If you came directly to this post, I recommend you go back and read posts one and two on this topic. It really does require an introduction. In the last post, we explored two important components to a micronutrient-rich diet:
1. Pack in the produce, and
2. Include protein in every meal.
This post includes another important component. Here goes.
3. Choose your carbs carefully
Carbs have a mixed reputation, which is confusing for a lot of people. Some diets shun carbs while others make them the foundation of the diet. So what’s a mindful eater to do? I suggest putting the focus on quality. Micronutrient quality, that is. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Carbohydrates, one of the three major macronutrients, are a main source of energy for the body. Some people tolerate more carbs in the diet than others – this depends on many factors such as activity level, medical history, and even genetics (and would be a great topic for another blog post). Carbohydrate-rich foods include grains (like rice, wheat, barley, and oats), fruit, starchy vegetables like squash and potatoes, and sugars such as honey, maple syrup, and granulated sugar. Fiber is a carbohydrate – technically a non-digestible one. There are lots of different types of fiber, which offer a multitude of benefits, but we won’t discuss them here.
A lot of Americans get most of their carbohydrates (and the majority of their Calories) from refined, bleached flour and sugar. Eating like this means missing out on so many micronutrients! While refined flour is enriched to return some of what is lost in the refining process, the micronutrient content just doesn’t come close to what you get from, say, sprouted wheat berries. Whole grains (those that are minimally processed) are a better source of important nutrients such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. I don't mean to say that you have to avoid bread, pasta, and white rice. I enjoy those foods (especially rice) intermittently. But since we're discussing how to up your micronutrient game, it's important to point out that there are some four star carb sources that pack a micronutrient-rich punch and leave the others in the dust. Eating these carb sources more often means more micronutrients for you. Here are some examples.
As you may have noticed from my Facebook posts, I cook these a lot. I bake them in the oven or cook quickly in the microwave (rinse, poke a few holes in the outside, microwave on high 5 minutes, flip, microwave 5 more minutes, allow to cool). Then I keep them in the fridge to use as a side dish, in a salad, or added to a soup. I found a new variety this week at my local farmer’s market – I can’t wait to try them! The classic baked potato is also a good source of micronutrients and deserves a mention. Here is a new version of this classic that takes the micronutrients up to 11.
Certain people, especially those with some digestive issues or SIBO, don’t tolerate beans and legumes well. For the rest of us, they’re a great source of micronutrient-rich carbs (and fiber!). Add some garbanzo beans to a salad, or better yet make these delicious roasted ones. Lentils make for an easy and budget-friendly curry dish such as this one from Epicurious. And for bonus points, here’s a simple recipe good for cold weather days that is packed with all sorts of micronutrient-rich carbs. Serve with a purchased rotisserie chicken to make a great meal.
I’ve made all different kinds of buckwheat pancakes, but these ones from the New York Times look worth trying next. They contain buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour, whole cooked buckwheat, and blueberries. Holy micronutrients! Another great way to enjoy buckwheat is by making a cold salad with cooked whole grain buckwheat noodles. Andrew loves this recipe… sort of. I’m not good at following recipes.
The classic example here is to prepare spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti topped with your favorite meat sauce or pesto and cheese. That would be great! You could also try a simple roasted acorn squash (use real butter instead of the coconut oil) or make up a batch of curried butternut squash soup (recipe by a dietitian, no less!)
Rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, oh my! Potatoes and carrots are great, but to up your micronutrient game you’ll want more variety in your root vegetable playlist. My favorite way to enjoy these is to mash boiled parsnips, rutabagas, and potatoes together and use as a side dish or topping for shepherd’s pie. Alton Brown is one of my food science heroes (yep, I have food science heroes). Consider making his shepherd’s pie and replacing ½ of the potatoes with other root veggies. Mixing in white potatoes helps make for a more familiar flavor and texture. For those wanting extra credit, check this guide to root vegetables by Oh My Veggies and do some experimenting.
I could not cover every micronutrient-rich source of carbohydrates in one blog post. There are too many choices! Hopefully these examples get you thinking about some great ways to add some variety to your carbohydrate choices.
In the next post, we'll talk about micronutrient-rich sources of fat. Yes, fat! Until then, happy eating!
Most of us have heard about the macronutrients - carbohydrates, fat, protein, alcohol - and we might even scrutinize how much of each we eat. But when's the last time you thought, "gee, how's my dietary folate intake these days?" Probably never, because we don't have room in our brains to consider our intake of every micronutrient. That's why it's important to eat an overall nutrient-rich diet with plenty of variety. This series of posts focuses on some key components of a micronutrient-rich diet. We're going with a numbered list here to keep us (me) on track. And because this is such a huge topic, I'm diving it into several posts.
Side note: With exceptions where noted, these recommendations are for adults; kids' requirements may be different depending on age. Also, if you have kidney or liver problems, talk to your doctor or dietitian before making major changes to your micronutrient intake.
OK. That's enough of an introduction. Here we go.
1. Pack in the produce.
Most adults should eat at least 3 cups of veggies and about 2 cups of fruit every day. That's a total of 5 cups fruit and veggies (obviously... I know you can count). I know that you've heard this before, but maybe you didn't really understand why. Produce is packed with micronutrients that are integral to health, some of which you can't get anywhere else. Some of these micronutrients have been isolated and are available in supplement form. But no multivitamin/mineral supplement will be able to replicate the complex web of nutrients that work in concert with one another, some of which we don't even fully understand yet. Make sure to eat a variety of produce and eat a rainbow of colors. It's especially important to eat green vegetables daily. An exception is those who are taking certain blood thinners. If you're on a blood thinner, talk to your doctor before eating more green leafy veggies.
