Improve Your Meal by Sprinkling On Some Delicious Nutritional All-StarsWe sat down with Andy Bellatti , a Seattle-based registered dietitian and nutritionist who's helped us before with our first food myths post and its myth-smashing sequel . We asked him how you can boost the nutritional content of your meals. It turns out there are some nutritional all-stars that make for great additions to soups, stews, yogurt, pilafs, salads, and more. Here are a few:
- Chia Seeds . More commonly known as the seed that makes the infamous chia pet fluffy and green, chia seeds are also a remarkable source of fiber (4 grams per serving), magnesium ("a mineral most Americans don't get enough of," says Andy), and well over a day's worth of heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, Andy notes that serving of chia seeds will add about 60 calories to your salad, stew, or oatmeal—a tiny caloric boost when compared to the nutritional gains you get. Photo by José Maria Silveira Neto .
- Nutritional Yeast . Nutritional yeast is actually a favorite of mine, and Andy loves it too. I stumbled onto it when entertaining a vegan friend, who suggested I sprinkle some on popcorn. Sure enough, nutritional yeast has a very cheesy, Parmesan-like flavor that's good on vegetables, in dips, and anywhere you want a cheesy, umami flavor boost. "A 2 tablespoon serving," Andy notes, "provides 4 g of fiber, 8 g of protein, loads of B vitamins, and as much potassium as a small banana. Some brands are especially fortified with vitamin B12." You can't go wrong here, especially if you love savory foods.
- Nori (Seaweed). If you haven't tried adding nori strips or snacks to your diet, you're missing out on another delicious savory boost with big nutritional bonuses. Most people know nori from their sushi rolls, but it can also be ripped and flaked over soups, salads, and even laid over noodles. Nori is also rich in vitamins A and C, and EPA (a type of omega-3 that's normally found in fish…because they eat sea vegetables.)
- Wheat Germ . Wheat germ is another staple in my kitchen, and adds a crunchy, nutty, and mildly sweet flavor that's specifically good as a lightly crunchy topper for yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal, and is also a great additive to mix in if you're making your own cereal or granola or even whipping up a batch of energy bars . "A 50 calorie, 2 tablespoon serving," says Andy, "delivers 2.5 grams of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, zinc, iron, and thiamin."
- Cocoa Powder and Cacao Nibs . Two different products born from the same plant, cocoa powder can add fiber, potassium, and magnesium when sprinkled into a smoothie or mixed into a drink. Be sure to get unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa ('non-alkalized' means its other healthful compounds aren't processed away.) Cacao nibs on the other hand are 100% cocoa, and include the fatty acids available in the pure product. They're sharp, bitter, and crunchy, offering a kind of coffee-like flavor that's great in granola, oatmeal, cereal, and more. Andy points out that they're also great sources of fiber, magnesium, and zinc.
- Hemp Seeds . Ah, hemp. It's good fortons of things, but on your food they add a serious nutritional punch to your salads, stews, cereals, granolas, oatmeal, and just about anything else you can add it to. For all of its nutty flavor, Andy reminds us that you also get 6.5 grams of protein (as much as one egg) per 2 tablespoon serving, along with 2 grams of fiber and a good bit of your recommended daily allowance of zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, and yes, omega 3 fatty acids. Title image remixed from jurgajurga(Shutterstock).
- Oat Bran . Everyone's had an oat bran muffin, and even if you didn't care for it, oat bran itself has great heart benefits, incredible amounts of fiber (2.5 grams per 2 tablespoon, 30 calorie serving) and sizable dozes of phosphorus, selenium, and manganese. Andy suggests adding them to smoothies if you don't want it in baked goods, and we suggest mixing some in with your granola, hot cereals, or on top of yogurt or cottage cheese.
- These are just a few great boosts you can add to just about any type of meal, specifically breakfasts, cereals, salads, soups and stews, a steaming pot of lentils, or even dairy. It's just the tip of the iceberg however, and you can also add a nutritional punch with some more common seeds and superfoods, like ground flax, pomegranate seeds , and sunflower seeds . All of these are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can be added to soups, salads, and stews, or stand on their own as a healthy mid-day snack. Plus, everything listed here should be available in your local grocery store or health food store. They may not all be cheap, but your health is worth it.
Note: These Are Healthy Additions to a Healthy DietThese nutritional boosts are designed to make a healthy diet even healthier. None of them are a magic bullet that make sure you get your recommended dietary allowance of necessary vitamins and minerals—there is no such single fix. Andy notes that the idea here is to add these boosts to healthful, whole meals. You're not going to sprinkle some ground flax onto a pizza and somehow make that pizza good for you. Adding some chia seeds to a bowl of oatmeal, or some hemp seeds to whole grain pancake batter, will boost flavor and texture as well as nutritional content. When you're taking these tips to heart and introducing them to your diet, make sure you're also making the dietary changes necessary to maximize their impact. Photo by Rachel Hathaway .
Do you have any favorite healthy additions to your meals that add protein or vitamins to your favorite meals? Share your meal boosting tips in the comments below.
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Seattle-based Nutritionist and the author of the nutrition blogSmall Bites . You can follow him on Twitter at @andybellatti . He offered his expertise for this story, and we thank him.