Tag Archives: healthy eating

Your Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Healthy Meal Planning

 

Photo credit: Farmview Market

Photo credit: Farmview Market

“Could you just give me a meal plan?”

I can’t. Don’t hate me just yet! Because I can give you something even better. I think of it as a cheat sheet. So that you can make it easier to plan your meals and get on with your life. If you’re just here for the meals, scroll down to grab the PDF. But you’ll miss by big, juicy tips if you do that. Hang with me for a minute here. 

First, as I described in the article “Just tell me what to eat,” I’m not a big fan of meal plans. But I really do empathize with people who want one. Read that for a primer on the building blocks of healthy meals. 

It would take me all day to write a customized plan for each of my online nutrition clients. That’s because you are a unicorn. 

photo credit: teepublic

photo credit: teepublic

  • You have unique calorie requirements. 
  • You like certain flavors but not others.
  • You may love to cook, or you may hate it. Or just not have time to do it.
  • You may live alone or you may have to feed a huge family. 
  • Maybe you don’t even eat breakfast. That’s cool too. 

That all impacts the kinds of meals you’ll make at your house. 

While my former article lays out what a healthy meal looks like, I’d like to give you a little more of a head start for planning. Because when you’ve had a long week and are trying to change something big, nobody wants to spend three hours figuring out what they’re going to eat for the next week. 

It’s still worth planning out, don’t get me wrong. As I have talked about many times, making a menu, prepping some grab-and-go foods, and avoiding constant trips to the store saves you time, money, and ultimately calories. 

inabutter

Instead of a plan, I’m going to share the go to meals that my clients and I often use on a regular basis.

I won’t assume you’re Ina Garten here. Most of my ideas can be made in 20 minutes or less – many of them in less time than that. I’ll also link up the cheat sheet at the end of this to a PDF that you can keep on hand. 

photo credit: Precision Nutrition

photo credit: Precision Nutrition

Precision Nutrition does a good job of visually explaining what most of your plates will look like. Mine don’t always fit this perfectly, but I try to make them come close. Once in awhile, mama just needs a donut. 

But in general, you’ll want plenty of nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables, around 20-40 grams of lean protein per meal, and smaller amounts of healthy fats and starchy carbs.

Most of the time, 3 meals and 1-2 snacks that fit those guidelines should keep your belly satisfied and reduce your overall hunger if you’re trying to lose fat. 

How to use the cheat sheet.
If you want to get going without counting calories, cook each meal and let hunger be your guide. You may need a bigger portion or feel full before you ever finish your meal. That’s fine. Slow down when you eat. Stop eating when you’re not quite full. You likely got just enough. 

You may be someone who likes to snack – or never snacks. There isn’t one correct way to eat. But my online coaching clients often report that when they eat larger meals they are satisfied longer, often able to skip snacks, and think about food less often during the day. So play around there. 

Counting calories?
That’s fine too. You’ll adjust your portions to fit your own needs. I am sharing ideas that have recipes that tell you calories per serving size or are otherwise easily trackable. 

Badass Breakfasts
Eggs on everything.

Egg + egg whites plus greens tucked inside.

Egg + egg whites + greens tucked inside.

Scrambled, fried in nonstick spray, or poached. I eat eggs in some form nearly every day. I often put a runny egg on salad greens, sprinkle on some cherry tomatoes, and drizzle sherry vinegar over the top.  But some days it’s a mix of scrambled eggs, egg whites, and a piece of fruit. That’s not even a recipe. But it’s fast and filling. 

Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash with Eggs

photo credit: clean eating

Get the recipe from Clean Eating

Make it faster: use veggies that you cut on the weekend and pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage or even a little bacon to boost flavor. 

High Protein Cinnabon Oatmeal

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here.

Blueberry nectarine overnight oats. 

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here.

Overnight oats are the ultimate custom breakfast. Just tinker with the base recipe and you’ll have insta-breakfast. 

