The next best thing to a dinner pill
October 1, 2019 2:57 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the most "broadly" nutritious foods? By which I mean foods which contain significant levels of a wide range of nutrients.

Let's say there is a person who knows next to nothing about food, cooking and nutrition, and you wanted to recommend to them a few really nutritious foods they could add to their diet to improve their health. What would those foods be?

I'm not so much looking for foods that are high in one or two particular nutrients, unless those things are difficult to get in other foods. I'm thinking more like "beef liver is high in protein, iron, vitamin A, several B vitamins and choline." (Although preferably foods that would be likely for a person who currently eats mostly crap to enjoy. This is not going to be a person with a palate sophisticated enough to enjoy liver or kale, most likely.)

I'm open to suggestions of single foods that have a broad nutrition profile, but also easy combinations of foods (a smoothie or soup made of x,y and z) and even processed foods (for example, maybe cereal is good because it's fortified with vitamins and minerals.)

What foods fit the bill?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I go through periods where I'm super uninterested in eating and I usually buy Soylent for that. It's definitely more complete nutrition than what I normally eat, and I think it'd be hard to subsist solely on it, but it's great for making hunger go away so you can focus on other crap instead of wasting so much time making food and eating it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:02 PM on October 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Organ meat, eggs, seeds, nuts. Anything an organism is using as storage is by definition going to be higher in overall nutritional value. Also anything you eat whole like sprouts, molluscs, sardines.

Also plants grown in real soil, ideally not over fertilized with commercial N/P heavy fertilizers, will be hugely more nutritious than hydroponically grown or similar.
posted by fshgrl at 3:29 PM on October 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

Two or three fried or scrambled eggs served over a couple slices of toasted Ezekiel bread is my go-to quick "food pill" nutritious meal. Fiber, omega 3 fats, protein - good calories all around.
posted by windbox at 3:47 PM on October 1, 2019 [14 favorites]

My 2019 new years' resolution was to start eating real vegetables in a meaningful amount, besides just potatoes or the occasional salad (which I have to gag down). Since January I've been eating the same thing for every weekday breakfast: a smoothie made with 3/4 cup of OJ, a handful of frozen mixed blueberries + raspberries (these items to make it palatable), 3 whole carrots, a serving of plain greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons of chia seeds and three giant fistfuls of either just kale or power greens (kale, spinach, etc.). I buy the greens prewashed in those big "Organic Girl" packs and freeze them. My daughter and wife have picked up this habit too, and we jokingly refer to it as the kale blaster due to the effects on our digestive systems. We use a $19 Target blender.

I have no proof that this is any better for us than cereal in terms of sugar/carbs, but it sure feels healthier and gets us our recommended amount of greens in a day.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:08 PM on October 1, 2019 [12 favorites]

Cooked dried beans. Protein, vitamins & also fibre which is important for health. Cheap healthy & about so many ways to serve them. All pretty easy to make bulk & reheat. Serve with rice & you have a complete protein. Throw in some brightly colored fruits & veggies & a serve of two of seafood or some eggs a week and you're good to go, I'll fry & egg & put it on top of my bean & rice dish and then break the yolk into the beans so good.
posted by wwax at 4:20 PM on October 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

Beans. Beans have good amounts of protein, carbs, and fiber. Add a little oil and you have a well balanced meal.

Canned beans are inexpensive, dried beans are virtually free to middle class readers.

There are a zillion varieties of beans, and a zillion different dishes, from ancient to modern.

We should all eat a lot of dried beans, if we’re interested in sustainability and nutrition.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:22 PM on October 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

Quinoa is pretty packed with things your body needs, especially if it's combined in a salad with vegetables that cover some of the other bases.
posted by Candleman at 4:43 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Three Sisters stew is made of beans, corn, and squash. They complement each other in the ground (so they're traditionally grown together) and when cooked in one dish are supposed to provide all the nutrients humans require.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:58 PM on October 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Eggs eggs eggs. The best part is there are so many ways to cook them, there’s a method for everyone: scrambled, poached, fried, baked, omelette, hard-boiled, etc.

Mixed nuts

posted by sallybrown at 5:23 PM on October 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Overall Nutritional Index says oranges, broccoli, blueberries, okra, and green beans. Its methodology prioritizes vitamins A, C, and D, fiber, calcium, potassium, and protein, while limiting fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
posted by orangejenny at 5:38 PM on October 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index puts kale and collard greens at the top. He looks at nutrients per calorie. If the goal is improving health, you need to think about the negative effects of a food as well as the positive. There’s no benefit to getting a lot of vitamins from a food if it contributes to your heart attack.
posted by FencingGal at 6:12 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

A persuasive argument for oats as a (a, not the) superfood.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:19 PM on October 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

One tip that might help: search "toddler meals." The amount of no-cook, easily palatable, highly nutritious foods that come up are SO HELPFUL when I'm going through a hard time and just need to get fed. If I can chop up some carrot sticks and put them in a baggie, these types of "meals" are perfect.

Otherwise, I highly recommend the following convenience foods: Stonyfield organic kids' smoothies, any Amy's frozen meals, Larabars, and (if you have a good grocery store) store-made pico de gallo and/or guacamole + some high-grain tortilla chips, like these.
posted by witchen at 7:10 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Whole baby clams have protein and are remarkably high in iron. Not a superfood, but are easy to add to saucy stews toward the end of cooking and come in cans that are shelf-stable.
posted by childofTethys at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Potatoes are nearly nutritionally complete; mashed potatoes made with fortified milk even more so. They have relatively high levels of potassium so an all potato diet stresses the kidneys. And they are a starch so all the down sides that can have for diabetics etc. I personally don't recommend a potato and butter diet but if a person had a big helping of mashed potatoes twice a day (lunch and dinner) and then added pretty much anything else you'd have all the basic bases covered.

Potatoes are my go to when I'm lazy. I bake a half dozen at a time (because I like them baked in an oven not the microwave and that takes a couple hours). Dinners for the week will then be a potato split in half topped with broccoli and cheese. Or topped with some chili with cheese (made ahead in big batches and then frozen in small portions but a person could buy canned chili). Or some hamburger helper on top (with some shredded cheese; I like cheese OK). Or topped with a can of herring (they have all sorts of flavours).
posted by Mitheral at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2019 [12 favorites]

I’m partial to adding sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented brassica to one meal a day. It’s a serving of vegetables and a probiotic, but also acts like a tasty condiment, all at low cost, no prep and basically zero calories.
posted by The Toad at 8:29 PM on October 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

The World's Healthiest Foods website can be a helpful resource. But part of making sure you get a broad range of nutrients requires eating a broad range of foods -- which I also think helps take some of the pressure off of eating the exact-right food.
posted by lazuli at 9:45 PM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also came in to suggest looking at toddler meals/baby led weaning food suggestions. Because she eats so little, I’ve been focusing on nutritionally dense foods for my daughter.

Mainly focusing on healthy fats, protein, and iron, I try to incorporate these ingredients to add nutritional “oomf” to her meals:
- chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, soybeans
- whole fat plain yogurt
- avocado
- eggs
- oats
- chia seeds
- nut butters
- tuna, salmon, beef
posted by like_neon at 2:44 AM on October 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

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