Most of us are aware that eating plenty of vitamins and minerals is beneficial to our health, but sometimes the thought of trying to fit them all in can get a little overwhelming, particularly if you have a busy life. Fortunately, there are ways of including the majority of necessary vitamins and minerals in our diets without eating every fruit and vegetable under the sun, or resorting to tablets.
The key is to include foods that are as naturally dense in nutrients as possible; preferably versatile foods that you can easily use in many dishes and snacks. Here are some examples of foods that pack a lot of nutritional punch:
- A big handful of berries will provide you with a good proportion of your daily antioxidant requirements; particularly blueberries, strawberries and kiwis.
- Just 2 Brazil nuts contain your RDA of selenium, a mineral with a multitude of functions involved with our immune system, thyroid function and visual health.
- Potatoes get a bad rep due to their high carbohydrate content. However, they are highly filling and in fact are not digested in the same way as foods high in processed simple carbohydrates. But that is for another post…. More relevantly, they are actually rich in potassium, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and other important nutrients, particularly if you eat the skins.
- 100g of asparagus contains around 50% of your RDA of folic acid, plenty of vitamin A and fibre. It can easily be added to stir fries, pasta dishes, or even used as soldiers with soft-boiled eggs.
- Eggs are one of the only food sources of the vitamin D that we otherwise produce in response to sunlight, which is responsible for calcium absorption and healthy bones. In addition, eggs are rich in iron and full of good cholesterol. They also have one of
the highest bioavailability values of all foods, meaning a very large amount of their nutrients is absorbed by the body.
- A big handful of raw spinach contains the majority of the vitamin K and half of the vitamin A that you need for the day. Spinach can easily be added to stir fries, sandwiches, omelettes, salads, pasta dishes… the list goes on.
- Garlic is rich in antioxidants, and as it appears in so many different types of meals, it provides an easy way of sneaking in some important micronutrients.
- Tomatoes contain a high amount of antioxidants and minerals, and consequently they are proposed to help protect against various diseases. In addition, you would have to eat about 30 cherry tomatoes to consume the same amount of calories as is contained in a single chocolate Digestive, making them a handy low-calorie snack.
- Oily fish are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which many people appear to be lacking. Omega-3s play a role in healthy brain functioning, reducing inflammation, and potentially preventing heart disease. Good sources are mackerel, salmon, anchovies and sardines, but also (in smaller amounts) various seeds and nuts such as flax seeds and walnuts.
You are by no means restricted to just these examples; you will notice that these are all natural foods, many of which are fruit and veg – the idea is that you simply pick a range of naturally occurring foods that you like, and find easy ways of adding them into your daily meals. Versatility is key here, because you are much more likely to regularly consume nutritious foods if they lend themselves to many different meal types. Foods that require minimal preparation are also a good bet, as you will be more inclined to include them if you have limited time to cook.
Another way of cramming in a variety of nutrients is building your own salad. When I was younger, the mention of the word “salad” would have me envisioning anaemic-looking lettuce leaves with a few watery tomatoes chucked on top. But salads needn’t be boring or unsatisfying, and they present a great opportunity to get creative with a whole variety of nutritious foods. Here are some examples:
- Rocket adds lots of flavour, and is rich in potassium and vitamins.
- Seeds and nuts are great sources of polyunsaturated fats and various vitamins.
- Adding chicken, fish or meat makes a salad much more filling and provides quality protein that is vital for your health. For vegetarians, try adding egg, pulses or a protein-rich grain such as quinoa or buckwheat.
- Add blueberries, goji berries or mango for a vitamin hit and a sweet touch; these 3 fruits in particular are popular additions to savoury salads.
- Make your own healthy dressing by mixing olive oil with almond butter or lemon juice, rich in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E.
My final suggestion for incorporating a variety of nutrients without too much hassle is to cook one-pot meals that you can add anything into, such as chillis, slow-cook meals and grain-based dishes. My favourite dish at the moment is this quinoa-based chilli (good for the vegetarians out there!):
I cooked this based on a variety of recipes from books and the internet. My favourite combinations are kidney beans/butter beans, sweetcorn, asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, onion and garlic… but you can use anything; adding carrots, broccoli, celery, green beans or spinach would also work. I use a range of different spices, it makes a huge batch and turns out to be pretty cheap! It can be eaten cold as a salad and contains a lot of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Of course, the availability of nutrients in the food you eat is often affected by the way it is prepared and cooked. However, you will be well on your way to getting the nutrients you need if you make adding variety to your diet easy. It may seem obvious or simple, but it can be surprisingly effective – making small changes that are easy to manage pave the way for making bigger changes.