Banana Blueberry Protein Pancakes 

Get my recipe here.

Get my recipe here.

Protein pancakes are so easy to play with. I usually advise people to use sugar free syrup to shave down overall calories unless it’s a special occasion. In that case, hit up a little maple syrup. 

A high protein green smoothie.

Get the recipe from The Brewer and the Baker.

Get the recipe from The Brewer and the Baker.

Yogurt Parfait
berry parfait
No recipe needed: just plain Greek yogurt -I like 2% because it’s more satisfying. Add your favorite fruit and a sprinkle of healthy fat like chia seeds or a small portion of nuts. My kids like cereal or oats sprinkled on theirs. 

Lunches to Love

Also one of our favorite dinners.

Also one of our favorite dinners.

90% of my lunches are leftovers. I usually repurpose meat from dinner and toss it into a a big salad. “Chipotle bowls” are another way I squeeze in extra greens, along with a small serving of beans, meat, salsa, and avocado.

Just dumping a jar of salsa and chicken breasts into your slow cooker or an oven will yield meat that’s fairly flavor neutral, which makes it perfect for repurposing during the week. 

Not a meat lover? Try doing the same thing with pots of chickpeas or lentils. And keep tempeh and tofu on hand for your protein source. They’ll both keep for some time in the fridge. 

Here are a few more simple solutions if your leftovers left the building. 

Mediterranean Chicken Skewers from Costco
costcochickenskewer
They’re precooked. Heat them up if you like. Put them into a lower-carb wrap (I like Flatout) with veggies and some guacamole or another small serving of dressing. Or create an easy salad with greens and whatever other toppings you like. I like to add a bit of feta and sunflower seeds to mine. 

Morningstar Chipotle Black Bean Burger

photo credit: Iowa Girl Eats

photo credit: Iowa Girl Eats

Try using these on a salad some time too. They work well. I like to saute them in a pan but you can microwave them too. 

Baked sweet potato +. 

Get the recipe for a vegetarian loaded sweet potato from SkinnyTaste.

Get the recipe for a vegetarian loaded sweet potato from Skinnytaste.

Nuke a sweet potato. Or a regular potato (they’re good for you too). Top with reheated pre-cooked meat or other lean protein that you like, along with salsa, black beans, and a dollop of Greek yogurt. 

Lower-Fat Tuna Salad. 

Get a recipe from organize yourself skinny.

Get a recipe from Organize Yourself Skinny. 

Make a bigger batch of this ahead of time for a few extra meals. I mix tuna with only a bit of mayo or avocado for flavor and then round it out with Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and add celery and onion for crunch. Wrap it up with salad greens and a low-carb tortilla. Throw in a piece of fruit and you’re lunch is done. 

Winner Winner, All the Dinners
I use websites like Cooking Light and SkinnyTaste for inspiration on the daily. But here are a few super easy staples that my kids barely complain about. 

Chicken sausages and fire roasted peppers. 

Get the details from @green_kale on Instagram

Get the details from @green_kale on Instagram

Two ingredients. That’s it. The peppers work well for easy breakfast veggies too. 

Slow Cooker Mu Shu Chicken Wraps

Get the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.

Get the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens.

Save time by slow cooking your chicken with bottled stir fry sauce. Just save a bit for the end, stir in broccoli slaw, and fold it into a lower calorie tortilla. 

P.F. Chang style lettuce and chicken wraps. 

Get the recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

Get the recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

I use ground turkey or ground chicken for these. They take very little time to prepare – make extra meat mix to stick in your freezer. 

Weight Watchers Taco Soup

Get the recipe from Kitchme.

Get the recipe from Kitchme.

I make double batches to freeze. I choose lower-sodium canned goods, because there’s quite a bit of them in here. But it’s lightning fast, low calorie, and my family loves it. I often add zucchini or chopped bell peppers to this soup too. The serving size is 1 cup. Try it with lean ground beef or turkey. 

