Food With Nutritional Value

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This blog is about food that has a nutrition value. The foods can range from vegan, vegetarian, healthy and balanced diets to macrobiotics and raw food, gluten free diet, slow carb diet and much more!

Food With Nutritional Value

In a perfect world, everything we eat would taste delicious, be super-convenient, and offer plenty of nutritional benefits. But do such foods exist in the real world?

They certainly do — and hard-to-find specialty foods need not apply. These 10 nutritionists’ favorites are versatile and delicious, and most can be prepared in a flash.

Beans

Calypso, scarlet, black turtle, cranberry — even the variety names of this delicious food are pretty cool.

They’re such a nutrient dynamo that beans are the only food recognized in two food groups, vegetables and proteins, says Connie Evers, RD, author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids.

Beans are high in low-fat protein, packed with fiber, and contain a host of nutrients and phytonutrients, the combination of which may help guard against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers while also building and repairing muscle.

Add beans to soups, stews, and chili. Sprinkle them in salads, and add them to burritos or scrambled eggs. Or try blending beans with spices for great spreads or dips.

Greek Yogurt

Smooth, creamy, and extra-thick, Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, potassium, and calcium and is also an important source of probiotics.

The nutrients in yogurt help build strong bones, aid digestion, and keep your immune system going strong. Along with having less watery whey than regular yogurt — which helps make the Greek variety super-thick — Greek yogurt also has less sodium and fewer carbs than regular yogurt and packs twice the protein.

Use plain nonfat Greek yogurt as a base for salad dressings, dips, and smoothies, suggests Evers, or try topping soups, stews, nachos, or chili with it. If you like your yogurt sweet, add a teaspoon of jam and sprinkle in some nuts or seeds and you’ve got a quick, healthy on-the-go breakfast.

Sweet Potatoes

One of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat — especially if you leave the skins on — sweet potatoes are rich in heart-healthy potassium and vision-boosting vitamin A. Fat- and cholesterol-free, sweet potatoes also have a rich, sugary flavor while still being low in calories.

Cubed sweet potatoes cook up quickly in the microwave, or you can toss them with a bit of oil and seasonings and roast them in the oven. Sweet potatoes can also give body to stews and a sweet flavor to lasagnas and other casseroles.

Powerhouse Peanuts

Like other legumes, peanuts are packed with the protein your body needs to build and repair muscle. They also contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats, important for heart health. The nutrients in peanuts possibly may lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Eat peanuts with their thin red skins on, suggests David Grotto, RD, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life!, and you’ll get the same antioxidants you find in wine and chocolate.

Kefir

Kefir is a fermented drink usually made with cow, goat, or sheep’s milk, though it can also be made from rice, coconut, or soy milk.

Described by some as a mildly carbonated liquid yogurt, kefir is rich in calcium and protein and is also “a good source of magnesium, riboflavin, folate, and B12,” says Grotto. Like yogurt, kefir contains probiotics, which not only aid digestion but may also help manage symptoms of IBS or Crohn’s disease. These probiotics may also treat or prevent vaginal or urinary infections in women.

Kefir can be a nutritious, drinkable breakfast or quick, filling snack, but you can also blend it in smoothies and shakes or add it to soups, breads, and other baked goods.

Vitamin-C Rich Strawberries

Strawberries may be the favorite fruit of summer. More than just juicy and sweet, strawberries also pack 160% of your daily vitamin C inside that succulent scarlet skin.

Strawberries are a great source for digestion-boosting fiber, for vitamin C, which helps keep teeth and gums in good condition, and for flavonoids, which may improve mental function and fight breast and prostate cancer.

Fresh or frozen, strawberries “are a nutrition powerhouse,” Grotto says, so add them to a summer salad, make a succulent fruit salsa, or drizzle ripe, ruby-red strawberries with a bit of dark chocolate for a healthier alternative to cake.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms don’t just add flavor to a stir-fry; they’re also low in calories and an excellent source of the cancer-fighting mineral, selenium.

Additionally, these humble plants are the highest vegetarian source of vitamin D and they’re high in copper and potassium, nutrients needed for normal heart rhythm, nerve function, and red blood cell production.

Mushrooms cook in a flash and pair equally well with vegetarian, vegan, or meaty meals. Slice them onto sandwiches or into salads, or put them in any recipe that could use a more toothsome texture.

