush, mixed with some amount of animal fat, and cooked into a dough-like mash.  Refried beans may be a staple of Central America, but India performs similar tricks with its lentils.   And there are so very many other types of beans to be altered as well!

So what about the most popular topic around beans – gas?  Well, different methods of cooking can really change how likely beans are to make a person gassy.  For instance, rinsing the beans after they have soaked and then boiling them in a new batch of water can help to remove some of the parts of the bean that cause gas.  And refried beans, having been further cooked and mashed, often affect people differently than plain pinto beans.

And we haven’t even touched on how good these different forms of the bean are for your body, or how easily they are digested!  That same act of rinsing the beans and boiling them in new water has been shown to make them more nutritious to the body.  Cooked beans also provide more iron to the body than un-cooked beans.  And before this becomes a biography of beans, I will stop myself there!

Ingredients: What Are They, Really?

I’ve made my point.  A bean is not just a bean.  Next point.

If you’ll take a quick trip with my nerdy brain, we can understand why the bean (and so many other foods) could possibly be changed so much by what we do to it.  How is it that we can alter how good it is for us, how easy it is for us to absorb it, and how good it tastes?

Well, that requires a basic understanding for the structure of our food.  We all know that every organism is made up of cells.  These cells come together to make very different structures and organs.  Our hearts are made of cells, just like our livers, but those organs do very different things (and look different, too).  And a flower is made up of cells, as is our skin – two clearly different structures.

Plants

One of the biggest differences between our cells and the cells of a plant are that the plant’s cells have a wall around them.  The wall protects these cells from weather and damage.  On a larger scale, each individual cell wall joins together to form a solid and sturdy structure.  This cell wall chain provides structure for the plants, because they don’t have skeletons the way that we do.  This allows them to withstand more (become hardier) and to maintain their shape and the way that they are growing.

It also makes them resistant to us and our general tendency to eat them.

When you eat a raw carrot, piece of lettuce, or stalk of celery, you notice it’s quite crunchy.  In fact, your teeth have to do quite a bit of work in order to taste, swallow, and digest those items.  But if you eat that carrot or celery in a stew or soup (and to continue with the lettuce, we’ll just call it cabbage, because, for reasons beyond me, people do eat that in soup form!), it’s soft.  In fact, it sometimes dissolves in your mouth, no teeth required.

What happened?  The cooking process broke down the cell wall.  That gave your teeth a break, as well as your stomach.  More on that in just a moment…

Meats

Obviously, meats are not plants, which means that they don’t have cell walls.  But we are all aware that meats can be just as tough to break down as plants, albeit in a different way.  Meat can be tough and chewy, requiring some effort from our teeth and stomachs, yet again.  This is due to the cells that make up meat forming a network, or tissue.

We don’t need to go into too much detail here, but a strong, healthy animal will have strong, healthy muscles.  And muscle cells form together into muscle tissues, which is made up of segments called ‘fibers’.  When you think of what muscles do (pulling, pushing, expanding, shrinking), it makes sense that these fibers would need to be both thick and flexible.  Which is exactly what they are.

Some meats are softer than others.  Some meats are fattier than others.  But all meats have that same general structure, and it usually makes it much harder to eat them raw (not that we often want to anyways!).

Breaking it Down (Literally and Figuratively)

It seems clear that our goal now is to break down the ingredient to make it easier to digest and easier to absorb.  We would like to have our cake, eat it, AND digest it, too.  Ideally, we’d also like it to taste good, and if it has nutrients in it, we want to absorb those into our bodies.

And you know what?  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.  Especially if we understand what each ingredient is made of and how we can use that to our advantage.

In the next article, that’s exactly what we’ll talk about, along with specific steps and considerations to make so that you can apply this to your own diet and health!

Read the Next Article Here…

Share This