Nutrients are substances the body uses to regulate life essential functions such as: hormone production, the immune system, vision and energy metabolism. Without adequate levels of essential nutrients, the cannot function optimally. Certain nutrients also lower disease risk and improve overall health. For example, fiber reduces cholesterol and cancer risk while omega 3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease. Smart nutrition habits play an important role in ensuring you get adequate levels of every essential nutrient.
1. Cooked Food vs. Pre-Cooked Convenience Options. Cooking your own food is one of the best ways to increase nutrient content in meals. Relying on pre-cooked food is convenient, but convenience often comes at a hefty price. The commercial processing of food strips out many nutrients. Cooking allows you to use fresh, nutrient dense foods rather than heavily processed ingredients which are high in calories but low in nutrients. Home cooked meals are almost always healthier than store bought or restaurant alternatives. When cooking, maximize use of fresh and minimally processed ingredients such as: fresh fruits and vegetables, 100% whole wheat products and virgin/first pressed vegetable oils.
2. Pick Nutrient Dense Foods. Nutrient dense foods are high in nutrients (opposed to foods which are high in calories but low in nutrients). Examples of nutrient dense foods include: nuts, seeds, nut butters, fruits, vegetables, 100% whole wheat products (bread/pasta/brown rice) and legumes.
3. Avoid Empty Calories. Empty calories are found in foods which are high in calories but low in nutrients. Foods made with a high amount of "empty calories" are typically very high in sugar, which in addition to providing little in the way of nutrients, encourages overeating due to minimal satiety. Foods with empty calories include: foods whose main ingredient is sugar, sugary drinks (soda, energy drinks, fruit juice, coffee & tea with sugar), candy and baked goods (doughnuts, muffins, cookies). If you're unsure whether a food is made up of empty calories, check the nutrition label; foods high in calories but low in fiber, vitamins and minerals are poor choices.
4. Wide Variety of Foods. Different foods are made up of different nutrients. Avoid eating the same exact foods every single day. Focus on picking a wide variety of foods: different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
5. Supplements. Supplements are often misused; they were never meant to take the place of a healthy diet, only add to one. If you haven't built a strong foundation around smart nutrition and exercise habits, supplements won't do much. If however, you eat a wide variety of fresh, nutrient dense foods, avoid empty calories and exercise on a regular basis, supplements can help plug small holes in an otherwise solid diet.
The Bottom Line
Nutrients allow the body to perform important functions and decrease the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, strokes and cancer. Practicing smart nutrition habits such as cooking your own food, making good meal choices and picking a wide variety of ingredients makes getting 100% of your daily nutrient needs a sinch.