Mango Peanut Tempeh Tacos

Get the recipe from Love and Lemons.

Get the recipe from Love and Lemons.

If you’re craving a plant-based meal, you’ve got to try the mango peanut tempeh tacos. I pick up tempeh at the grocery store and keep it in the fridge. If I’m out of meat or just so over eating other protein sources, I like to mix it up by going meatless for a meal. These tacos are fairly fast to throw together and are completely delicious. 

Curried Tuna Burgers

tunaburge

Get the recipe here.

I call my version cakes, because I’m fancy and serve them on greens. But use a sandwich thin if you’ve got a craving for a burger. These come together really fast and the protein to calorie ratio is good. 

Chicken Zucchini Noodle Caprese

chickenzoodle

Get the recipe from Skinnytaste.

Zucchini noodles or “zoodles” make a good stand-in for pasta and increase your veggie intake. No, they don’t taste like pasta. I’d never sell you that lie. But they’re tasty. You can now buy them pre-packaged at the supermarket if you don’t own your own spiralizer. Or just chop some zucchini and ditch the zoodles. Warning: if you buy one, you may become obsessed with creating spiral veggies of all sorts. This can lead to excessive Instagram photography. #instayum. 

Snack Attacks

snack
Still hungry? I always keep a few healthy go-to snacks in my fridge or pantry. Check out these ideas. 

  • Plain Greek yogurt + half a banana or half cup berries. 
  • String cheese + apple
  • Turkey jerky + clementine. 
  • Boomchickapop lightly sweet popcorn (for crunchy needs). 
  • Roasted veggies with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and sea salt. 
  • Apple slices + a serving of cheddar cheese. 
  • A smaller protein shake.
  • Hardboiled egg + bell pepper strips. 
  • Lean turkey or ham with dijon mustard wrapped in romaine lettuce leaves. 
  • Greek yogurt cream cheese and deli ham wrapped around a dill pickle. (Midwest sushi, am I right?) 
  • Cottage cheese + fruit.
  • “Proyo” – plain Greek yogurt, 1 TBSP of PB2, 1 teaspoon of chocolate chips or low sugar jam. Freeze for 15 minutes. 
  • Halo Top ice cream. 
  • Egg white crepe – egg whites whisked with stevia, a splash of vanilla and cinnamon. Cooked in a pan. Top with berries. 
  • Guacamole + salsa + celery or mini peppers to dip. 

Take it with you. 
Here’s a nifty pdf version to keep on hand for reference. Remember, there’s no one right way to do your meals. But I hope my ideas help you get started.  

Want more inspiration? Join my free newsletter and get in on workouts, healthy eating tips, and everything else you need to be fit and fine. Just fill out the form below and you’ll be an even cooler kid. 

 

Hip healthy eats: what’s trending in 2017.

fancy jerkyIs kale finally over? Do we still need to put an egg on it? If you’re wondering what new foods you should pile on your plate this year to fuel your bod and your taste buds, read on. 

Of course you can eat well with the basics. Fill your plate with broccoli and chicken every day and live your life. But I need a lot of variety in my diet and screw around with new recipes. Thankfully, I can just scroll through my social media feeds to find plenty of inspiration (aka food porn, am I right?)

If you’re doing that too, you’ve likely already noticed certain foods popping up over and over. Are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

In the interest of research and a hungry belly, I test drove a whole bunch for you. Maybe there will be some fresh ideas. In any case, find out what’s healthy and what’s just hype with the new cool kids in your grocery store.

Before I dig into my list, remember this: all foods can be part of a healthy diet. The idea of superfoods is way overblown, as I recently discussed. But still, some foods make it easier to stay nourished and well than others.

Now that I’ve covered my butt in that disclaimer, let’s move on to the fun stuff.

Haha what?

Haha what?

I didn’t sample “functional food”, like supplements you add to smoothies like spirulina, which is apparently ridiculously good for you. I also left out things that while inexplicably popular, are expensive and sound hella stupid. I’m looking at you moon dust and sex dust. Yeah, sex dust is real. I don’t know what else to say about that.

