Updated: Oct 1, 2019
Can you guess what these foods have in common? They are all on my list of top nutrient dense foods that aren't fresh produce. I initially put this list together out of necessity rather than choice - it's one of the joys of living in remote, tropical Australia in the middle of the wet season. You just can't tell for sure whether there's going to be vegetables and fruits on the shelves each week. For me, it's both intriguing and devastating. I like my food and nutrients too much to resort to the frozen meals aisle.
On a perfect day, I eat a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit at each meal. I don't suggest that you deliberately prioritise other foods and avoid eating produce. Humans are designed to eat plants, and there are many other reasons to eat vegetables and fruits beyond just meeting micronutrients.
Hopefully, you don't have a short supply of produce like I did. Maybe you have to live on the road for a week, or can't cook as often as you'd like for a period of time. It's not ideal, but it could be the scenario. If you're confined to the shelves to find your other vitamins and minerals, what are your options? Here's some of my favourites that are easy to find and store to help you cover your bases.
Raspberries. A cup of raspberries (frozen) contains 65 mg of vitamin C - that's the same as a medium orange. It's also almost 90 % of the RDI. Raspberries are also a great source of vitamins E and K.
Tomato paste. Just 2 tbsps of tomato paste bumps up my vitamin C intake another 7 mg. It also provides a bioavailable source of lycopene, a potent antioxidant. It's a handy little nutrient tip that you can easily keep in your kitchen.
Blueberries, dried basil and prunes all contribute to one of the trickier nutrients to find outside of vegetables and fruit - that's vitamin K. Just 1 cup of blueberries, 3 tsps of dried basil and 5 prunes supplies about 100 mcg, more than the RDI.
Sesame seeds. A surprise contender for nutrient density. Just 1/2 a cup of sesame seeds contains > 50 % of my RDIs for B 1, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. That's impressive.
Almonds and sunflower seeds. Both excellent sources of vitamin E.
Sardines and cheddar. Did you know that sardines are an excellent source of calcium? Just one tin (drained) contains 250 mg of calcium, that's a little more than the 215 mg you'll find in 30 g of cheddar cheese. A tin of sardines also meets your RDI for selenium.
Beef (and particularly liver!) is a nutrient gold mine. This one is the odd one out because it's not in the middle aisles and readily available. But it's a game changer. If you can plan ahead, set up a freezer of grass fed and free range beef at home. Beef is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, choline, iron, phosphorus and zinc. There's one item in my freezer that's a nutrient champion. That's beef liver. The nutrient density of just 100 g of liver is incredible - it has 10 x the RDI of vitamin A (retinol) and it alone checks off > 50 % (in some cases, closer to 100 % +) of your B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, choline, copper and folate. If your nutrient supplies are short, this one item (or other organ meats like kidney or heart) really deliver.