Prof Jennie Brand-Miller answers your questions.
Everyone seems to be talking about “nutrient density” these days. Can you explain simply what this actually means and why it seems to matter so much?
Nutrient density is about quality over quantity. Nutrient-dense foods are those which contribute greater amounts of beneficial nutrients (vitamins and minerals) per calorie (kilojoule) to your overall diet. By selecting these foods first, it allows you to obtain all the nutrients you need in your diet without exceeding your energy needs. It is wise for everyone to opt for mostly nutrient-dense foods to maximise nutritional intake and manage their weight but this is particularly important during pregnancy when a Mum’s need for essential nutrients increases more than her energy (calorie/kilojoule) needs.
The produce aisles are where you’ll find nutrient-dense foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans and lentils), whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats and poultry and lower fat dairy products. Foods with a high nutrient density are largely those which tend to be less processed and most come from the plant kingdom. If they are rich in carbohydrate, they should have a low GI. These include:
- Vegetables and fruit For maximum nutrition aim for a wide variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables each day and make these the basis of your meals and snacks.
- Low GI grains, preferably wholegrain foods These will provide more nutrients and fibre than highly processed, refined grains. Think thick-cut, traditional oats, brown (or black or red) rice, quinoa, pearl barley, burghul, buckwheat and wholewheat pasta or noodles and low GI, high fibre breakfast cereals or dense wholegrain breads.
- Legumes Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, borlotti beans, butter beans, black-eye beans and navy beans are all low GI, nutritious, economical and versatile. Cook your own or use the convenient canned versions.
- Nuts and seeds Nuts and seeds are rich in the healthy fats and a packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc and magnesium. Add them to meals or eat them as a snack. Nut and seed spreads (such as tahini) are a nutritious alternative to butter.
- Lean protein foods Lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, tofu and eggs supply important vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, vitamin B12 (animal products only) and omega-3 fats (fish and seafood) in addition to protein.
- Dairy or soy products or alternatives Milk, soy milk and yoghurt provide protein and all important calcium. If choosing soy milk or other milk alternatives such as rice or oat milk (these latter two have high GI values), make sure you choose brands with added calcium, and if you are vegetarian look for one with added vitamin B12. If you don’t eat dairy products or calcium-fortified alternatives you will need to incorporate other calcium-rich foods such as hard tofu, almonds, dried figs, unhulled tahini, Asian greens, Kale and broccoli.
And it’s probably not hard to work out the nutrient-poor foods – this includes things like sweet biscuits, cakes, pastries, confectionery, chips/fries, crisps and other savoury snacks, and soft drinks – these foods are high in energy but provide little in the way of nutrition and are best kept for occasional treats rather than everyday choices.
Eating for Eye Health.
Macular degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, painless loss of central vision, affecting the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces. There’s no cure, but there are treatment options that can slow down its progression, depending on the stage and type of the disease (wet, dry, and other forms). The earlier it is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain. Exactly what causes MD is not fully understood, but it runs in families – if you have a parent with MD, you have a 50% risk of suffering from it yourself. You can’t change your genes but you may reduce the risk of macular degeneration as you age or slow down the progression of the disease by making positive diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s what the Macular Degeneration Foundation advises:
- Have an eye test and make sure the macula is checked
- Don’t smoke
- Keep a healthy lifestyle, control weight and exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
- Eat fish two to three times a week, dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily, and a handful of nuts a week. Limit the intake of fats and oils
- Choose low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates instead of high GI whenever possible
- In consultation with your doctor, consider a suitable supplement Use an Amsler grid daily to check for symptoms of macular degeneration
- Provide adequate protection for your eyes from sunlight exposure, including for those who are very young
Eating for Eye Health (Ita Buttrose and Vanessa Jones ), a practical guide to cooking for nutrition and wellbeing, contains over 90 recipes to ensure that eating for good eye health comes with a great taste (New Holland Publishing).