Pineapple

“I love pineapple!” says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. A great source of vitamin C, this super-sweet fruit is also rich in minerals, fiber, B vitamins, and enzymes.

The nutrients found in pineapple — and so many other fruits and veggies — may lower blood pressure, protect against cancer, and help keep bowel habits regular.

Enjoy fresh or canned pineapple paired with other fruits in a salad or a quick smoothie. Top chicken or fish with pineapple, or use it in cakes, pies, and tarts.

Pistachio Nuts

Pistachios aren’t just delicious. They also contain good-for-you fats, vitamins like thiamin, B6, and E as well as potassium, magnesium, and fiber — one nutrient many of us just don’t get enough of.

These tasty nuts also provide antioxidants, which help fight cell-damaging free radicals, and some research suggests they may even play a role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Add pistachios to stir-fries, salads, or cooked vegetables or as part of a trail mix with whole-grain cereal and dried fruit, suggests Zied. You can even substitute pistachios for pine nuts or walnuts in your next homemade pesto.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are small, but they’re mighty. They contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which may lower your cardiovascular risks and lower blood pressure, and have protein and fiber, both of which help fill you up, says Zied.

Sunflower seeds are a source of key nutrients like vitamin E, folate, thiamin, niacin, and iron and also pack in phytochemicals, plant chemicals that protect against heart disease and some cancers.

Try raw or salt-free roasted sunflower seeds on their own or in salads, stir-fries, or side dishes. You can also boost the nutrient profile of breads and muffins by adding a healthy handful.

Crunchy Snack: Popcorn

It’s crunchy and a bit addictive, but popcorn can be good for you.

That’s because popcorn is actually a whole grain — and most of us aren’t getting nearly enough in our diets, says Zied. Air-popped popcorn is low-fat, has only 30 calories per cup, and comes with a boost of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. It even contains antioxidants that can protect against cancer.

Amp up the flavor of air-popped popcorn by sprinkling on low- or no-sodium seasonings like garlic or onion powder, grated parmesan cheese, chili powder, nutritional yeast, or cinnamon.

Choosing Nutrient-rich Foods

Choose a diet made of nutrient-rich foods. Nutrient-rich (or nutrient-dense) foods are low in sugar, sodium, starches, and bad fats. They contain a lot of vitamins and minerals and few calories. Your body needs vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients. They nourish your body and help keep you healthy. They can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Getting them through food ensures your body can absorb them properly.

Try to eat a variety of foods to get different vitamins and minerals. Foods that naturally are nutrient-rich include fruits and vegetables. Lean meats, fish, whole grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds also are high in nutrients.

Path to improved health

You may not get all the micronutrients your body needs. Americans tend to eat foods that are high in calories and low in micronutrients. These foods often also contain added sugar, sodium (salt), and saturated or trans fats. This type of diet contributes to weight gain. It can increase your risk of health issues, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), American adults may not get enough of the following micronutrients.

NutrientFood sources
CalciumNonfat and low-fat dairy, dairy substitutes, broccoli, dark, leafy greens, and sardines
PotassiumBananas, cantaloupe, raisins, nuts, fish, and spinach and other dark greens
FiberLegumes (dried beans and peas), whole-grain foods and brans, seeds, apples, strawberries, carrots, raspberries, and colorful fruit and vegetables
MagnesiumSpinach, black beans, peas, and almonds
Vitamin AEggs, milk, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe
Vitamin COranges, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, broccoli, and red and green bell peppers
Vitamin EAvocados, nuts, seeds, whole-grain foods, and spinach and other dark leafy greens

All of the above foods are good choices. Below are suggestions for changing your diet to be more nutrient-rich.

Grains

Whole-grain foods are low in fat. They’re also high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. This helps you feel full longer and prevents overeating. Check the ingredient list for the word “whole.” For example, “whole wheat flour” or “whole oat flour.” Look for products that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Some enriched flours have fiber but are not nutrient-rich.

Choose these foods:

  • Rolled or steel cut oats
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Whole-grain (wheat or rye) crackers, breads, and rolls
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Barley, quinoa, buckwheat, whole corn, and cracked wheat

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables naturally are low in fat. They add nutrients, flavor, and variety to your diet. Look for colorful fruits and vegetables, especially orange and dark green.