I’m also leaving out recipes for cleanses and detox drinks. Because you don’t need any of that. Your liver does that job. Plus we all know that concoctions of lemon juice, maple syrup and God knows what else is going to taste like donkey. We good? Let’s do this.  

golden milk
My turmeric latte.

Turmeric – the golden child?

It seems that turmeric everything popped out of nowhere. It’s what gives curry powder its vibrant yellow hue. And it happens to contain a compound called curcumin, which provides anti-inflammatory effects to the body.

If its popularity on Pinterest is any indication, it would seem that turmeric has the ability to help fight off disease, help your brain, and maybe fight off ninjas. But you need to keep a few key things in mind:

In order to benefit from curcumin, you need to consume black pepper with it. It contains piperine, which allows you to absorb it way more effectively.

Most importantly, most of the research that finds turmeric to be beneficial uses turmeric extract. The foods and drinks you’re seeing all over the Internet don’t likely contain enough curcumin to improve your health.

Still, I had to try. I decided to go hardcore and use the fresh root instead of the powder form.

First I tried the much pinned “golden milk” or “turmeric latte”.

The verdict:
golden milk is terrible. Medicinal. I took one sip and poured the rest down the drain. The thing is, I’m not sure it was the turmeric that tasted so bad: the drink is usually mixed with quite a bit of fresh ginger and a bit of black pepper, along with coconut or almond milk, because everyone drinking golden milk appears to dislike dairy. Turmeric root itself smells fresh. I liked that.

I gave our relationship one more chance by grating some into my morning egg, cheese, and veggie scramble. On the plus side, it made my eggs prettier. And my eggs tasted great. Except I couldn’t detect any discernable turmeric taste. 

Try if: you want to add a little spice or color to your life. Be prepared for yellow fingers and countertops if you use the fresh root.

buckwheatbowl

Buckwheat porridge.

Quinoa, why you so basic?

Ahh, quinoa, the “ancient grain” that’s still plenty popular. It’s gluten free, though it’s not the protein powerhouse that everyone swoons over.

The term ‘ancient grains’ makes all the health food aficionados wet their pants. Just because something has been around awhile doesn’t automatically make it superior. But why not branch out? There’s a world of whole grains out there that have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to both power you up and satisfy your need for a little starchy goodness.

I’ve been digging other grains like Chinese forbidden rice, which is slightly chewy and has a gorgeous deep purple hue that you can Instagram to display your fanciness.

Nutty farro and freekeh are worth tasting too. Sprouted grains will likely get more attention this year as well. The process can increase many key nutrients within grains. Some people may tolerate them better too if they have sensitivities to grain.

I tried buckwheat this week. It has a neutral flavor and texture similar to steel cut oats. Though the name might sound like it contains wheat, it’s actually a gluten-free seed, often called a “groat”. It’s filled with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and amino acids.

Most importantly, it makes a bomb porridge for breakfast. Start with this recipe to get going. 

Try if: you want new textures and flavors in your whole grains.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Old trends. New trends. Coming together, on my plate.

Kale is dead. Long live other green stuff.
Okay, kale isn’t dead. I don’t even hate kale. But I predict people will branch out to discover some other good green stuff. I cooked up mustard greens, which have a peppery bite but taste less bitter than kale.

I used this quick recipe for wilted greens and onions from Martha Stewart, who probably has an entire garden of mustard greens at the ready. Of course she does. They paired perfectly with my avocado toast and poached eggs – two 2016 trends that don’t show much sign of slowing down. #avotoast #putaneggonit.

Try if: you want to feel more excited about leaves.

 

Bowl of power. Or something.

Bowl of power. Or something.

Buddha/Power Bowls
Yeah, yeah, these were a 2016 thing. But plenty of people are just coming to the power bowl party. The basic idea is just to mix plenty of veggies, a protein, and healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocado, you name it. I threw together zucchini and carrot noodles, cabbage, cucumbers, chicken, and peanut sauce. It made a perfect light dinner that doesn’t require a recipe.

Try if: you like to throw together leftovers from your fridge.

Veggie burgers that taste like burgers.

Veggie “meats” that taste like the real deal.

Eat some peas: pea protein.
Protein is my wing mate. It helps me build and keep muscle, stay lean, and feel full. Protein is also becoming perhaps too much of a grocery shelf darling these days, as you’ll see it jammed into everything from water to cereal.

At the same time, more people are looking for plant-based alternatives to meat as their protein source. Pea protein is gaining popularity as an alternative to animal sources like meat, dairy, and egg. And it’s helping producers create veggie burgers that are more juicy and meaty than ever. I don’t know what kind of witchcraft this is, but I’d wager that the vegans are excited. 

I tried the new Beyond Meat beast burger to give these a test drive. Unlike most veggie burgers, this one packs a walloping 20 grams of protein into it. It’s also 290 calories, which isn’t anything spectacular for a protein to calorie ratio.

But if you’re eating only plant based protein, it weighs in pretty well. Pea protein is also good stuff because it has a good amino acid profile, is unlikely to cause allergic reactions, and lets vegetarians back off from eating a metric ton of soy products. I also plan to try the “chicken” fajita strips. I have high hopes.

Try if: you’re a vegetarian who secretly longs for a juicy hunk o meat. Or gainz.

I didn't spiffy up my "toast" very well here.

I didn’t spiffy up my “toast” very well here.

Sweet potato toast is now a thing.
Sweet potato toast is not toast. I don’t care what you put on it. Toast is bread. This is a thin slice of roasted sweet potato that happens to be a good delivery vehicle for #thingsontoast.

Some people have roasted them in a toaster. This sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. I didn’t want to burn down my kitchen. Well sometimes I want to burn down the kitchen, but only because I want a new kitchen. But I digress.

I read up on this not-toast. Roasting at 450F was apparently the way to go. You can always reheat them in the toaster briefly. I managed to burn most of my slices because I was looking at Instagram at pictures of sweet potato toast. Oh, sweet irony.

But I won’t lie, having a thin slice of sweet potato smeared with peanut butter and apple was delightful. I’ve never been so mobile with my root vegetables. Sure, I might lose a few fingers trying to slice a sweet potato into uniformly thin pieces. But it makes a mighty fine pre-workout snack to take out the door.

Try if: you love sweet potato, are terrified of actual toast, and also have a mandoline to make these less tricky.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I'm weird like that.

I eat this straight out of the jar because I’m weird like that.

Fermented foods – sour, funky goodness for your gut.
Gut health is continuing to gain more attention. Fermented foods contain probiotics that make your gut function well and help your digestion as well as improve other aspects of your health. Research into gut health is still emerging, but it holds quite a bit of promise for helping us function better.

I’ve been eating many of these for a while. Not because I’m trying to be healthy A.F. But mostly because plenty of them are packed with flavor. Think kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and kefir.

Wall-O-Kombucha

Wall-O-Kombucha

Kombucha gets a lot of love too. Whole Foods has an entire wall. That’s impressive. For some reason I can’t get excited about kombucha. It’s just too sour and has a weird, slippery feel. Some varieties contain quite a bit of sugar, unlike most fermented foods that I eat, which are very low in calories. However, the bottles I picked up at the market were very low in sugar. So knock yourselves out if kombucha is your thing,

Try if: you love flavor-packed foods that help you poop like a rock star.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Another power bowl with maple tahini sauce and that sexy forbidden rice.

Middle eastern cuisine.
Middle eastern food isn’t necessarily synonymous with healthy food – except much of it is. Vegetables and lean meats are star players in this cuisine, which makes wise use of spices to create layers of flavor. They also love tahini, which is high in calories but can be used in small amounts to perk up just about everything.

