Maximising the nutritional value of your food is useful if you find it hard to physically eat enough snacks/meals in a day. Sometimes meeting your daily requirements of certain nutrients can be tough through diet alone, finding the time to consume additional calories during an average working day can be a challenge! So to help with this food companies and governmental initiatives have made it part of their policy to improve the nutritional value of their foods, even to the extent that the food now contains nutrients it wouldn’t ordinarily contain, an example of this would be the addition of folate and iron to breakfast cereals.
The process of enhancing the nutritional value of food or drink is known as enriching and fortifying, there are subtle differences between the two i.e. the Food Standards Agency may recommend that food companies ‘fortify’ their products, whereas a fitness enthusiast or professional may ‘enrich’ their foods. Ultimately these processes entail adding a nutrient or foodstuff to an existing food to increase its nutritional value. In the fitness world, many people enrich their own foods so that they meet their high or very particular requirements…
If you want to get more from your food and drink, check out these 8 ways to ‘supercharge’ your foods:
1.) Add some nuts- Nuts are high in protein, monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E which are key to cell integrity and reducing oxidative stress. Almonds are a particularly good source of the mineral calcium, as well as trace elements such as iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. As well as all this, nuts are high in calories…so if you want to increase the overall nutritional value of your meal try crushing some nuts and adding them to your mash potato, sprinkle or spread them on a chicken breast, or add them to some veg to those nutrient powerhouses a bit more interesting.
2.) Supercharge your milk- Milk is already one of the most nutritionally balanced substances on earth, after all, for several months it is the sole form of nutrition available to us after birth! Milk is rich in calcium, vitamin A and iron, as well as being a high biologically available source of whey and casein protein. Imagine then that you can effectively double the nutritional value of your milk without actually increasing the amount you have to drink, or indeed ramping up the fat! Throw in 2-3 tablespoons of dried skimmed-milk powder to one 1 pint of milk and add this to soups, mash potato, cereals, teas and coffees (especially milky coffees) and milk based sauces.
3.) Flax it up- If you are like a large proportion of the population and fail to get in adequate amounts of essential omega oils from oily fish, then flax seed is an alternative you may not have thought about. It’s not until you start to feel aching joints, or you notice poor recovery from injury that you might start to look at your omega oils. Flaxseed is a rich source of essential fatty acids (EFAs), particularly the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALNA). ALNA and linoleic acid (LA, an omega-6) are considered to be the two primary EFAs. Other food sources rich in ALNA are some vegetable oils such as canola oil and soybean oil, walnuts, dairy products, beans, broccoli, and leafy greens.
Flax seed is also an excellent source of insoluble fibre (the husk) which increases transit rate of fat through the bowl reducing the absorption of fat, as well as helping to reduce inflammation arteries as well as favourably affecting cholesterol levels (increasing the good HDL to LDL ratio).
4.) Throw in some lentils- Lentils come under the umbrella of Legumes and are basically a type of dried bean. You can get these in their whole or split form, and include brown, green (most common), black, yellow, red and orange varieties. Part of eating healthily, either when training or in general, involves pre-preparing meals and snacks, and what better way than getting a slow cooker, throwing in some chicken, a few carbs and veg, some stock and some lentils! Bag these up and freeze for when you need them. By adding lentils to this meal (or a similar alternative) you enrich the nutritional content significantly. Many people also like to blitz some lentils in with their soups to thicken and improve the nutritional value.
Lentils are a rich source of soluble and insoluble fibre which serves to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol as well stabilising blood sugar levels. They are very low in fat, relatively high in protein, slow releasing carbs, and inherently low in calories. As well as all this, lentils are high in iron meaning they support your haemoglobin (oxygen carriers in the body) which maximises oxygen and energy delivery to your organs and muscles.
5.) Add some natural yoghurt and dried fruit to your breakfast- In fact, why not mix it about a bit!? Try putting approx 125g of natural yoghurt into a bowl, sprinkle over 20-30g oats and top with some dried fruit. The nutritional density of this meal is almost unrivalled…it’s high in protein, low glycaemic index carbs, fibre, various vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, C and the minerals calcium, iron and potassium.
Remember…you don’t have to eat this, why not blitz it in a blender and consume as a nutritious smoothie. If you wanna supercharge it then just throw in some cottage cheese, cinnamon and flax seed. These ingredients give you a hit of slow release casein protein (cottage cheese), metabolic boosting and blood sugar regulating capabilities (cinnamon), and cardio protective properties courtesy of the trusty flax seeds!
Food Standards Agency, (2008). Manual of Nutrition, 11th Ed. Norwich: TSO information & publishing solutions.
Barasi, M, E. (2002). Human Nutrition: A Health Perspective. London: Oxford University Press.