Reenergize your diet with superfood swaps that bring beguiling flavors to nutrient-rich entrées and side dishes.
There is no question that certain familiar foods like yogurt and salmon can be the backbone of a healthy diet, but eating the same items day in and day out is a sure-fire route to dietary burnout.
And it turns out that introducing a new class of plate heroes to our menus can have important health perks. Researchers at Harvard and New York University found that people who consumed a greater variety of foods tended to have less body fat and were at lower risk for metabolic syndrome than those who adhered to more limited eating plans (Vadiveloo, Parekh & Mattei 2015; Vadiveloo 2015). Metabolic syndrome includes a cluster of concerns associated with heart disease—high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, among them.
“Introducing a greater variety of healthy foods may make it easier to adhere to a healthy dietary pattern over time, resulting in better weight control and other health parameters,” said study author Maya Vadiveloo, PhD, RD. “Greater variety may also make it easier to eat less of the foods that most people need to restrict in order to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.”
Similarly, a 2015 Cornell University study found that people who were more adventurous eaters (beef heart, anyone?) tended to focus more on eating healthy foods and staying physically active (Latimer, Pope & Wansink 2015).
So, to rekindle a flagging food mojo and perhaps even trim a few waistlines, why not encourage your fitness or nutrition clients to give their shopping lists a little creative boost by swapping out the usual fare for some tasty and nutritious alternatives. These superfood switch hits are a perfect way to get those taste buds excited again.
Instead of Oranges
When you first bite into these “baby oranges,” your taste buds are in for a surprise: The edible rind is unexpectedly sweet, and then you encounter the flesh, which is sour. So think of kumquats as oranges that have been turned inside out.
Each little fruit has only 14 calories but provides impressive amounts of vitamin C (Self Nutrition Data 2014d). According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, higher intakes of vitamin C can be associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers (Juraschek et al. 2012).
The main kumquat season runs between November and March. Look for fruits that are slightly soft to the touch; overly hard fruit might indicate a dry interior. Wrapped in a plastic bag and refrigerated, kumquats should last for a couple of weeks.
Sneak more in: Pop them in your mouth whole (but spit out any seeds); dice and use them as a citrusy topper for salads, oatmeal and yogurt; use them in compote and marmalade recipes; or chop and mix them into muffin batter.
Try this: Combine a few chopped kumquats with diced red bell pepper, quartered cherry tomatoes, minced and seeded jalapeño, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice and a couple of dashes of salt. Use as a salsa for fish, chicken or pork.
Instead of Olive Oil
Try Hemp Oil
Here’s more proof that it’s a good idea to live and eat a little greener. This up-and-coming verdant oil with a pleasantly earthy-nutty flavor is made by pressing the fat from hemp seeds.
The oil’s main nutritional virtue is impressive amounts of essential omega fatty acids. These are deemed “essential” because the human body cannot make them and must obtain them through the diet for good heart, brain and skin health. Alpha-linolenic acid, the main omega-3 fat in hemp, has been associated with reduced risk for developing type 2 diabetes (Muley, Muley & Shah 2014). Hemp oil also contains compounds that exert antioxidant properties, which may help in the battle against various diseases (Teh & Morlock 2015).
Once opened, hemp oil should be kept in the refrigerator to maintain freshness.
Sneak more in: With hemp oil, you want to hold the heat. It’s too delicate for cooking, so save it for salad dressings, dips and pestos, or drizzle it over roasted vegetables.
Try this: To make a fantastic pesto for pasta, sandwiches and burgers, pulse together 2 cups arugula, 1 cup fresh basil, ⅓ cup walnuts, ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, 2 chopped garlic cloves, juice of ½ lemon and ¼ teaspoon salt in a food processor until coarsely minced. With the machine running, pour in ¼ cup hemp oil through the feed tube and process until combined.
Instead of Potatoes
Also called Jerusalem artichokes (oddly, they’re not indigenous to the Holy Land, and they’re not related to artichokes), sunchokes are gnarled tubers of the sunflower family. What this ugly duckling of the produce aisle lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in bright flavor reminiscent of jicama and water chestnuts with a whisper of apple.
South of your taste buds, sunchokes are known for being one of the richest sources of inulin, a type of fiber that provides a food source for healthy bacteria in our guts (Ramnani et al. 2010; Kleessen et al. 2007). So the more inulin you feed these beneficial critters, the better chance they have of growing in numbers to help armor-plate your digestive and immune health. Higher intakes of inulin have also been associated with improved blood sugar control and cholesterol numbers (Reis et al. 2014; Nishimura et al. 2015). As a pleasant surprise, these subterranean wonders are a source of energy-boosting iron as well (Self Nutrition Data 2014c).
