Eat Well

Meal Makeovers

8 New-to-You Foods to Add to Your Diet
By Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RD 
Published 6/5/2012 
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Tired of eating the same healthy foods every day? Freshen your shopping list with these eight less-commonplace power foods.

When it comes to buying healthy food, you’re right on target. Bags of spinach? Check. Whole-wheat bread? Of course. But while your standard shopping list may be stellar, you stand to gain by mixing things up. “A routine diet, even if it’s healthy, means you’re getting the same nutrients every day,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. By eating a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll fuel your body with the array of benefits that come from a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Added bonus: Mixing up your meals means you’ll keep things fresh and fun, enabling you to stick with healthy eating over the long term. Below, eight lesser-known superstar foods to introduce into your diet.

1) Instead of Spinach: Buy Collard Greens

Why: “Collard greens are extremely high in vitamins K, A and C,” says Kirkpatrick. “They’re also great at lowering cholesterol.” What’s more, they’re a member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetable family, along with broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Not a fan of those veggies? Collard greens will give you the same benefits with a completely different flavor and texture.

Try: Saute a little bit of fresh garlic in a pan. Add collard greens and place a lid on the pan for about a minute to lightly steam the greens. Eat as a side dish, or toss with whole-wheat pasta and white kidney beans to make it a meal.

2) Instead of Pasta: Buy Freekeh

Why: “This type of wheat has resistant starch, which is nondigestible,” says Kirkpatrick. That means you get all of the volume of a whole grain with fewer carbohydrates—and calories (and since it’s just the starch that’s bound up, you still get the fiber and nutrients). Plus, since freekeh is made from the whole grain of wheat, it’s also rich in fiber, which will help fill you up and keep your digestion on track. More stores, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, now carry this ancient grain.

Try: Freekeh is great as a side dish. You can also use it as the base of a “risotto” or tossed with cucumber, tomato, parsley, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, and crumbled feta for a refreshing cold salad.

3) Instead of Potatoes: Buy Jerusalem Artichokes

Why: Despite its name, the Jerusalem artichoke is not a type of artichoke. Also known as a sunchoke, this root differs from other tubers in that it is a source of the prebiotic fiber inulin. “Prebiotics help stimulate growth of the healthy probiotics you find in yogurt and other foods,” says Kirkpatrick. By feeding these good-for-you bacteria, the prebiotics in this mild-tasting vegetable can play an important role in maintaining your digestive balance. Jerusalem artichokes are harvested mainly in the fall and spring. 

Try: Wash and peel Jerusalem artichokes. Steam until fork tender, slice, drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and toss with whatever herbs you have on hand—tarragon, chives and rosemary all work well.

4) Instead of Couscous: Buy Buckwheat

Why: Depending on the form in which you buy this 100 percent whole grain, it can have a variety of different uses—all of them adding fiber and important minerals like iron, manganese and magnesium to your diet. Despite its misleading name, buckwheat is unrelated to wheat and safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. “Some gluten-free products are wonderful, but others are full of fat and sugar and devoid of nutrients. For people who are gluten-free, buckwheat can be a great way to get in whole grains without ingredients that you don’t want,” says Kirkpatrick.

Try: Use buckwheat flour to make pancakes, or try buckwheat groats—the hulled grain in its uncut form—prepared with milk as an alternative to more refined hot breakfast cereals. Find it in the bulk section of any natural supermarket. 

5) Instead of Conventional Blueberries: Buy Wild Blueberries

Why: “Any blueberry is great, but a wild blueberry is like the cherry on the sundae,” says Kirkpatrick. The reason: They are loaded with even more antioxidants, cancer-fighting compounds that fight against cell damage, than their cultivated cousins. One catch—berries are best bought in season. If it’s not blueberry season in your area, frozen wild blueberries are a smart pick.

Try: Sprinkle onto morning cereal, or simply enjoy these deep-blue (a clue that they pack lots of antioxidants) fruits as a snack. 

6) Instead of Black Beans: Buy Lentils

Why: This quick-cooking legume may help with mental health, says Kirkpatrick. “Lentils are very high in folate, a B vitamin that has been found to be low in depressed populations,” she says. Folate is also important for women of childbearing age to prevent neural tube defects in early pregnancy. Lentils are also packed with fiber and protein, which makes them an extra-satiating food.

Try: “I mix precooked vacuum-packed lentils with brown rice, which gives you all nine essential amino acids and makes a complete protein,” says Kirkpatrick. They also pair well with spinach, make delicious soups, and can be blended with other ingredients for a hearty meat-free burger. 

7) Instead of Yogurt: Buy Kefir
Why: Like yogurt, this thick, milk-based drink is packed with good-for-your-gut probiotics, along with the familiar tang and creaminess of your favorite spoonable snack. And those beneficial bacteria can do more than boost your belly health: “A recent animal study found that kefir consumption helped to boost immunity,” says Kirkpatrick.

Try: Use it in a smoothie; simply blend plain kefir with a banana and some frozen strawberries for a they’ll-never-guess-it’s-healthy treat everyone in your family will love.

8) Instead of Carrots: Buy Parsnips

Why: “Parsnips have a similar crunch, satisfaction and nutrient content to their cousin the carrot,” says Kirkpatrick. They’re also a good source of potassium, with a cup of the sliced root containing 500 mg of the heart-healthy nutrient. With their earthy flavor, parsnips work well cooked or raw and can make a lower-carb alternative to potatoes.

Try: Parsnip fries. Slice into thin strips, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes or until browned, tossing regularly. Sprinkle with salt and herbs of your choice.

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