"Variety is the spice of life" is an often-repeated saying which could also be applied to the foods we choose to eat. Variety in foods adds interest to our plates. Including a wide variety of different foods in our diets also helps ensure that we get all the nutrients needed. But, sometimes in the rush of daily life, it's easier to prepare the same familiar foods which we know our family enjoys.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts' HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, emphasizes the importance of trying new foods in broadening diet variety: "Don't get too caught up in trying to eat more of any one particular fruit or vegetable than another. Instead, work on expanding your palate by incorporating some foods you don't routinely eat."
So as we start the year of 2011, consider adding some variety to your plate. Here are some ideas from the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter to get you started.
Sardines. Canned sardines provide protein, calcium and vitamin D and can be used in the same ways as canned tuna. It's best to choose those canned in water rather than oil. Fresh sardines or mackerels, their larger relatives, can be grilled and topped with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sardines are a good source of omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish -- especially fatty fish such as sardines -- twice a week.
Quinoa. Pronounced keen-wah, it is not a true grain, but looks like one and has similar uses. It is used like rice, couscous or oats, and has a nutty flavor. A cup of cooked quinoa has nine grams of protein and four grams of fiber. Unlike most plants, quinoa also contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
Greek yogurt. Produced like all yogurts, Greek yogurt is additionally strained to remove excess whey for a thicker, creamier texture. It is an ideal substitute for sour cream or cream cheese. Removal of the whey results in a higher protein content --non-fat Greek yogurt has 18 grams of protein in six ounces, compared to 8 in regular yogurt.
Avocados. Half of a large avocado contains seven grams of fiber and 15 grams of fat, of which only two grams are saturated. Fiber and unsaturated fats can both improve blood cholesterol levels and help boost satiety following a meal. Guacamole is a familiar way to use avocados, but there are other ways to add avocado to your meals. Creamy slices of avocado can replace butter or mayonnaise on a sandwich to reduce saturated fat without sacrificing flavor. Avocados can be used as a salad topper or blended into homemade vinaigrette or green-goddess dressing. When purchasing avocados look for fruit with dark green to black skins without bruises or soft spots. They should gently yield to pressure. Ripen unripe avocados on the countertop.
Chiles. Spicy foods are popular -- salsa now outsells ketchup. Chiles' "burn" comes from a compound called capsaicin. At high concentrations, the brain responds to this stimuli by releasing endorphins, which may explain some of the attraction for chile-lovers. Chiles contain the majority of capsaicin in their seeds and white fleshy ribs, so removing these parts will tone down the spiciness. If you can stand the heat, however, capsaicin has been studied for medicinal properties including anti-coagulant effects. Besides the heat, chiles add flavor that can help cut you cut down on the salt in dishes without making food bland. Peppers contain vitamins A and C and potassium while adding very few calories.
Next week I'll continue with more ideas of some healthy foods to include in your diet.
Information was taken from the Tufts University Health and Nutrition letter, January 2011, www.tuftshealthletter.com. Article titled "11 Healthy Foods to Try in 2011" by Victoria Ho.