Any discussion of the benefits of produce should also mention fiber - but fiber is technically a macronutrient, so it belongs in another post.
We're currently in harvest season where fresh produce abounds. Eat a salad, roast some fresh veggies, or make some fresh pesto. Add fruit to your pancakes or make a smoothie for dessert. Sub banana slices for jelly on that PB sandwich. Vary the colors in your produce picks to get the greatest benefit. Also, it's best to eat a variety of cooked and raw produce, as there are benefits to enjoying each.
Stuck on how to spice up your veggies? Prepare them simply (such as roasting in the oven with a little salt and pepper), then cover with a standout sauce. A good sauce can revolutionize one's opinion of vegetables. Look forward to more on that topic in a future blog post. To get you started, link here to read Food and Wine's suggestions for sauces that go great with vegetables. This recipe from Food Network got some great reviews, which makes sense because I'm loving anything made with balsamic vinegar and honey these days. Since Fall is fast approaching, consider wilting some kale into your first batch of homemade chicken soup. Your body will thank you.
Warning! If you don't currently each much produce, suddenly increasing your intake may result in gastrointestinal distress. Increase your intake slowly over a few weeks for best results.
2. Include protein in every meal
Ever wonder why some people with early stages of kidney disease have to limit their meat intake? Ok, you probably weren't wondering that. But I'm going to tell you anyway. One reason is that meat is packed with minerals! If your kidneys are ok, then feel free to enjoy healthful meat as a part of your diet. While most sources of protein are rich in nutrients, I'll focus here on a few standouts.
Red meat has lots of phosphorous, potassium, and vitamin B12. It is a rich source of zinc which is actually kind of hard to come by (unless you eat a lot of oysters or liver). It also contains thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folate, niacin, and vitamin B6. It's true that many foods are fortified with these nutrients, however, it's important to get these vitamins and minerals directly from food-based sources as well. A discussion of the evidence and debate over the health implications of eating red meat would take several blog posts. For now, I'll say that when we vilified red meat for being high in saturated fat, many of us forgot about how nutritious it is.
What's the best source of red meat? Scientific evidence (linked here) points to grass-fed and grass-finished (called 100% grass-fed) beef as the best choice nutritionally speaking. But the issue of the best source of beef is not black and white, and not everyone likes the taste of 100% grass-fed beef. Even if it is finished on grain, I recommend sourcing red meat from local producers. I prefer to support local farmers that pay attention to the way the animals are treated and processed. Ask a local butcher to make a recommendation, or connect with staff at your local farmers' market and ask where to find well-raised meat. Since the well-raised stuff is more expensive, I usually buy ground beef or cheaper cuts like chuck or flank steak. Epicurious has a flank steak recipe from 1994 that is my go-to (thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law for recommending it).
Any discussion of red meat is amiss without mention of buffalo, but there isn't room here for my treatise on the greatness of buffalo meat. Another time!
Many of you know that I don't eat eggs, but I do recommend them to everyone else! I'm highly sensitive to eggs, sadly, so I'm missing out. Egg yolks are full of micronutrients, including choline, which is especially important for pregnant women and is not found in as substantial amounts in very many other commonly eaten foods. If you have a neighbor with chickens (I'm looking to you, Seattle urban farmers) spending their days eating bugs, dirt, and grass, try and get your hands on some of their eggs. These free range eggs will likely be higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the average cage-produced eggs. The USDA removed the egg restriction from the latest version of their dietary guidelines because the evidence shows that eating cholesterol from nutritious food doesn't necessarily have the negative health consequences that we hypothesized it would. So enjoy an egg or two a few times per week, and don't feel guilty when you eat the yolk. My sister likes to make egg muffin cups ahead of time and then grab one for a quick breakfast. Bon Appetit has some great instructions for making them here.
This one's more well known. Fatty fish like salmon, halibut, fatty tuna, sardines, and anchovies are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and even contain vitamin D. Tuna is higher in mercury than some of the other options, so for kids or women who are pregnant, nursing, or thinking of getting pregnant, I recommend limiting tuna to 1-2 cans/week. Canned salmon is a great lower mercury alternative (mmm... salmon cakes, anyone?). See the very first Black Hills Nutrition blog post for my favorite (if admittedly a little weird) sardine recipe.
You may be asking yourself, "what about chicken? Shellfish? Pork? What about vegetarian protein sources like beans and nuts and cheese?" Those foods are also packed with micronutrients, but I chose to focus this discussion on the foods above. You might also be wondering how much protein to eat. The answer is really "it depends." Every person is unique, but three ounces of meat (or a vegetarian equivalent providing about 20 grams protein) per meal is a good minimum for many people.
There is a lot more to say about building a micronutrient rich diet, but I've written enough for now. Until then, happy cooking!
Lindsey Hays, RDN, LN
Lindsey Hays is licensed as a Nutritionist/Dietitian in the state of South Dakota. While she holds a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN or RD) credential which is nationally recognized by the Commission on Dietitian Registration, she is not licensed to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian in states other than South Dakota. She is a Certified Dietitian in the State of Washington. The information on blackhillsnutrition.com is not intended as medical advice. The content of this site is not intended to provide or replace medical advice, nor should it be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before changing your diet or medications. For full disclaimer statement click here.