Get the most from your vegan meals with Holly Johnson’s health-boosting hacks.
1. Activate your nuts!
Nuts and seeds are naturally ‘locked down’ and contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors to safeguard them in nature and prevent them sprouting too early, but for us humans this means they can be hard to digest. Soaking things like cashews and almonds in water overnight makes those all-important vitamins more bio-available.
If you’re not using them straight away, store them in the freezer or dehydrate them in the oven for 12 hours. For a more in-depth guide, visit foodmatters.com.
2. Smash up your cabbage
We all know cabbage is good for us, but when it’s fermented its health credentials are doubled. To make sauerkraut, thinly slice cabbage or any veg with a firm texture and low sugar content and place in a large jar with a good dose of salt. Knead, press and smash with a wooden tamper to release the juices (and your stress levels!) and create a brine, then cover over and leave in a cool, dark room for at least five days.
Spice it up by adding ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes for Korean-style kimchi, or add apple, cinnamon and cloves for a warming winter treat. Tuck in and look forward to better digestion, improved mood and boosted immunity.
3. Go raw
Cooking food causes the loss of nutrients through heating, so aim to eat at least two raw meals a day. Start with overnight oats mixed with seeds and berries, followed by a big green salad for lunch. Make up a big batch of naked slaw from white cabbage, red onion and carrot to eat throughout the week and whizz up some raw dips like guacamole, red pepper and sun-dried tomato dip or houmous.
Craving hot food during winter? It’s worth noting that ‘raw’ classes as anything up to 41-46°C – which means you can enjoy things like gently cooked soups and fresh pesto stirred through courgetti.
4. Upgrade your veg
Not all fruit and veg is created equal. Organic, locally grown produce is the stuff to aim for – not only will it contain less pesticide residues, but it will be fresher (no long-haul flights to your plate) and ultimately contain more goodness (exposure to light, air and temperature changes all effect nutrient levels).
5. Add a probiotic
Pop a probiotic into your yoghurt, smoothies or energy ball mixtures to turn a humble snack into a gut-boosting superfood. This is a great way to ensure the whole family feel the benefits too – which include increased immunity and skin health. Don’t add them to recipes that require cooking though, as the heat will kill off the live bacteria and yeasts.
6. Do a cleanse
If your intestine is bogged down with old bits of food and toxins (yes, we know – gross right?), it will struggle to absorb all the goodness that you’re working so hard to put into your system. An occasional day-long water cleanse or ‘water fast’ has a host of benefits, including better nutrient absorption, improved digestion, increased energy… The list goes on.
Sip water steadily throughout the day, starting with lemon water, then drink plain (ideally filtered) water until bedtime. If you’re struggling by teatime, boil up some veggies and drink the broth as a reward of a bit of flavour and sustenance.
7. Chew your food
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, so the more you chew, the more chance they have of doing their job properly (and the less chance you’ll have of suffering from IBS or other digestive issues). Smaller food particles are also much easier to break down, meaning key nutrients can be extracted.
Research shows that chewing your food 30 times or more can prevent you from overeating or snacking later on too, thereby aiding weight loss.
8. Greens, greens, greens
Yep – your mum was right! Greens really are the holy grail of veggies. Spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, collard greens – they’re all powerhouses when it comes to key nutrients like calcium and vitamins A, B, C and K. What’s more, they’re highly alkaline, giving them anti-inflammatory superpowers.
The more acidic your body’s PH, the more at risk you are of developing diseases like diabetes and arthritis. To test your levels, order PH Indicator strips from amazon.co.uk and aim for a reading of 6.5-7.5.
9. Grind your flax
Seeds are designed to disperse themselves far and wide, meaning they will happily travel through your body without giving you much benefit – and this is especially true when it comes to flaxseed. Buy it in powder form or grind it in your blender at home to maximise your intake of fibre, protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. And in case you’ve forgotten what omega-3 is good for, think skin, hair, joints, heart and cholesterol!
10. Ripe and ready
Wondering whether to bin that brown banana? Studies show that the antioxidant levels of many fruits – including bananas, mangoes, apples, pears, berries, pineapples and peppers – increase dramatically when the fruit is ripe. In fact, the vitamin C content of a red pepper is 50% higher than a green one!
Holly’s a passionate vegan writer and editor of Simply Vegan magazine! She loves finding new products, food hacks – anything to make vegan life simpler.