An optimal diet contains a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole grains and healthy fats and oils. However, there are certain foods that are nutritional powerhouses. Below are a few of my favorite nutrient-dense foods that you should be sure to consume on a regular basis.
Eggs, a convenient and inexpensive source of protein, are one of the best sources of choline, a nutrient that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, boost memory function and reduce anxiety. Other key nutrients found in eggs include B Vitamins and trace minerals, as well as the antioxidants lutein and xeaxanthin, which are essential to eye health.
Pasture-raised eggs are the best form and are higher in essential fatty acids and Vitamins A, E and D. Chickens that are pasture-raised enjoy grass, insects and sunshine.
Often called “nature’s multivitamin”, liver is the single richest dietary source of iron. It is also one of the best dietary sources of folate and Vitamin B12, with up to 200x more Vitamin B12 than muscle meat (such as steak or chicken). It is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are often difficult to get in food.
If you’re not a fan of organ meats, one of the easiest ways to get more liver is an organic pate spread on crackers or toast. My favorite brand is Alexian, which can be found in many natural foods stores and online.
Meat on the bone, slow-cooked meats and bone broth are not only economical but wonderful sources of collagen, gelatin and glycine. These nutrients are not found in high levels in the more commonly eaten leaner proteins like muscle meat, skinless poultry and dairy. Bone broth contains complete protein, minerals, B vitamins, and fat-soluble vitamins and several other nutrients in levels that are difficult to match in other foods. Bones contain more minerals than any other tissue. So when we slow cook them in broth, they leach into the water making it a rich source of electrolytes. It’s like Gatorade without sugar and artificial additives!
Gelatin or collagen powder are also good sources of collagen. Try Vital Proteins brand products.
Fruits and Vegetables, Especially Leafy Greens
Fruits and vegetables are the best source of antioxidants, fiber and phytonutrients. There are 45 different types of antioxidants in kale alone! Aim for 3 servings a day of fruit and at least 6 servings of vegetables. You can easily achieve this by making half your plate non-starchy vegetables with every meal. Fresh or frozen are best and they can be eaten raw or cooked, but a combination of both is ideal. The nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed with fat, so don’t be shy about eating them with healthy fats like olive oil and butter. Enjoying in-season produce from your local farmers market is also a great way to connect with your community and support local farmers.
Many people are avoiding fish and other seafood due to the prevalence of mercury contamination. While it’s true that this is an important concern, there are many fish that are still safe to eat. The nutrients in seafood are essential to optimal health. Fish is the richest source of omega 3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, support mental health and play a critical role in fetal development. It also contains trace minerals, selenium, iodine and zinc. A good rule of thumb is to choose smaller fish, like salmon, anchovies and sardines which are lower on the food chain and therefore will have a lower mercury content. Check http://seafood.edf.org/ to see which fish are safe to eat. And always choose wild-caught fish.