Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Ten Super-Healthy Foods & ways to enjoy them NOW
Winter might seem like a wasteland when it comes to healthy foods, if only because so many of our warm-weather favorites are not in season. Sure, you can buy tomatoes, berries, fresh corn, cantaloupe, peaches and cherries in the supermarket, but these specimens shipped from the southern hemisphere are pale substitutes for the locally grown bounty of summer.
No need to despair. We still have ready access to these fabulous -- and fabulously healthy -- in-season (or seasonless) goodies.
1. Citrus fruits, especially oranges and grapefruit. My winter breakfasts invariably include a plump & juicy half-grapefruit sprinkled with Splenda. We scarf down several little, easy-to-peel, seedless clementines every day. The vitamin-laden citrus crop from Texas and Florida is one thing I actually look forward to about winter.
2. Spinach is a cool-weather crop and is grown in California and Florida year round. That's not exactly next door for most of us, but much winter produce comes from way farther away. I like spinach raw better than cooked, and my favorite use is instead of lettuce in sandwiches -- just pile it on.
3. Sweet potatoes are just as versatile as their white cousins, and significantly more healthful. The darker the flesh, the more of the antioxidant beta carotene in the veggie, so go for those dark "yams" over the pale ones. I like them best baked in a 350-degree oven (or toaster oven) until they are very tender -- not steamed in a microwave, please. If you must steam or microwave them, try mashing them afterward with a little maple syrup or honey and spices of your choice (such as cumin, cinnamon, or ginger). Cut into chunks, tossed with olive or canola oil and salt/pepper and roasted in a hot (450 degree) oven is also terrific. Eat the peel for even more nutrition.
4. Avocado production from California peaks in winter, and more of those babies are consumed in January and February than any other month. (The reason for that is probably all the guacamole dip being served at Playoff and Super Bowl parties.) Slices of creamy avocado make any sandwich better -- in fact, I prefer to mash it into a paste to spread on the bread. After that, add whatever you want: sliced turkey, leftover chicken pieces, sliced tomatoes (if you can find a decent one), roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant or zucchini -- you get the picture.
5. Eggs have become an increasing part of our diet this winter. As I posted earlier this month, they are a wonderful source of protein, they're inexpensive, and their mineral content is impressive. I'm lazy with eggs and tend to scramble them with seasonings and some leftover veggies (and a little cheese), get a little fancier with an omelet or a frittata. I'm not a fan of hard-boiled eggs, but if you like them, they make another easy and nutritious addition to sandwiches and salads.
6. Broccoli, available year round although locally it's a late spring, early summer crop, is my go-to veggie. We probably have it four times a week, usually steamed and sometimes tossed with a couple tablespoons of one of Trader Joe's tasty tapenades (they come in a jar). It's been called a Vitamin C powerhouse, with just a half-cup of the cooked veggie giving you 80 percent of the RDA for that vitamin. It roasts really well, too; as with so many veggies, roasting brings out a sweetness you are surprised to learn is there.
7. Mushrooms have only recently been recognized for the super-foods that they are. Sauteed with shallots and/or onions and/or leeks, they are meaty and filling. Add 8 ounces to almost any stir-fry, or saute them with onions and sliced peppers to layer over polenta. Yum.
8. Almonds are among the most nutritionally rich nuts, a category of food we should all consider ramping up in our diet. I like whole roasted ones in my oatmeal (along with chopped apple, dried cranberries or golden raisins, cinnamon and soy or skim milk) and sliced ones in my cold cereal (with blueberries or other berries and bananas). They add crunch and healthy fat to salads, and finish rice or other grain dishes with a lovely taste and texture.
9. Lentils or other beans/legumes. Lentil soup is a filling, satisfying lunch or supper. I like to add drained, canned white or kidney beans to chunky tomato sauces to boost the protein content of a vegetarian pasta dish. The minerals, vitamins and fiber in these foods have a long list of nutritional benefits.
10. This is hard -- there are many contenders for the top 10, including blueberries and blackberries (out of season but I confess to buying the South American ones sometimes anyway), wild salmon, grains such as quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal and barley. But I'm going to finish up with peanut butter; make sure it's the unsalted and natural kind with no additives. If you can't give up salt, well, go for it anyway. I don't get fancy with peanut butter -- to tell you the truth, I mostly just eat it smeared thickly on one slice of bread and thinly on the other, then fill with sliced bananas, sliced apple and a drizzle of honey. (This is a major treat.) For a snack with fewer calories, a teaspoon or less on a substantial apple slice is another great way to appreciate peanut butter.