In a world where we are constantly looking for tips and tricks to boost our energy, mood and productivity, we can't ignore nutrition. Rather than focusing on what to avoid in your diet, I like to shift the focus to increasing the nutrient density of your meals. This way you are adding much more healthy proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and as a result, some of the less-healthy things easily fall away.
Here are my top 10 tips to boost the nutrient density of your diet:
1. Drop the filler foods.
I would consider bread, rice, pasta and crackers as some examples of filler foods that are taking up a significant caloric portion of your meals, but are not giving much back nutritionally. If you replace these servings with more vegetables or starchy vegetables like sweet potato, yam, squash, beets and carrots, you are greatly increasing the nutrients in your meal.
2. Eat more leafy greens.
Leafy greens are a powerhouse of nutrition. Include these in salads, stir-fries, sautéed greens with garlic, or even in green smoothies for convenience.
3. Add a veggie snack every day.
One of the goals with a nutrient dense diet is to increase your vegetable intake to at least 6 servings daily. Adding a vegetable snack every day will help you to reach this. Try vegetables with hummus, celery with almond butter, or simply a small bowl full of colourful raw veggies when you need a crunchy snack.
4. Top your meals with nuts and seeds.
Another easy tip to up the nutrient density of your meal is to top it off with mineral-rich nuts or seeds. Consider preparing your favourite blend of hemp hearts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, slivered almonds or others that can be sprinkled onto your meal.
5. Eat ½ plate of vegetables with each meal.
Change the way you build your plate to incorporate more vegetables. This way of eating is optimal for your weight and metabolism, and will also ensure that you meet all of your vitamin and mineral requirements each day.
6. Add more power foods to your breakfast.
Breakfasts can be far more creative than toast, bagels and cereal! Start your day off right with an energy boost by drinking a green smoothie, topping your porridge with hemp hearts, chia seeds, cinnamon and goji berries, or eating a vegetable packed frittata to start your day off right.
7. Focus on lots of color.
Just as we remind children to eat all the colours of the rainbow, the practice of eating colourful meals keeps us healthy too. Bring in the balance of different coloured vegetables and fruits into each of your meals to reach the full range of plant-based nutrients. Some of the most colourful foods have extremely high levels of antioxidants — turmeric, pomegranate, beets, watercress, spinach and sweet potatoes to name a few.
8. Eat protein with each meal.
Most people struggle with some degree of blood sugar regulation issues, ranging from hypoglycemia to insulin resistance to diabetes. One of the best ways to maintain stable blood sugar levels is to eat protein with each meal. Depending on your dietary preference this can be healthy versions of fish, meat, poultry and eggs, or vegetarian sources such as beans or lentils.
9. Include healthy fats.
Thank goodness we are finally over the low-fat diets! Including healthy fats is essential for your mood, hormone balance, cognitive function, skin health and more. Some of the top fats to add for a balanced meal are olive oil, coconut oil, nuts seeds or avocado.
10. Don't forget the fiber.
Fiber will naturally come with the addition of more vegetable and fruits, so don't be tricked into eating lots of whole grains to meet your daily fiber requirements! You can further top up your fiber with the addition of ground flax or chia seeds, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds. Whole foods naturally contain a good amount of fiber.
In conclusion, as you are making nutritional changes towards a nutrient dense diet, don't forget about the joy and pleasure of eating. I always encourage my patients who are taking on a new diet to look at it as a cooking adventure! Your attitude will make all the difference in changing the way you eat as a long-term lifestyle change, instead of just a new diet.