Choose only those that are free of any soft spots. At home, place them in a bowl with a damp paper towel over the top; they should last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Sneak more in: Sunchokes can be enjoyed raw (think thinly shaved for use in salads), boiled, roasted and steamed—peel and all. Like potatoes, they are excellent mashed or puréed into creamy soups. However, it’s best to introduce sunchokes to the diet slowly if you’re not accustomed to them, as their high content of inulin, an indigestible carbohydrate, can cause gassy side effects (Timm et al. 2010).
Try this: Slice sunchokes into matchsticks; toss them with olive oil, finely chopped rosemary, salt and pepper; and bake at 350° Farenheit for about 15 minutes for a healthy take on french fries.
Instead of Quinoa
If you have had your fill of quinoa, you might try this new grain on the block.
Quinoa’s smaller, sweeter, nuttier cousin has slightly more protein and twice as much fiber (GoGoQuinoa.com 2015; Self Nutrition Data 2014e). The latter is significant, considering that a recent American Journal of Epidemiology review of numerous studies found that people who took in the most fiber on a daily basis were on average 23% less likely to die of any cause (during the studies) than those who consumed fiber-poor diets (Kim & Je 2014).
Interestingly, fiber from cereal grains like kaniwa (pronounced ka-nyi-wa) had more disease-fighting power than did fiber from vegetables or fruit. Because gluten-free kaniwa is such a small seed, it contains a higher percentage of bran, which makes it a fiber powerhouse.
As a perk, less-fussy kaniwa has none of the bitter-tasting compounds called saponins that are associated with quinoa (they’re why you rinse quinoa before cooking).
Sneak more in: Cook and eat kaniwa in the same ways you would quinoa: Serve it as a side dish, in salads and soups, or as a warm breakfast porridge. Also try it in place of rice in items like burritos. Before simmering kaniwa in water, try first toasting the grain in a dry pan to bring out its nutty flavor.
Try this: Start your day off right by simmering 1 cup kaniwa with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon cinnamon until grains are tender and liquid is absorbed. Place cooked kaniwa in serving bowls and top with milk of choice, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, berries and chopped nuts.
Instead of Salmon
The phrase “Holy mackerel!” points to just how great this swimmer is. Beyond its richly flavored flesh, mackerel has a nutritional resumé that puts many other options at the fishmonger to shame.
For starters, it’s jam-packed with mega-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (Self Nutrition Data 2014b). You’ve no doubt heard about the heart-protective powers of omega-3s, but recent research suggests they can also provide a boost in the gym by increasing blood flow to working muscles (Żebrowska et al. 2015). And the catch of the day is an excellent source of hard-to-get vitamin D, which helps to build bones of steel. Adequate vitamin D status has also been linked to a lower risk for depression (Mizoue et al. 2015).
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program rates Atlantic mackerel as a “best choice” because it has healthy populations in the wild and because mackerel fishing methods are generally considered less harmful to the ocean than some others (Monterey Bay Aquarium 2015).
Sneak more in: Prepare mackerel fillets as you would salmon—oven roasted, pan-fried or grilled. To cook whole mackerel, simply stuff the cavity with seasonings such as sliced lemon and fresh thyme, and then grill or pan-fry the fish for about 10–12 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Also look out for packages of smoked mackerel, which can instantly enhance sandwiches, salads and even dips.
Try this: Break apart the flesh of smoked mackerel fillets and then toss with cooked pasta, sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped parsley, chopped walnuts and squirts of fresh lemon.
Instead of Kale
Jaunty kale and Brussels sprouts are already considered nutritional heavy hitters, so when you combine the two, you’ve got a newfangled vegetable worth adding to your grocery cart. This whimsical crossbreed vegetable with an appearance similar to a badminton birdie was produced via non-GMO seed hybridization. The resulting lovechild has a hint of nutty flavor and a less bitter bite than its parents.
More nutritional analysis is needed, but it can be assumed that like other vegetables in the Brassica family, trendy kalettes supply an arsenal of cancer-fighting antioxidants. They are also a fantastic source of vitamin K, which has been linked to lower diabetes risk (Ibarrola-Jurado et al. 2012).
Sneak more in: Enjoy kalettes raw, steamed, blanched, sautéed, roasted or even grilled.
