Adding toppings to your meals can be a great way to increase the nutritional value. Here are five ingredients that are easy to add to almost any food, easy to store, and have a long shelf life. Keeping these ingredients on hand will guarantee that you can always give your recipes an added nutritional and flavor boost.
Flaxseeds are an easy way to boost your intake of fiber and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and may help lower cholesterol. Research suggests intake of omega-3 fatty acids may improve brain function and regulate mood [i]. Flaxseeds have also been associated with cardiovascular disease prevention, blood pressure reduction, and blood sugar regulation in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Flax also contains lignans, which are a type of phytoestrogen, and have been shown to have protective effects against breast, prostate, lung, colon, ovarian, endometrial, hepatocellular, and cervical cancer [ii].
Not only are flaxseeds a nutritional powerhouse, they have a pleasing nutty taste, and can add texture to your meals and snacks. It is important to note that in order to release the beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants in flaxseeds, whole flaxseed should be ground or crushed to remove the outer coating [ii]. However, you can purchase flaxseeds pre-ground as well, eliminating this step. A few favorite ways to eat flaxseeds are to sprinkle them on yogurt or avocado toast, mix into smoothies or oatmeal, use as a breading for poultry or fish, or add them to a homemade muffin or quick bread recipe.
Recipes with Flaxseeds
Chia seeds are another easy pantry staple that contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These seeds are also an excellent source of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. They have been associated with anti-carcinogenic and anti-hypertensive effects, and may protect brain health [iii].
Chia seeds are flavorless, making them easy to add to any recipe. They absorb 10x their weight in water, so they are typically mixed into liquids to create a thick texture. A popular way to use chia seeds is in chia pudding, which can be a breakfast, snack, or dessert: you just add your liquid of choice to the chia seeds. You can also add them to smoothies, soups, or salads, and incorporate them into pancake, waffle, granola, and salad dressing recipes.
Recipes with Chia Seeds
Nutritional yeast is a type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and is a rich source of protein, vitamin B6, folate, and minerals such as chromium and selenium, which help it to really live up to its “nutritious” name! Nutritional yeast has been associated with maintaining normal blood glucose levels, as well as supporting proper immune system functioning [iv]. Certain brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with vitamin B12, making it a great way for vegans to add B12 into their diet since it is otherwise only found in animal products [v].
Nutritional yeast is usually found as dried powder or flakes. It is an inactive form of yeast so do not worry, it will not froth or rise like regular yeast used in baking! It has a cheesy flavor and adds a rich savory taste to all kinds of foods, which can be a great option for vegans or those who are dairy free. You can use nutritional yeast to top your popcorn, sprinkle on kale chips, veggies, or pasta, or add to soups and stews to deepen the flavor.
Recipes with Nutritional Yeast
Nut butters are another great option to upgrade your meals and snacks. They contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats which help increase HDL (good cholesterol), and are rich in antioxidants, fiber, protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin E. Even better, research has demonstrated an inverse association between nut intake and all-cause and cause-specific mortality, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, infectious causes, chronic liver disease, and renal disease [vi].
The high calorie, protein, and fat content in nut butters make them a wonderful way to bridge the gap between meals, make regular meals have more staying power, and aid in weight maintenance or gain. There are many different types to try and they can be used interchangeably! A few favorites are peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, soybean butter, and even sunflower seed butter, which is a great option for people allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts. Add nut butters to oatmeal or smoothies, use as a dip for carrots, celery or apples, blend into a sauce, or spread on toast, pancakes, or waffles.
Recipes With Nut Butter
Wheat germ is the inner part of the wheat kernel and is high in protein, fat, fiber, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and manganese. It is usually a discarded byproduct in the milling that takes place during the production of white flour, but it is full of antioxidants and nutrients! Some evidence suggests that it may help normalize cholesterol levels, and may support gut health by increasing beneficial gut bacteria. Wheat germ is also high in alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that is a precursor for omega-3 fatty acids, and is associated with reducing insulin resistance [vii].
Wheat germ has a similar nutritional profile and nutty taste to flaxseed. Sprinkle wheat germ on top of ice cream or frozen yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, and even add it to savory dishes such as meatloaf and casseroles.
Recipes with Wheat Germ
[i] Barsby JP, Cowley JM, Leemaqz SY, et al. Nutritional properties of selected superfood extracts and their potential health benefits. PeerJ. 2021;9:e12525. Published 2021 Nov 26. doi:10.7717/peerj.12525
[ii] Parikh M, Maddaford TG, Austria JA, Aliani M, Netticadan T, Pierce GN. Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1171. Published 2019 May 25. doi:10.3390/nu11051171
[iii] Knez Hrnčič M, Ivanovski M, Cör D, Knez Ž. Chia Seeds (Salvia hispanica L.): An Overview-Phytochemical Profile, Isolation Methods, and Application. Molecules. 2019;25(1):11. Published 2019 Dec 18. doi:10.3390/molecules25010011
[iv] Jach, Monika & Serefko, Anna. (2018). Nutritional Yeast Biomass: Characterization and Application. 10.1016/B978-0-12-811440-7.00009-0.
[v] Donaldson, M. S. (2000). Metabolic Vitamin B₁₂ Status on a Mostly Raw Vegan Diet with Follow-Up Using Tablets, Nutritional Yeast, or Probiotic Supplements. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 44(5/6), 229–234. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48513898
[vi] Amba V, Murphy G, Etemadi A, Wang S, Abnet CC, Hashemian M. Nut and Peanut Butter Consumption and Mortality in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Nutrients. 2019;11(7):1508. Published 2019 Jul 2. doi:10.3390/nu11071508
[vii] Moreira-Rosário, A., Pinheiro, H., Calhau, C., & Azevedo, L. F. (2016). Can wheat germ have a beneficial effect on human health? A study protocol for a randomised crossover controlled trial to evaluate its health effects. BMJ open, 6(11), e013098. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013098