No single diet works for everyone. (When I say “diet” I mean all the food you put in your body, not a restrictive way of eating that makes you feel guilty and deprived.)
Even so, there are some foods that (almost) every diet should include. While scientists can research individual micro- and macro-nutrients and get completely contradictory results, there are a few basic groups that we can all stand to include more of in our daily meals.
The group most absent from the American diet is dark leafy greens, and I’m not talking salad. Kale, collard greens, chard, mustard greens, spinach, tatsoi, escarole, and dandelion greens are just some examples.
Rich in vitamins and minerals but low in calories, leafy greens are nutrition all-stars. They’re easy to cook, too. Simply saute greens in a little olive oil and garlic until wilted, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
If you don’t like the earthy taste of greens alone, saute them and mix them into other dishes like mashed potatoes, pasta, or stir-fry. If you eat meat, serve your protein on a bed of greens. Try a variety and see which ones you like!
One notable exception is people who have problems with kidney stones who should avoid high-oxalate foods.
Whole grains are all the rage now, and with good reason. Refined grains like white rice and white flour have all the nutritious bran stripped off. In the case of white flour, manufacturers often fortify it to replace some of the nutrients that have been lost. Instead of short-changing your health, why not just eat the whole grain in the first place?
Whole grains have a stronger flavor than refined ones, so you may want to transition gradually to whole grain products. Buy whole grain pasta in the same shape as what’s already in your pantry and cook half-and-half servings (just add them several minutes apart to account for disparate cooking times) of “white” and “brown” pasta.
Brown rice can be a tough sell as the stereotypical hippie vegetarian staple of decades past, but try brown basmati or jasmine rice. These fragrant and flavorful options give off wonderful cooking aromas and cook up fluffy like their refined counterparts.
If you purchase whole wheat bread, make sure that it’s labeled “100% whole wheat” and not just “whole grain.” The first ingredient should be “whole wheat flour,” and it should have as few ingredients as possible. If you make bread at home, find a good whole grain bread recipe online, buy a whole grain baking book, and consider investing in some vital wheat gluten to add tenderness to your dough.
Do you crave sweets? You’re not alone. Our bodies are conditioned to react to stress with a desire for quick energy, and that means starches and sugars. Giving in to these cravings creates a blood sugar roller coaster that ends in a sugar crash, provoking a craving for — you guessed it — more sugar!
One way to help satisfy your sugar cravings without hitting the vending machine or the candy dish in the afternoon is to incorporate more sweet vegetables into your diet. Normally we don’t think of vegetables as sweet, but starchy foods like sweet potatoes, beets, and even carrots contain natural sugars to alleviate your sugar cravings in a nutritionally beneficial way.
Which of these is most absent from your diet? What’s a small way to incorporate one of these foods into your meals this week?