Eating your greens is good. But actually digesting your greens and unlocking their phytonutrients: that’s much better. Well if you want to do that, you’d better lay off the low-fat salad dressing. Stick to the real, full fat deal.
Unlock phytonutrients with fat
Carotenoids are plant nutrients (AKA phytonutrients) you can find in a wide variety of vegetables. Carotenoids give many vegetables their bright red, orange and yellow colour, but you'll also find them in greens like spinach and kale. They're an important factor in plant health, and have a big role to play in our health too.
There are over 600 types of carotenoids and their health benefits span wide, from eye sight to skin health via cognitive function and lung health. Carotenoids are strong antioxidants. They have anti-inflammatory properties, benefit the immune system, and can boost cardiovascular performance. Some carotenoids are converted into vitamin A in the body, which plays a critical role in healthy skin, neurological function, and vision (carrots help you see in the dark, remember?). Put simply, if you’re looking to lead a healthy lifestyle, you want to make sure you’re absorbing the carotenoids in your diet.
Eat fats with your veg
You can eat kale all day. The truth is, if you scrap the fat from your diet, you’ll be missing out on the precious lutein and beta-carotene, the very carotenoids that make kale such a powerful antioxidant.
Since the early 2000s, various studies have shown that accompanying vegetables with a serving of fat is essential to unlocking phytonutrient bioavailability. In other words, eating salad with fat-free or even low-fat dressing results in essentially no absorption of the carotenoids. (Not only that, but we suspect that all fat-free dressings are packed with hidden sugars
Carotenoids play a huge part in our health, and clearly require fats to be digested properly. But it doesn’t stop there. Vitamin A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins. This means that they, too, require a healthy dose of fat to be broken down and absorbed by the body.
So what’s good?
We’re not suggesting you start mixing pork scratching into your grated carrots. But we wouldn’t worry too much about that buttered-up side plate of spinach at your next Sunday roast.
It turns out, monounsaturated fats from things like rapeseed oil, olive oil or peanut oil are the most effective in improving bioavailability of carotenoids. However, there is no question that saturated fatty acids such as butter also unlock the phytonutrients. And it's not just about oil, either. Including a nice fatty avocado will boost the bioavailability of your brightly coloured plate.
There is also some suggestion that our cells may store carotenoids until we eat enough fats to make them available. So the bottom line? Be sure to include healthy doses of fats in your daily diet.