“What are the most nutrient dense foods to eat” is one of the most common questions that people ask me. It’s easy to overeat your daily calorie budget, yet it is hard to reach your daily nutrient requirement.
Nutrition is number one when it comes to your health and quality of life. Every cell in your body requires nutrients to perform its job. Your cells will not function optimally without enough nutrients. The result of this is fatigue, irritability and the dreaded signs of ageing.
It’s not just about the vitamins
It is not just the vitamin and minerals that we look at to assess the nutrient profile of a particular food. When looking at the most nutrient dense foods to eat, we also need to look at the phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are ‘non-nutritive’ compounds that are biologically active in the body. These compounds have protective actions and disease preventative roles in the body. There are over tens of thousands of different phytochemicals in our food chain, all playing various roles in protecting our health.
• free radical scavenging
• liver protective and regenerating
• protective to your vascular system, this includes your cardiovascular system
• eye health
• cancer protection
• hormone balancing
• antimicrobial action
Your Guide to the most nutrient dense foods to eat.
To get more bang for your buck, here are some of the most nutrient-dense foods to eat that will give your body all the building blocks it needs to have you thriving.
Salmon is king of the fish world when it comes to nutrient profile. Being very high in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is good for brain health, joint function and skin health. Salmon is an excellent source of protein and is high in nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, selenium and B-vitamins. Be sure that you choose wild caught salmon as farmed salmon can be filled with nasty contaminants. Aim for 1-2 serves per week.
GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES (kale, spinach, watercress)
Green leafy vegetables are one of the key contributors to a healthy diet. They are low in calories, yet high in minerals, vitamins, fibre, anti-oxidants, and enzymes. Combine all of these things together, and you have a food that provides your body with a good base for what it needs. A couple of handfuls of leafy greens a day provides over half of your daily vitamin A, as well as plenty of vitamin K, folate and iron. To supercharge them even further you can lightly sauté them with a little olive oil and garlic.
Our leafy green of the ocean is an excellent source of minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium. It phytonutrients such as phycocyanins and carotenoids provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But where seaweed shines is in its high iodine content. Iodine is essential for thyroid health as it is required to make thyroid hormones. You don’t need a whole lot of iodine, even just a few serves of seaweed and month will give you all the iodine that your body needs.
This distant relative of the white potato, sweet potato is most commonly orange, but can also be red, white or purple. Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body, in fact, one medium sweet potato can provide 100% of your daily vitamin A requirements. They are also high in vitamin C, B6, potassium, and manganese. But what is the star quality of this tuber is its resistant starch. Resistant starch passes through the digestive system untouched until it reaches the colon where your beneficial bacteria feed off it, allowing the good bacteria to flourish.
It is the vibrant colour of the berries that provide phytonutrients that are so vital for cellular health. Berries have plenty of antioxidants (proanthocyanidin) that help your body to fight against free radical damage. It is free radicals that cause our bodies to age and break down. Berries contain gallic acid which is a potent anti-fungal and antiviral agent. Berries are low in sugar, high in fibre and provide a broad range of virtually all vitamins. Eat a variety of berries, and yes, frozen berries are just as good as fresh when it comes to nutrients.
Eggs are such a nutritionally complete food that I recommend them to all my non-vegan clients. Both the yolk and the white offer a comprehensive nutritional profile of all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. The yolk is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other healthy fats. While eggs are not high in vitamins like C and some B vitamins, but eggs are high in vitamin A, D, folate, choline, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium. In fact, one egg will give you all your daily selenium requirements. Selenium is essential for thyroid health, immune system, fertility and mental cognition.
A note on eggs, please choose both ethically and nutritionally. Buy organic free range, or even better from a local chicken farmer. Try out these bacon and egg cups for breakfast on the weekend.
With a cacao content of 70-99%, dark chocolate has a great array of minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. Like most of the foods on this list, dark chocolate is high in phytonutrients such as flavonoids and polyphenols. These two natural plant chemicals provide antioxidant protection and have been studied to reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, good for cholesterol profiles and may even prevent cancer.
This pale vegetable is not pale in nutrients. Cauliflower has a great variety of nutrients in significant levels such as vitamin C, K, B12, folate, and choline. It has plenty of fibre to keep your gut healthy, and the natural sulfur compounds in cauliflower are great for your liver and detoxification pathways. Cauliflower is a part of the cruciferous family which are known to natural cancer cell killers (isothiocyanates content) and potent antioxidants due to their high content of glutathione.
The best way to get cauliflower in your diet is to make cauliflower rice as a side dish for all your curries, stir-fries and stews. Super easy to make, try this cauliflower rice recipe.
NUTS and SEEDS
Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, biotin, manganese, copper, magnesium, fibre, monounsaturated fats, and protein. This humble nut is a lifesaver for people with intolerances as it can easily be made into a flour for baking or into a milk alternative. Other nuts worthy of a mention are Brazil nuts for their high selenium content (thyroid health) and walnuts for their healthy fat profile. Seeds are very similar to nuts in their nutritional profile as they contain healthy fats, fibre, and essential minerals.
This little gem is having a surge in popularity at the moment with avocado roses and smashed avocado taking over Instagram. They are rich in monounsaturated fat, potassium (more than bananas!), vitamin E, B, K, C, folic acid, and fibre. This fruit is great for cardiovascular health due to the heart-healthy fats that are comprised of oleic acid. Avocado is also protective of the eyes due to the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin. The high fibre content of avocados helps you stay full for longer, and have been shown to support weight loss.
And for the brave…
For those who want to boost their nutritional intake, organic liver is the food for you. I haven’t detailed the nutritional benefits of liver on this list as I find most people will simply not eat it. However, if liver appeals to you, then take my word for it that you will get about as many nutrients as you possibly can from a serve of liver…please just make sure that it is from a healthy animal that has been grass fed and pasture raised.
Make good habits stick
Are trying to make good eating habits to stick? Then print out this free download on the best food choices to make.