Try this: Toss a bunch of kalettes with some oil and roast them in a 425°F oven for about 12 minutes, or until the outer leaves have turned crispy. Blend olive oil, white wine vinegar, walnuts, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and black pepper. Toss roasted kalettes with walnut dressing.
Instead of Red Tomatoes
Try Tangerine Tomatoes
Heirloom tangerine tomatoes, named for their fetching orange color, are juicy and slightly sweeter than more customary red tomatoes. But the real reason to change up your tomato color is that, ounce for ounce, tangerine tomatoes are—surprisingly—a better source of lycopene than the red ones (Cooperstone et al. 2015).
How can that be? The type of lycopene found in the vintage tomato (cis-lycopene) is more bioavailable to the body than the trans-lycopene present in its flushed counterpart—a notable perk considering that lycopene can bolster heart health by boosting the body’s natural antioxidant defenses and improving endothelial functioning (Kim et al. 2011).
Sneak more in: The easiest way to enjoy tangerine tomatoes is sliced and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil (or hemp oil!). Of course, you can also use them in any guise of salad.
Try this: Slice ¼ inch off the tops of tangerine tomatoes and use a spoon to scoop out the innards of each tomato. Stuff each tomato with some cooked rice and then top the rice with chicken or tuna salad.
Instead of Kidney Beans
Try Adzuki Beans
When most people think about beans, the classics spring to mind: kidney beans, black beans, garbanzos. Well, there are countless other varieties worth exploring, including adzuki. These reddish-brown beans with a thin white line have a naturally sweet, nutty flavor that makes them taste less “earthy” than other legumes.
I say adzuki, you say azuki: No matter how you pronounce their name, these beans offer a nutritional bounty that includes a range of minerals, plenty of plant-based protein and a stunning 17 grams of fiber in each cooked cup serving (Self Nutrition Data 2014a). Sample this often-overlooked bean and you’ll also take in good amounts of folate, a B vitamin associated with a lower risk of developing colon cancer (Gibson et al. 2011).
Sneak more in: Though canned adzukis are available, dry beans have the best flavor and texture. Soak overnight, drain and then boil in a pot of water until tender, about 45 minutes. Use in salads, soups, veggie burgers, tacos, stews, chili and even dips.
Try this: Blend cooked adzuki beans with tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin powder, paprika and salt for a healthy riff on hummus.
Instead of: Red Bell Peppers
Try: Peppadew® Peppers
Rosy Peppadews are cherry tomato–sized piquanté peppers from South Africa with a habit-forming sweet flavor and oh-so-subtle fiery kick. Some varieties are hotter than others. You can sometimes find them sold loosely in the deli section of grocers, but more often they’re pickled and bottled.
As with other peppers, Peppadews can be considered nutrient-dense since they provide several essential nutrients like vitamin C and beta-carotene for very little caloric cost. What’s more, capsaicin, the compound in peppers that delivers the heat, may help in the battle of the bulge by increasing energy expenditure (Janssens et al. 2013). > >
Sneak more in: Use Peppadews to enliven pasta dishes, pizza, frittatas, sandwiches, stir-fry and salads. Also use them in place of roasted red peppers in dips. They are great for stuffing with items like goat cheese or ricotta and served as a party appetizer. Or try blending them with tomatoes when making homemade tomato soup.
Try this: Mix smoked fish, ricotta cheese, chopped chives and lemon zest. Stuff into Peppadew peppers.
Instead of Cottage Cheese or Yogurt
Try Quark Cheese
Say hello to your new dairy product. Quark is a soft cheese from Europe made by heating sour milk until it coagulates (curds form) and then straining. The result is a creamy cheese with a slight tang.
As for nutritional benefits, quark is often low in fat but high in muscle-friendly and hunger-quelling protein (Schultz 2013). A single serving can have up to 17 g of protein, which gives Greek yogurt a run for its money. You’ll also reap the rewards of bone-strengthening calcium. As with yogurt, look for plain quark to avoid taking in excess added sugars.
Sneak more in: Substitute quark cheese for sour cream or mayonnaise in recipes like dips and potato salad; spread it on whole-grain crackers; use it in batters for baked goods (e.g., cakes) the way you would yogurt; or even blend quark into postworkout smoothies for recovery protein.
Try this: Recharge your muscles after a workout by topping quark cheese with granola and a couple of handfuls of blueberries.
Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a dietitian, freelance nutrition writer and recipe developer based in Waterloo, Ontario. He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Vegetarian Times and Fitness.