You don't need a bunch of pills and supplements to make sure you get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. There are plenty of easy ways to add a big nutritional boost to your dishes and make an already healthy meal even better for your mind and your body. We asked a nutritionist to give us some pointers on simple ways to get a big improvement in our diet, and here's what he suggested.
Title image remixed from Picsfive (Shutterstock).
Improve Your Meal by Sprinkling On Some Delicious Nutritional All-Stars
We sat down with Andy Bellatti, a Seattle-based registered dietitian and nutritionist who's helped us before with our first food myths post and its myth-smashing sequel, and we asked him how you can boost the nutritional content of your meals. It turns out there are some nutritional all-stars that make for great additions to soups, stews, yoghurt, pilafs, salads and more. Here are a few:
Chia Seeds. More commonly known as the seed that makes the infamous chia pet fluffy and green, chia seeds are also a remarkable source of fibre (4g per serving), magnesium ("a mineral most Americans don't get enough of," says Andy), and well over a day's worth of heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, Andy notes that serving of chia seeds will add about 60 calories to your salad, stew or oatmeal -- a tiny caloric boost when compared to the nutritional gains you get. Photo by José Maria Silveira Neto.
- Nutritional Yeast. Nutritional yeast is actually a favourite of mine, and Andy loves it too. I stumbled onto it when entertaining a vegan friend, who suggested I sprinkle some on popcorn. Sure enough, nutritional yeast has a very cheesy, Parmesan-like flavour that's good on vegetables, in dips, and anywhere you want a cheesy, umami flavour boost. "A two tablespoon serving," Andy notes, "provides 4g of fibre, 8g of protein, loads of B vitamins, and as much potassium as a small banana. Some brands are especially fortified with vitamin B12." You can't go wrong here, especially if you love savoury foods.
- Nori (Seaweed). If you haven't tried adding nori strips or snacks to your diet, you're missing out on another delicious savoury boost with big nutritional bonuses. Most people know nori from their sushi rolls, but it can also be ripped and flaked over soups, salads and even laid over noodles. Nori is also rich in vitamins A and C, and EPA (a type of omega-3 that's normally found in fish, because they eat sea vegetables.)
- Wheat Germ. Wheat germ is another staple in my kitchen and adds a crunchy, nutty and mildly sweet flavour that's specifically good as a lightly crunchy topper for yoghurt, cereal or oatmeal, and is also a great additive to mix in if you're making your own cereal or granola. "A 50-calorie, two-tablespoon serving," says Andy, "delivers 2.5g of fibre and is an excellent source of manganese, zinc, iron and thiamin."
- Cocoa Powder and Cacao Nibs. Two different products born from the same plant, cocoa powder (as long as you get unsweetened, non-alkalised cocoa) can add fibre, potassium and magnesium when sprinkled into a smoothie or mixed into a drink. Cacao nibs on the other hand are 100 per cent cocoa, and include the fatty acids available in the pure product. They're sharp, bitter and crunchy, offering a kind of coffee-like flavour that's great in granola, oatmeal, cereal and more. Andy points out that they're also great sources of fibre, magnesium, and zinc.
Hemp Seeds. Ah, hemp. It's good for tons of things, but on your food they add a serious nutritional punch to your salads, stews, cereals, granolas, oatmeal, and just about anything else you can add it to. For all of its nutty flavour, Andy reminds us that you also get 6.5g of protein (as much as one egg) per two-tablespoon serving, along with 2g of fibre and a good bit of your recommended daily allowance of zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, and yes, omega 3 fatty acids. Title image remixed from jurgajurga (Shutterstock).
- Oat Bran. Everyone's had an oat bran muffin, and even if you didn't care for it, oat bran itself has great heart benefits, incredible amounts of fibre (2.5g per two-tablespoon, 30-calorie serving) and sizeable dozes of phosphorus, selenium and manganese. Andy suggests adding them to smoothies if you don't want it in baked goods, and we suggest mixing some in with your granola, hot cereals, or on top of yoghurt or cottage cheese.
These are just a few great boosts you can add to just about any type of meal, specifically breakfasts, cereals, salads, soups and stews, a steaming pot of lentils, or even dairy. It's just the tip of the iceberg, however, and you can also add a nutritional punch with some more common seeds and superfoods, like ground flax, pomegranate seeds and sunflower seeds. All of these are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre that can be added to soups, salads and stews, or stand on their own as a healthy mid-day snack. Plus, everything listed here should be available in your local grocery store or health food store. They may not all be cheap, but your health is worth it.
Note: These Are Healthy Additions to a Healthy Diet
These nutritional boosts are designed to make a healthy diet even healthier. None of them are a magic bullet that make sure you get your recommended dietary allowance of necessary vitamins and minerals -- there is no such single fix. Andy notes that the idea here is to add these boosts to healthful, whole meals. You're not going to sprinkle some ground flax onto a pizza and somehow make that pizza good for you. Adding some chia seeds to a bowl of oatmeal, or some hemp seeds to whole grain pancake batter, will boost flavour and texture as well as nutritional content. When you're taking these tips to heart and introducing them to your diet, make sure you're also making the dietary changes necessary to maximise their impact. Photo by Rachel Hathaway.
Do you have any favourite healthy additions to your meals that add protein or vitamins to your favourite meals? Share your meal boosting tips in the comments below.
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, is a Seattle-based Nutritionist and the author of the nutrition blog Small Bites. You can follow him on Twitter at @andybellatti. He offered his expertise for this story, and we thank him.