Simple Tips to Improve the Nutritional Quality of Your Diet

By Nicky Gilbert

By now you are probably getting used to a new routine around working, eating, other commitments and caring duties at home.

Try to continue to think about what you are eating and drinking – making nutritious food choices that nourish your body and support your mental and physical strength.

Think about the food you have in your house available to eat this week

  • Which foods will provide calcium in your diet?
  • Which foods will provide you with Vitamin D?
  • Which foods will provide you with Vitamin C?
  • Which foods will provide you with good quality protein and also contain a good source of iron?
  • Which foods will provide you with enough fibre?

Here are some simple tips to enrich the nutritional quality of your diet

Try to consume a variety of fruit and vegetables – look to buy different fruits and vegetables next time you go shopping to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Try buying frozen fruit and vegetables. They can be more convenient and nutritious than fresh!

Ensure you are getting an adequate calcium intake by having milk, cheese or yoghurt two to three times a day, or by choosing plant-based dairy alternatives fortified with calcium.

Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and the main way our bodies get it, is from the action of sunlight on our skin during summer. You can boost your dietary intake by eating oily fish (tinned, fresh or frozen) eggs and fortified spreads.

A varied diet will usually include many good sources of iron e.g. red meat, poultry fish, beans, peas and lentils, fortified cereals, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, tofu, nuts and seeds. You can enhance iron absorption with Vitamin C-rich drinks or foods (citrus fruits and juices, peppers, blackcurrants, berries) and avoid drinking tea with meals as it can hinder iron uptake.

Wholegrain foods are generally more nutritious that whiter, more processed varieties. Make sure that you make the higher fibre choice for bread, crackers/crispbreads, breakfast cereals next time you go shopping.

Foods to nourish the brain and boost mental performance

Mood, concentration and our cognitive mental processes all benefit from a steady supply of nutrients to the brain. Eating regularly, avoiding skipping meals and choosing lower glycaemic index (GI) starchy foods – also known as ‘slower release’ – can help in sustaining a steady supply of energy to the muscles and brain. Lower GI choices tend to be less processed and include the following higher fibre options:

  • Multigrain, granary, rye, seeded, wholegrain, oat, wholemeal pitta bread and chapatti
  • New potatoes in their skins, sweet potato & yam
  • Noodles & all pasta, cooked until al dente
  • Basmati rice, long grain and brown rice
  • Bulgur wheat, barley, couscous and quinoa
  • Porridge, muesli, most oat and bran-based cereals, fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses.

For more information, take a look at the British Dietetic Association food fact sheet on food and mood – https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-facts-food-and-mood.html

Keeping well hydrated

Dehydration also affects mood, anxiety, tiredness, and concentration. Some fluid comes from our food, but each day adults also need to drink:

  • At least six to eight large (250ml) mugs or glasses of fluid per day, even in mild temperatures
  • A minimum of 1.6 to two litres and more in a hot or dry environment and to replace your sweat losses from activity

Make sure you are drinking enough. Dark and strong-smelling urine is a clear sign that you need to drink more fluids.

RECIPE OF THE WEEK

Roasted ratatouille chicken with rice (serves four)

This is a versatile recipe and is a good way of using up vegetables that you may already have in the fridge or may not be at their best. It is a low GI, high-fibre meal.

If you don’t have all the ingredients listed below, then use the recipe as a guide and be creative. See what works best in your own ratatouille recipe

Ingredients:

1 large onion, sliced

2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 peppers (red and orange) seeded and cut into thin strips

1 aubergine, cut into cubes (around 500g)

4 courgettes (yellow and green) sliced or cubed

4 large tomatoes, diced or 1 large can tomatoes

4-5 tbsp olive oil

4 chicken breasts, skin on

Mixed herbs

Balsamic vinegar

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 200 deg C  or equivalent. Lay all vegetables and tomatoes in a shallow roasting dish. Pour olive oil over vegetables and mix until well coated.
  2. Put chicken breasts, skin side up on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with herbs. Season with pepper and drizzle a little oil over the chicken. Roast for about 35 min until the vegetables are soft and chicken golden.
  3. Remove chicken and stir in balsamic to taste. Serve vegetables with chicken (skin removed) and rice

This dish can be served with basmati rice and green vegetables.

If you don’t eat meat, then you can use Quorn instead of chicken. Adding pine nuts and/or chickpeas will boost your protein intake.

You can make your rice more nutritious and colourful by adding peas, sweetcorn or chopped peppers.

You can serve any leftover ratatouille in a jacket potato for lunch the next day with some grated cheese. Just pop under the grill to brown, for a tasty, crunchy topping.

Dietitian Nicky Gilbert
Nicky Gilbert is a freelance dietitian, lecturer and Registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist with 30 years experience in the field. For many years she worked with the players at Nottingham Forest Football Club as well as supporting other national teams and Olympians. As well as working with DIS athletes, she also works with industry to support health and wellbeing in the workplace as an accredited BDA Work Ready Dietitian.

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