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Nutrient-rich - Your new food mantra

By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD

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If you want to improve your diet, then you may benefit from the new food mantra known as “nutrient-rich eating”? In this article, I explain what this eating style is all about and the benefits it offers you and your clients.

During the last decade food marketers have busied themselves removing many nutritional nasties from our food. Less fat, salt-reduced, low-sugar and additive-free have been the catch-cries of countless “better for you” foods designed to boost your health and keep you in shape.

But simply eliminanating problematic nutrients and food chemicals from your diet won't create a nutrition pattern that truly optimises your wellbeing. What is just as important, if not more important, are the ingredients in foods that enhance cellular health and maximise your metabolic function. These are the vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds (known as phytochemicals) that you want to pack into your pantry.

Defining "nutrient-rich" eating

Professor Adam Drewnowski from the University of Washington is leading the scientific charge to define terms like “nutrient-rich” and “nutrient density”. He favours calories as the most common denominator and suggests that a nutrients-to-calorie ratio allows for the development of nutrient density scores for foods to aid food choice.

This means that the pathway to optimum health will involve making every calorie count in terms of the nutrients you receive per calorie. Fast foods and sweet snacks offer many calories with few nutrients, so are a poor choice.

Nutrition all-stars

Shining the nutrient-rich torch across a range of foods reveals some shine brighter than others. It also reinforces the need for portion control to ensure that you only eat amounts that provide a level of beneficial nutrients without excessive calories.

Here are some stand-out foods that warrant recommendation:

Nuts - A unique combination of healthy fats plus a broad range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which help nuts to reduce heart disease risk, lower cholesterol and control weight. An average serve (30g) of mixed nuts provides about 20% of the recommended requirement of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. And it appears that moderate nut consumption does not pose a threat for weight gain due to satiety and energy burning affects.

Eggs - Once eliminated from diets due to cholesterol concerns, eggs are now recognised as a nutritional powerhouse. Among many nutrients, they can contribute up to a third of the requirement for iodine, which is essential for healthy thyroid function and maintenance of metabolic rate. Unless you are sensitive to the cholesterol in eggs, an egg a day is acceptable.

Milk - Often cast out of weight loss diets, dairy products are now acknowledged as playing an important role in assisting weight management. In population studies, the lowest consumers of dietary calcium tend to weigh the most and the highest consumers, weigh the least. Researchers are busy looking for the mechanisms by which diary exerts its fat loss benefits.

Fish oil - In the 1990's, a claim that taking a capsule of fat helps fat burning would be met with extreme scepticism. However, recent studies show that high-end fish and also fish oil consumers may have a fat burning advantage. The long-chain fatty acids in fish oil may enhance cellular membrane function to help release more stored body fat, particularly when combined with fitness training.

Dark chocolate - Emerging studies suggest that limited amounts of dark chocolate eaten daily, say 25g or two small squares, can contribute to improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol level. The antioxidants present in the cacao, which is more concentrated in the 70% cacao dark version of chocolate are believed to offer the benefits. Just ensure you are aware that it's a little that does the job here and more is not better.

Nutrient-rich can be processed

The concept of nutrient density encompasses a consideration of the bioavailability of the nutrients in specific foods. For example, the calcium in dairy products is much more available to your body and will be absorbed better than the calcium in spinach, which is bound up in the food.

Although processed foods tend to be less nutritious than their fresh counterparts, there are a few exceptions. For example, folate in the form of folic acid fortified into breakfast cereals is more bioavailable than the folate found naturally in asparagus and other folate-rich vegetables.

Similarly, you'll get more of the antioxidant lycopene when it comes out of a can of tomato paste than from raw tomoatoes. If you heat the paste in oil you'll further enhance the release of lycopene into the body. Of course, choose a low-salt option for tomato paste.

Nutrient-rich snack suggestions

Here are few nutrient-rich food options to place in your diet:

  • Berry smoothie - antioxidants and calcium
  • Mixed nuts and seeds - monounsaturated fats and vitamin E
  • Canned salmon - omega-3 fish oils
  • Natural yoghurt - beneficial bacteria and calcium
Your new nutrition mantra

Nutrient-rich eating is more than a healthy recommendation. It's a nutritional priority statement or guiding philosophy that can communicate your true food values. If every time you plan a meal or snack you demand a nutrient-rich experience, then you'll automatically choose wholesome foods. This in turn will keep you in good shape for life, which is exactly what your body deserves.



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