Get the Most Nutrition from Your Calories and ‘Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right’ during National Nutrition Month® and Beyond
While taste drives most food choices, eating nutrient-rich foods that provide the most nutrition per calorie is one of the best ways to “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As part of the 2014 National Nutrition Month® theme, the Academy encourages everyone to choose the most nutritionally-packed foods you can from each of the five MyPlate food groups every day.
Nutrient-rich foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and other essential nutrients that offer health benefits with relatively few calories. “When your daily eating plans include foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, fat-free or low-fat dairy, beans, nuts and seeds in the appropriate amounts, you are able to get many of the nutrients your body needs, all with relatively low amounts of calories,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Debbi Beauvais.
Here are practical ways to add nutrient-rich foods to your daily diet:
- Make oatmeal creamier by using fat-free milk instead of water. Mix in some raisins, dried cranberries, cherries or blueberries, too.
- Make sandwiches on whole-grain bread, such as whole wheat or whole rye. Add slices of avocado, tomato or cucumber to lean roast beef, ham, turkey or chicken.
- Top foods with chopped nuts or reduced-fat sharp cheddar to get crunch, flavor and nutrients from the first bite.
- When eating out, look for nutrient-rich choices, such as entrée salads with grilled seafood and low-calorie dressing, baked potatoes topped with salsa, grilled vegetables and reduced-fat cheese and yogurt parfaits made with strawberries and blueberries.
- Spend a few minutes to cut and bag vegetables so they are in easy reach of every family member: some ready-to-eat favorites include red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower flowerets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas or radishes.
- Serve meals that pack multiple nutrient-rich foods into one dish, such as hearty, broth-based soups that are full of colorful vegetables, beans and lean meat. Make chili with a dollop of low-fat yogurt. Serve these with whole-grain breads or rolls.
“You should enjoy the foods you eat. In choosing nutrient-rich foods, you’ll find they are familiar, easy to find and represent the five MyPlate food groups,” Beauvais says. “Achieving balance and building a healthier diet can be simple and stress-free. Selecting nutrient-rich foods and beverages first is a way to make better choices within your daily eating plan.” Beauvais also recommends limiting added sugars and reducing the major sources of solid fats. “Drink few regular sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks, and cut back on cakes, cookies, ice cream, cheese and fatty meats like sausages, hot dogs and bacon,” she says.
“You don’t have to give up these foods entirely, but find ways to enjoy small amounts occasionally,” Beauvais says. When it comes to choosing what to eat, nutrition is important but flavor is likely the true motivator and also the key to eating right, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Experiment with new flavors and flavor combinations in healthy meals. “According to consumer research, taste tops nutrition as the main reason why consumers buy one food over another. The foods we most commonly eat are often those we enjoy the most,” says registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Joy Dubost. “So make taste a priority when preparing nutritious meals.”
Preparing meals can be healthy, rewarding and cost-effective. To maximize food’s flavor and nutrition, choose high-quality ingredients at their peak quality, and be sure to store and handle foods properly. “Proper food handling and storage can enhance the natural flavors of food and keep nutrient loss to a minimum,” Dubost says. “Overcooking can destroy both flavor and nutrients. So be sure to cook foods properly to retain nutrients and enhance flavor, color, texture and overall appeal.”
Try some of these simple techniques to enhance flavor while experimenting with flavor combinations:
- Intensify the flavors of meat, poultry and fish with high-heat cooking techniques such as pan-searing, grilling or broiling.
- Work with peppers. Use red, green and yellow peppers of all varieties—sweet, hot and dried. Or add a dash of hot pepper sauce.
- Try grilling or roasting veggies in a very hot (450°F) oven or grill for a sweet, smoky flavor. Brush or spray them lightly with oil so they don’t dry out. Sprinkle with herbs.
- Add a tangy taste with citrus juice or grated citrus peel: lemon, lime or orange. Acidic ingredients help lift and balance flavor.
- Caramelize sliced onions to bring out their natural sugar flavor by cooking them slowly over low heat in a small amount of oil. Use them to make a rich, dark sauce for meat or poultry.
- Simmer juices to make reduction sauces. Concentrate the flavors of meat, poultry and fish stocks. Reduce the juices by heating them—don’t boil. Then use them as a flavorful glaze or gravy.
- For fuller flavors, incorporate more whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, or experiment with amaranth and wild rice.
- Add small amounts of ingredients with bold flavors like pomegranate seeds, chipotle pepper or cilantro.
- Enhance sauces, soups and salads with a splash of flavored balsamic or rice vinegar.
- Give a flavor burst with good-quality condiments such as horseradish, flavored mustard, chutney, wasabi, bean purees, tapenade and salsas of all kinds.