Choose these foods:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens, such as chard, cabbage, romaine, and bok choy
  • Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • Squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, and pumpkin
  • Snap peas, green beans, bell peppers, and asparagus
  • Apples, plums, mangos, papaya, pineapple, and bananas
  • Blueberries, strawberries, cherries, pomegranates, and grapes
  • Citrus fruits, such as grapefruits and oranges
  • Peaches, pears, and melons
  • Tomatoes and avocados

Why determine the nutritional value of food?

Aside from being legally required on a food label in most countries worldwide, the nutritional value also serves to help customers make choices around the products they want to buy.

Some people may be in search of products high in protein, or can’t handle high amounts of sugar. The nutritional value label on a product tells a consumer exactly what is in a product. A consumer can literally determine what the nutritional value of a food is for their body. Does it provide energy? Or does it provide certain components that are crucial for their health?

Legislation differs between countries as to what has to be included on a nutritional value label and how such a label should look like. In the EU the 1169/2011 directive describes requirements with regards to labelling.

evaporated milk label

What is the nutritional value?

The ingredient list simply tells you which ingredients a food contains. The nutritional value digs a little deeper. It then analyzes what these ingredients are made up of and groups these components.

Energy content

First of, a nutritional value states how much energy a product contains. This is the amount of energy that a human body can get out of these ingredients. We all need energy on a daily basis to function properly.

Macronutrients

Secondly, the nutritional value states which types of molecules are present in the food and how many. These molecules are split into functional groups. The most common molecules are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins

These are macromolecules. Almost every food and drink contains at least one of these (except for pure water for instance). We humans need them to live. These ingredients are also the main energy source of foods.

Carbohydrates and fats can be split up into smaller groups of molecules. For instance, carbohydrates might be split into sugars, and fats can be split into saturated and unsaturated fats.

Want to learn more about carbohydrates, fats and proteins? We cover them in far greater detail in our Food Chemistry Basics course.

Micronutrients

There’s more to good food than just proteins, carbohydrates and fats. We also need certain vitamins and minerals. These can also be found on labels.

label pot pasta sauce

Keep in mind: foods are variable

Before attempting to determine the nutritional value of a product, keep in mind that foods are highly variable. The less processed a product is, the more this is the case.

  • An unripe vs. a ripe apple can make a huge difference with regard to the amount of sugar in the apple.
  • Cow’s milk has a different composition in summer than it does in winter.
  • Beef from a fat cow is different from that of a skinny cow.
  • Cocoa harvested from one species can be quite different from that of another species.
  • The leg of a chicken has quite a different fat content than the breast does.
  • Broccoli stems contain different components that the flowers do.

As such, it is almost impossible to give very precise correct nutritional values for food. There will almost always be some variations, simply because you can’t analyze every apple from a batch and give it a different value. Often nutritional values are averages for a specific product.

That does not mean nutritional values are useless. They still provide clear differences between products, just be aware that it is not as exact a science as you might think it is.

Determining the nutrient content in three ways

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Determining the nutritional value starts by determining how much of each of the components your food contains. So how much proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, etc. does your food contain?

There are three main ways in which you can determine these:

  1. The analytical route
  2. The literature route
  3. Using some math

1) Analyze the contents in a lab

There exist a wide range of analytical methods that can be performed on foods to determine their nutritional value. Methods exist to determine the types and amounts of sugar, fats, etc. Laboratories will state which methods are required to get a full nutritional profile of a product.

All of the analyses required are chemical analysis techniques. These techniques tend to only use very small amounts of sample to make a determination. Knowing how variable products can be, it is important to make sure that this small sample size is actually representative of the product you’re testing.

Once you’ve prepped the sample, let’s have a look at the possible analytical methods involved. Keep in mind that there may be more options than the ones mentioned below.

Protein analysis – Determining nitrogen content using Kjeldahl

Foods tend to contain a lot of different proteins. It is virtually impossible to analyze how much there is of each protein, nor does it provide a lot of added value. That’s why most labels only require the overall protein content.

Proteins are some of the only molecules in food that contain nitrogen. As such, by analyzing how much nitrogen a product contains, you can calculate the overall protein content. There are two main analysis techniques used for this: the Kjeldahl method and the Dumas method.

