A handful of ingredients deserve the splurge. We’re talking quality over quantity. Not all ingredients are created equal. Some are nutrient dense ingredients, specifically, these are the ones you don’t want to skimp on.

Most would agree that they want the most nutrients for their dollar when they’re grocery shopping. That’s why it’s important to know which foods are worth splurging on. Your body will thank you!

Below is a list that shows 4 quality ingredients you shouldn’t skimp on. They’re rich in nutrients, incredibly adaptable, and they go a long way in your dishes. No fillers, no preservatives, no additives—> just good quality food.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is an incredible oil — it’s full of healthy fats, loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and can help protect you from heart disease and obesity. Studies also show its potential to decrease your risk of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. It’s an easy — and delicious — ingredient to incorporate into your diet.

“Extra virgin” is the top grade of olive oil and the one to look for. Established by the International Olive Council and the United States Department of Agriculture, it is the standard that the oil has zero defects. In 2011, we learned that a lot of our oil that claims to be “extra virgin” were not. A study by the University of California-Davis Olive Center found 69% of imported olive oil and 10% of olive oil from California that was labeled “extra virgin” did not meet the international standards for the claim.

So how can you tell how pure your olive oil is? Unfortunately, you can’t tell just by looking at it — your olive oil may be cut with another processed seed oil, an older sample of extra virgin olive oil, or a lower grade. Some producers are now noting their quality with seals and logos on the products. If possible, try to purchase it directly from a local manufacturer. I realize that’s difficult sometimes, so I also suggest looking for a “100% Certified Extra Virgin” seal from California-made oils.

Or a red circular logo with a green olive branch that was created by the North American Olive Oil Association or a “100% Qualita Italiana” placed on authentic oils from Italy.

Raw Nuts

Nuts are pricey. However, the raw, unsalted variations are definitely worth the splurge. Walnuts and almonds, especially, are great sources of heart-healthy fats and protein. Nuts provide nice texture, flavor and added nutrients to a variety of dishes. They also make great, quick snacks on the go.

Commercially-seasoned and flavored nuts contain additives and fillers that you just don’t need! When you buy them raw and unroasted, you’re ensuring that all you’re getting is the original nut itself. It’s important to note that roasting nuts could potentially damage the nutrient density in nuts.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is made from the circulating fluid, or sap, of sugar maple trees. Maple syrup offers a natural source of sweetness and can be a great “binder” in many vegan desserts. It’s important to note that it is still, sugar, and should be consumed in moderation.

Maple syrup is a delicious, thick, and sticky syrup made from— a variety of maple trees. It has a rich brown color with a tint of red which varies from the different food grading of maple syrup. Not every syrup is maple. Maple syrup is graded according to the Canada, United States, or Vermont scales based on its density and translucency. Whenever you are eating “Pancake Syrups” or Breakfast Syrups”, you’re not getting any maple syrup! It’s usually made of high fructose corn syrup and flavored with additives to make it look and smell like the real thing.

Good quality maple syrup can come with a high price tag. Keep in mind that quality is important, though. Its expensive prices are due to the sustainability of the industry; it typically takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!

Canada produces more than 80% of the world’s maple syrup with these variations, there are 3 grades: Canada #1, #2 Amber and #3 Dark. In the US, maple syrup is classified as either Grade A or B, where Grade A is further categorized into three groups — Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber — and Grade B is the darkest available syrup. The darker syrups are made from sap extracted later in the harvest season. These have a stronger maple flavor and are usually used for baking, whereas the lighter ones are drizzled directly atop foods like pancakes. When buying maple syrup, make sure to read food labels carefully. This way, you’ll get real maple syrup — not just maple-flavored syrup, which can be loaded with refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.


Vinegar has been used in cooking for thousands of years. Thanks to its beneficial health effects, it’s also been used as a remedy in many cultures. Vinegar contains polyphenols, micronutrients, and other bioactive compounds that offer antioxidative, antimicrobial, and weight management effects.

Vinegar is an ingredient you don’t want to skimp on — it plays a big role in transforming dishes. It can play up flavors, balance fattiness, intensify sweetness, and even cut through saltiness. Whether it’s rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar, it’s a great addition to your diet. The best vinegar will just include its original ingredient — wine, beer or rice — and will be fermented in water. Pure balsamic vinegar will be labeled “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale of Medona” or “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia” and has a D.O.P. stamp. This sign will guarantee that it was produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy.  The names of these two vinegar’s are protected by the European Union’s  Protected Designation of Origin.

Let’s hear it!

Share your tips with the Nutrition Connections community in the comments below or post on Instagram with @nutrition_connections


Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN