In my early days as a dietitian, I was obsessed with healthy recipe swaps, convincing myself that cauliflower rice is filling and zoodles taste exactly like spaghetti (spoiler alert: They’re OK, but they’re not spaghetti). Over time and with experience, my meaning of “balance” shifted. I quit replacing the foods I craved with “healthier” alternatives and, instead, started looking for ways to add healthy foods to my diet. Meals felt more enjoyable and less forced; I was eating nutrient-dense foods because I wanted to, rather than out of guilt.
As trends like slow girl wellness and intuitive eating rise, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who needs a fresh perspective. “All-or-nothing” is out. We’re dropping the notion that we need to restrict and, instead, shifting our attention to the foods that add value to our meals. As a dietician, I love adding a wide array of superfoods for optimal health, but eight specific foods are so nutritious that I make sure to add them to one meal every day—and I’m going to share them with you. Side note: You don’t have to eat all of these foods every single day. My advice is to use this list as a tool to have easy, nutrient-dense ingredients on hand (progress over perfection!). Every food mentioned requires minimal effort to add to your plate. Start small if you need to, make adjustments according to your preferences, and have fun exploring some variety in your meals.
When in doubt, add seeds. Even when my fridge is bare, or my motivation to chop a veggie is at an all-time low, I can always count on seeds to up the nutritional value of whatever I’m eating. They may be small, but they pack a nutritional punch. I like to keep a variety in my fridge, including:
- Hemp seeds: Serving as a great protein boost (10 grams per 3-tablespoon serving) and a great source of polyunsaturated fats, I love sprinkling these over pancakes or waffles in the morning or on a salad.
- Chia seeds: As an incredible source of fiber (10 grams per 2.5-tablespoon serving) and omega-3 fatty acids, specifically anti-inflammatory alpha-linoleic acids, I love adding chia seeds to a smoothie or oats or making chia pudding (easiest meal prep ever).
- Flaxseed: I like to add a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed when I’m baking or in smoothies for a great source of healthy fats and polyphenols called lignans, which may help to improve cholesterol.
Nuts are one of my favorite snacks because they’re tasty, portable, filling, and full of nutrients. Each type is slightly unique in how it benefits the body, but nuts (such as cashews, almonds, and walnuts) are generally good sources of protein, fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, and minerals. If you don’t love snacking on nuts, try adding chopped nuts to oatmeal, yogurt, chia pudding, or salads. I also love using nuts as a “crust” for chicken or salmon—they add the most satisfying crunch. Nut butter is another alternative to get similar nutrients.
Eggs deserve a serious apology after getting a bad rap in the ‘90s for their supposed high cholesterol content in their yolks. Now, we have plenty of research to show that eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, and eating the entire egg—yoke and all—has amazing nutritional value. It’s true that eggs are high in fat, but it’s actually beneficial fat and helps lower LDL cholesterol. Beyond that, egg yolks are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The best part? It’s one of the easiest sources of protein out there, with about 6 grams per egg.
Berries are my favorite source of fiber (write that under “things only a dietitian would say”). After all, they serve up 8 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving. They’re also a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants. Plus, they’re tasty and versatile. Fresh berries are pricey and get mushy annoyingly fast, but the good news is frozen berries are just as good—if not better—at providing the same nutritional benefits. Sure, you can add frozen berries to a smoothie, but you can also bake with them or toss them straight into a hot bowl of oatmeal. If you heat them, they’ll get nice and jammy (you can thank me later). I also love adding thawed berries to a yogurt parfait or heating them in the microwave to make a sauce to pour over pancakes.
5. Leafy Greens
Eating greens to boost nutrition may be a no-brainer, but sometimes the thing that holds people back is figuring out how to use greens and actually enjoy them. For some, leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and kale are an acquired taste, but for others, a little more effort is required. When most people hear “greens,” they automatically think of boring salads. My daily servings of greens often come in the form of a smoothie or are found mixed into a turkey burger or sauteed with eggs. However you decide to add greens to your meals, it’s well worth the boost of nutrients that support the immune system, energy levels, and digestion.
Yes, this is me giving you full permission to always add a side of guac. Avocado is a high-quality fat source that will make your meal more satisfying and can help reduce LDL cholesterol because of its oleic acid content. Avocado is a sneaky source of fiber, too, providing around 5 grams per half-cup serving. I love starting my morning with avocado toast, but I also keep pre-packaged mashed avocado cups in my fridge for snacking with chips or veggies.
7. Beans and Legumes
If you’ve heard about Blue Zones, you probably know that beans are one of the most-used foods in every region. Beans and legumes provide plant-based protein and tons of fiber (one cup of navy beans contains 15 grams of protein and 19 grams of fiber!). ICYMI, many high-fiber foods made my list because of fiber’s benefits for the digestive system. High-fiber legumes like lentils and chickpeas are easy additions to soups and salads, and the possibilities with beans are pretty much endless. Try blending white beans into a creamy soup or pasta sauce, or top them over your salad.
If you’ve made 2024 your year to focus on gut health, probiotics are likely on your radar. Yogurt is one of the easiest sources of probiotics, as long as you buy a brand labeled with “live and active cultures.” I usually go for plain Greek yogurt to squeeze in extra protein (17 grams per three-fourths cup serving). I use it to make ranch dip, as a marinade (it makes the most tender chicken), and in pancake mix (extra protein and extra fluff FTW!). If yogurt isn’t your thing, other reliable sources of probiotics include kimchi, miso, kombucha, tempeh, and kefir.
Source: Cosmo Politian