Watch for more recipes and restaurants featuring vibrantly spiced dishes like Za’atar chicken, dukkah dusted lentils, beans, tahini sauces, labneh, and the holy grail of egg-based breakfasts, shakshouka.

Try a middle-eastern vibe in your next power bowl, like this recipe for roasted sweet potato, beet, and forbidden rice with maple tahini sauce. The sauce was incredible. I added chicken for more brotein.

Pounding some seaweed.

Pounding some seaweed.

Under the seaweed.
Ever have a nori wrapper holding your sushi together? That’s seaweed. More and more seaweed products are available now in American grocery stores than ever before.

Try furikake, a Japanese seasoning, adds a dimension of flavor to veggies, meat, and fish. It’s made from chopped seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and MSG. Other seaweed based condiments are also popular in Asian cooking.

Seaweed is low in calories and  is super dense nutritionally. It’s high in fiber and vitamins and minerals,, including iodine, which regulates your thyroid; and vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegetarian diets.

I don’t mind nori wrappers when I’m eating sushi. But I took it a little too far. I grabbed these seaweed snacks. I wish I’d grabbed the furikake instead, it holds more promise. These snacks, imported from Korea, just tasted like seaweed. Crazy, right? I guess I’m not a fan.

Try if: you either get down to chow on seaweed or use this as a component in other foods to temper the taste of the ocean in your mouth.

Balls.

Balls.

More and more protein-focused treats.
From 2016-2017, the energy bar aisle exploded. Now there are vegan bars, raw bars, paleo bars, protein bars, energy bars, tree hugging bars, savory bars… you see where I’m going. It’s overwhelming.

And if you read blogs or social media, you may see just as many recipes for homemade versions, especially balls. Energy balls. Protein balls. Power balls. Hey, that’s a lottery game isn’t it?

Everyone loves balls.

While I’d rather eat a bigger snack that I don’t wolf down in under a minute, bars have the potential to be more nutritious than a candy bar. I think this is a key reason why people love energy bars. Because they want to eat candy and feel like they’re doing something better for their bodies with these.

It’s cool to eat some candy. It’s cool to put more nutritious food in there too.

Bars are “meh” on the scale of awesomeness, both with taste and nutrition. Many are little more than candy bars. The homemade versions contain fewer fillers, preservatives, and had the potential to taste good too.

What I mostly found were recipes containing a lot of nut butter, dried fruit, and honey. This might be perfect for powering up an endurance workout. But those foods don’t provide a meaningful source of protein yet also pack a ton of calories, which you might not want to spend on something so small.

I found a recipe that used protein powder, PB2 instead of calorie dense peanut butter, crunchy puffed rice and oats, plus just a small amount of honey and chocolate.

They tasted fantastic. And only 85 calories each. Except I ate three, because I was hungry and they were in front of me.

Try if: you want a portable treat that’s slightly virtuous. Just remember that even healthy treats contain calories. Damnit.

Other Trends to Track
I didn’t have time to eat all of the things. Just most of them. I think in 2017, you’ll see even more of these:

Foods prepared with bone broth. Bone broth is low calorie, nutrient dense, and flavorful. The jury seems divided on its worth so far.

-Poke bowls showing up everywhere. Poke has been popular in Hawaii for awhile. It’s a loose term for a bowl of fresh fish, plenty of veggies, seasonings, and sometimes rice. Healthy. Yummy. And eating poke on my bucket list for 2017.

-All the jerky. More fancy brands of dried meat – but also dried meat alternatives and fish jerky too. Remember the wall of kombucha? The wall of jerky is real too. I love it for a portable snack, so rock on with this.

-More matcha. The concentrated green tea powder is popular already, but with our national obsession over antioxidants, I expect to see some matcha Cheerios anytime now.

We like to over do a good thing, don’t we?

After a week of binge cooking and tasting, I’m ready to kick back with an untrendy but deeply satisfying plate of scrambled eggs and toast with no toppings. How about you? What food trends excite you, and which ones need to die? Leave a comment and share!