Depending on where you live, you might also need to take into account the quality of the protein. Some proteins are more ‘complete’ than others. Some countries require you to correct the overall protein content with a separately determined factor (e.g. a PDCAAS score).

Carbohydrate analysis

There exist a lot of different carbohydrates, from small to large. Unlike proteins, they don’t contain a unique atom. On the contrary, it is quite similar to fats. It’s why in a lot of cases, the carbohydrate content is etermined by taking the total mass of a product and subtracting all the other components (fats, protein, water, ash, etc.). What remains is assumed to be the carbohydrates.

If you do need to know exactly which types of sugars a product consists, it is possible to determine those using a technique called liquid chromatography.

Fat content analysis

Most of the fats in foods are the so-called triglycerides. An important property of fats is that they don’t dissolve in water. As such, they can be extracted from most products. This extraction method can be used to determine the overall content.

If you need to know exactly which tryglycerides are present in a food you will have to use a more advanced technique such as gas chromatography. This is however quite an expensive and complex technique.

2) Used published values from literature

Over time, a wide range of products have been analyzed for their nutritional content. When determining the nutritional value of your product, you might be able to use these existing values for your product.

A lot of countries have their own databases of generally acknowledged nutritional values for food products. The USDA, in the USA, has a very extensive, publicly accessible database. The Netherlands has one as well, as do many other countries.

Let’s start with the 2nd option: the literature route. In this case, no analysis of the actual final product is done. Instead, databases which contain a lot of data on nutritional values of all sorts of products are used.

label wasa crackers
When baking these crackers you evaporate a lot of moisture. This can make it challenging to determine the nutritional value just using calculations. Instead, you might need to use analytical methods.

3) Calculate your nutritional value

If your product is made with your own recipe and has a unique composition, you will not be able to find literature values for it. However, you may find the nutritional value of the ingredients that you used. If so, you can use those to calculate the nutritional value of your product.

You will have to know how much of your recipe is made up by each ingredient. It’s easiest to state this in percentages. Then, you can use these percentages to calculate how much of each nutrient your product contains.

As an example:

  • You product is made of 25% ingredient A and 75% ingredient B.
    • Ingredient A contains 10% fat and 50% carbohydrates
    • Ingredient B contains 7% protein
  • The overall composition will be:
    • Fat: 10 / 100 * 25 + 0 =2,5%
    • Carbohydrates: 50 / 100 * 25 = 12,5%
    • Protein: 7 / 100 * 75 = 5,25%

These calculations can be quite simple and reliable if all you’re doing is mixing ingredients. However, if a lot of chemical reactions take place in your product, or if significant amounts of water evaporate, this no longer works well. Some molecules might have reacted and become something different for instance.

Determining energy content is a simple calculation

Once you know the composition of your product, you can easily determine the energy content of your food. The energy content of a food is determined by the amount components that your body can use to make energy. These are the three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fat, but also alcohol, polyols (strictly a type of carbohydrate) and fibers (also a carbohydrate type).

The energy content of a food is given in kcal (often referred to as Calories) and/or kJ (kilojoule). Converting from kcal to kJ is a simple set calculation

1 kcal = 4,18 kJ

Set conversion values

Research has shown how much energy our body can make from these macronutrients. We know that:

  • 1 gram of fats provides 9 kcal of energy
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of fibers = 2 kcal
  • 1 gram of polyols = 2,4 kcal
  • 1 gram protein = 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of alcohol = 7 kcal

Calculation example

Using the conversion factors above, you can calculate the energy content of your food by multiplying these values by the amount of each of the macronutrients present.

As an example, let’s look at imaginary product A. In the table below we’ve given how much fat, proteins, and carbohydrates this product contains per 100g of the product. By multiplying these values by the given conversion factors and adding up the result, you can the overall energy content.

Content in the product (g/100g)Energy content (kcal/g)Energy in product (kcal/100g)
Fats 5945
Proteins 8432
Carbohydrates 3412
Total89 kcal

Calculating the energy content of imaginary product A.

Getting started

So, if you want to determine the nutritional value of your product, start by deciding whether you will be able to find relevant data in existing literature. If so, you can use those to calculate the nutritional value of your food, sometimes requiring some additional calculations. If not, you will have to send your product to a laboratory for analysis.

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