Don’t eat that! Many of the messages we receive about food and nutrition focus on what not to eat, rather than on what to eat. Has this approach actually been successful? Are people healthier? Are they able to make choices that they feel good about when it comes to food? It’s time for a positive approach to food: one that focuses on everyday foods that nourish your body and taste great.

Enrich Your Diet

The nutrient-rich foods approach

The Nutrient-Rich Foods Coalition explains that a nutrient-rich foods approach can help you build a healthy diet by choosing foods that provide the most vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for the fewest calories. They suggest choosing nutrient-rich foods from the four food groups before choosing treat foods. Nutrient-rich foods include

  • colourful vegetables and fruit
  • high-fibre whole grains
  • lower-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
  • lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts

In contrast, nutrient-poor foods tend to be high in calories, sugar, fat and/or sodium, and have few or no nutrients. These are often considered treat foods, such as potato chips, pop and cookies.

Easy ways to enrich your diet

These ideas will help get you started with eating nutrient-rich foods:

  • Stock your kitchen – purchase whole, minimally-processed foods to make sure you are set up for success.
  • Breakfast – make oatmeal with milk and top with berries or scramble eggs with veggies such as spinach, tomatoes and peppers and serve with whole grain toast.
  • Lunch – start with whole grain bread, tortilla or pita; add lean protein like turkey; top with part-skim Mozzarella; and load it up with veggies such as cucumber, shredded carrots and avocado.
  • Dinner – create a stir-fry with lean meat and plenty of vegetables, then pair it with brown rice or quinoa and a glass of milk.
  • Grab and go snacks – try yogurt, a small handful of nuts or a piece of fruit.

What nutrients are Canadians missing out on?

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, Canadians may be missing out on these nutrients:

vitamin A
vitamin D

Canada’s Food Guide is scientifically designed to make it easy to choose nutrient-rich foods thus ensuring you get all of the nutrients you need. Table 1 illustrates how a variety of foods can help you get enough of the nutrients you may be missing out on. If you were to eliminate one or more food groups entirely, you would be lacking some key nutrients.

Table 1. Food sources of key nutrients.

Key NutrientVegetables and FruitGrain ProductsMilk and AlternativesMeat and Alternatives
Vitamin Ayesyes
Vitamin Dyes

Additionally, ideas for making nutrient-rich food choices in each food group are provided as part of Canada’s Food Guide as shown in these examples

  • Eat at least one orange vegetable each day to boost vitamin A intake.
  • Have vegetables and fruit more often than juice to increase fibre.
  • Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day to increase magnesium and fibre.
  • Drink skim, 1% or 2% milk each day to provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and vitamin A.
  • Have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often. Beans and lentils boost magnesium and fibre.

A heart-healthy reason to eat nutrient-rich foods

Last year the Dietary Approaches to Hypertension (DASH) diet was named the best overall diet of the year. Research shows that following this pattern of eating lowers blood pressure, which reduces the risk for heart disease. The DASH diet also emphasizes foods rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium—three nutrients that Canadians are not getting enough of. Thus, following a nutrient-rich foods approach may offer additional health benefits like lowering the risk of chronic disease.

Jaclyn Chute

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Alberta Milk. Integrating the science of nutrition with the taste of great food is her passion, whether at work or in her kitchen.

Article posted on November 20, 2012