Superfoods aren’t real, but these foods are super.

cinderellaIf you stuff a smoothie with maca powder, quinoa, acai berries, hemp seeds, and cacao, will you fly? Or at least be tremendously healthy? In other words, what’s up with superfoods?

Get back to me on how that smoothie goes. But I don’t think you can walk into a grocery store these days without seeing something labeled as a superfood. The words conjurs up all sorts of imagery, doesn’t it?

I imagine a superfood makes my insides kick ass like Salley O’Malley. You know, glowing and full of energy. 

salley

But why do some things get labeled as superfoods? Have you ever wondered if they really deserve such a grandiose title?

I walked into a market this morning and was reminded of some of the misconceptions about how we think about food as it relates to our health. Just check out this snapshot:

superfoods

And then I peered a little closer. Chocolate covered goji berries. What the hell is a goji berry, anyway? I’ll answer that for you in just a bit. But first, let’s talk about the idea of a “superfood.”

 
Do superfoods even exist?
The most common benefit associated with most things labeled as superfoods is antioxidant power. Stay with me for a moment so I can science you.

Some foods contain chemicals that seem to counteract the effects of oxidative damage. If the processes in our body create too much oxidative stress, it can damage our cells.

That’s not so super. Too much production of things like free radicals and things like oxygen ions and other chemical reactions may cause disease and other unhealthy conditions within the body.  

And so it seems like we’d want to grab onto anything that can prevent oxidative damage. Interestingly, sometimes that damage is a good thing. For example, when we get injured, inflammation helps us heal up.

So a certain degree of oxidative damage is normal in our bodies – if we are healthy.

Magic juices and other tales

photo credit: mr. ginseng

photo credit: mr. ginseng

You’ve probably heard of certain fruits being full of antioxidants: acai, goji, pomegranate, in particular. Berries are particularly rich sources of plant chemicals like polyphenols, stilbenoids, and tannins.

And these compounds have an association with combating bad juju like inflammation, cancer, certain neural issues, cardiovascular disease, and other disease states.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply gorge on foods that have high antioxidant ratings and automatically improve our health. That’s because the way that nutrients interact with each other in our body to produce effects is still a bit of a mystery.

We do know that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent disease. But we don’t know if it’s the fact that they have antioxidant properties or rather other compounds that influence a healthier body.

You need to remember two big things when considering choosing food for your health:

All foods are useful to our body.
We need to eat them in proportions that serve our overall health from diverse sources. That means plenty of whole foods rich in nutrients and less of those things that are nutrient poor (especially if they’re very dense in calories.)

But every food can be super. Even a donut before working out. It’s still fuel. Some foods just let us meet our goals more easily than others. 

Many items labeled as superfoods are no healthier than other whole foods that we eat.
And they probably won’t do anything remarkable except put a giant dent in your wallet. Some also are basically junk food masquerading as health food, which confuses people. And that stinks.

Check out my chocolate covered goji berries.
chocolategojiomg

As a treat? Sure, if that’s your thing. I’m more of a Raisinets fan, personally. But if you’re looking for a big boost of nutrition, don’t buy candy. 

So what foods are super if superfoods are merely make believe?

My personal list of “super” foods includes those foods that do a bang up job of helping you eat for a happy, healthy life. Here are just a few of the many good things to put into your belly.

Whole fruits and vegetables.

veggies
You knew I’d say that one, right? Fruits and veggies are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, energy-giving carbohydrates, and fiber. They taste amazing. They’re not hard to find. And these keep you feeling full and nourished. Eat lots. 

In fact, if you’re currently struggling to eat well, start by adding a fruit or vegetable to your day. Don’t obsess about packing your diet with expensive, exotic bags of “superfoods.” Eat more colorful stuff. Or as my friend and trainer Jenna says, “green shit”. Eat more green shit. 

But what about those goji berries? I’ve only found them in dried, powdered, or juice form.

