If you rely on supplements to get your daily fix of nutrients, consider rethinking your menu.
Adding nutrient-dense foods to everyday meals and snacks can significantly impact your intake of a surprising number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Don’t get me wrong: Many people rely on supplements to supply certain nutrients that diet alone can’t deliver. A daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, for example, helps vegans meet vitamin B12 and iodine requirements. And taking vitamin D each day is an effective way to maintain a sufficient level of the nutrient, particularly during the winter months.
But even so, your regular menu needs to feature nutrient-dense foods. Here’s why.
What is nutrient density?
Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients in relation to the calorie content of a particular food. Nutrient-dense foods offer the greatest amount of nutrients in proportion to their calories.
Not surprisingly, vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts, seeds, dairy products, fish and lean meats are nutrient dense, as are whole grains. Compared to white rice, brown rice provides five times more fibre, double the niacin and zinc, and three times more potassium, a mineral needed for healthy blood pressure.
Eggs are another example of a nutrient-packed food. For only 75 calories, one large egg supplies six grams of protein, B vitamins, a hefty amount of brain-friendly choline and many minerals, including one-quarter of a day’s worth of immune-supportive selenium.
Getting the most nutrition from calories consumed is especially important for older adults with reduced appetites. A nutrient-dense diet helps maintain physical health and cognition, and reduces the risk of diet-related chronic disease.
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The following foods each supply a wide array of often under-consumed nutrients. They will boost the nutritional value of your meals and snacks, and infuse variety into your diet.
Pumpkin seeds: One quarter cup delivers 10 grams of plant protein, two grams of fibre, three milligrams of iron, 190 milligrams of magnesium (adults need 310 to 420 milligrams daily to help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure) and 2.5 milligrams of immune-supportive zinc, along with a range of other essential vitamins and minerals.
Pinto beans: Per cup, these nutritional powerhouses supply 15 grams each of protein and fibre, 79 mg of calcium, 85 mg of magnesium, 3.6 mg of iron and an impressive 746 mg of potassium, the amount found in two small bananas (adults need 4,500 mg daily). They are also a decent source of zinc and selenium.
Edamame: Three-quarters of a cup of these young green soybeans (shelled) offers 13.5 grams of protein, six grams of fibre, 507 mg of potassium and nearly a full day’s worth of folate, a B vitamin used to make red blood cells and repair DNA (adults need 400 micrograms per day). Edamame is also an excellent source of choline and bone-building vitamin K.
Swiss chard: This leafy green delivers big on nutrition. One cup, cooked, serves up 4 g of fibre, 150 mg of magnesium, 100 mg of calcium, 4 mg of iron, 961 mg of potassium and 31 mg of vitamin C (women and men need 75 and 90 mg daily, respectively). It also supplies a hefty amount of beta-carotene (6.4 mg), an antioxidant thought to protect brain and heart health.
Freekeh: This nutty-tasting whole grain is harvested when the wheat is young and green, and then roasted to burn off the husks. One cup cooked provides 12 g each of protein and fibre, 106 mg of magnesium and 3.6 mg of iron. Freekeh is also an outstanding source of manganese, a mineral needed for normal nerve and brain function, and used to make to make enzymes in the body that thwart free radical damage to cells.
Sardines: Their claim to fame isn’t only their rich source of heart-friendly and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Three ounces of sardines also deliver an outstanding amount of protein (21 g), calcium (324 mg), selenium (80 per cent of a full day’s worth) and 7.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 (adults need 2.4 mcg per day).
Strawberries: Along with their noteworthy vitamin C content (97 mg per one cup, sliced), strawberries are a good source of folate and potassium and also supply some calcium and magnesium. And, like other berries, they’re an exceptional source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals called polyphenols.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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