I bought some to test out. They looked a little chewy, like dried fruit. Except harvested by ancient people from somewhere. The bag boasted their innumerable health benefits, including fiber and protein but seemed to convey a sense of specialness that one could only obtain for about $12 a bag. Hmmm.

I had a hankering for some Greek yogurt and needed a topping, because I’m fancy. So I weighed out a half portion of goji berries along with a half cup of fresh raspberries.

berries

Here’s how they stack up nutritionally:

Goji Berries (14g)
Calories: 50
Protein: 2g
Carbs: 14g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 2.5g
Sugar: 6.5g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, like other berries, high in antioxidant compounds. May interact with certain meds, especially blood thinners.

Raspberries (68g, about ½ cup serving)
Calories: 26
Protein: .5g
Carbs: 6g
Fat: 0g
Fiber: 3.5g
Sugar: 2g
Random nutrient perks: high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese, along with other vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.

Nutritionally speaking, the raspberries have less sugar, a bit more fiber than the goji berries. Neither one is a terrible choice for a snack, but I’d prefer a big bowl of raspberries over the calorie dense dried berries. Plus the goji berries tasted rather blah to me.

Lean protein
meat

Protein is full of amino acids that build up your body – and your muscles. Protein- rich foods help you maintain and build muscle mass. They also help you stay full longer. Choose them from a variety of sources, especially:

  • Lean meats and fish
  • Dairy (Greek yogurt is my best friend)
  • Eggs
  • Plant-based proteins from soy, legumes, etc. (Try tempeh, tofu, chickpeas, and beans)

By mixing it up, you’ll get the unique nutrients that each kind provides.

Healthy fats
You need fat in your diet. For your overall health, energy, and hormonal function. And because things like salmon and avocado taste pretty freaking fantastic. Foods with fat also may contain a healthy portion of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – your body can’t make them, so you need to get them from foods.

Plus fat helps you absorb all those powerful nutrients in your veggies. Don’t go fat free: just eat them in small amounts at your meals to get their health benefits while keeping your calories in check. 

Whole grains
Whole grains can reduce your risk of getting certain diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Eat starchy whole grains around workouts to fuel yourself. I set aside packaged cereals and bars most of the time. Instead, try cooking up batches of oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, and other minimally processed foods. My favorite one lately is farro: it’s nutty, chewy, and easy to cook. 

Funky fermented foods
kimchi

Good bacteria in our gut has the power to improve our digestion and boost our immunity. Gut health is a fairly young area of nutrition research. What kinds of fermented foods should you eat?

Think kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt, for starters. Fermented foods contain probiotics that can help keep your gut healthy. As a bonus, many of them are relatively low in calories and perk up other food you’re eating. Kimchi in my scrambled eggs is now my thing. Try it, I dare you.

Foods that allow you to maintain your weight more easily.
Sometimes I get the urge to munch on things. Especially if you’re working on fat loss, having low calorie options available can make it way easier to meet your goal. Try celery, strawberries, pickles, and even sugar-free jello. No, the chemicals won’t kill you. Yes, it’ll take the edge off the urge to eat a pint of ice cream.

Foods that bring you life happiness.

This is actually real.

This is actually real. And it is a glorious junk food. 

No, you probably shouldn’t eat a pint of ice cream on the regular. But leaving room in your life for foods that you love is just as important as eating for your health. Truly. You’ll be less likely to go off the rails if you know that no food is off limits. Who cares if it unlocks the secrets of the Mayans? If it tastes good, have a little bit from time to time. After all, Captain Crunch may have a few secrets of his own. 

References
Seeram N. Berry fruits: compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease. J. Agric Food Chem. 2008: 56(3): 627-629.

Dragsted LO, Pedersen A, Hermetter A et al.The 6-a-day study: effects of fruit and vegetables on markers of oxidative stress and antioxidative defense in healthy nonsmokers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004:79(6):1060-72.