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 &
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
@refs:Cooperstone, J.L., et al. 2015. Enhanced bioavailability of lycopene when consumed as cis-isomers from tangerine compared to red tomato juice, a randomized, cross-over clinical trial. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 59 (4), 658-69.
Gibson, T.M., et al. 2011. Pre- and postfortification intake of folate and risk of colorectal cancer in a large prospective cohort study in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94 (4), 1053-62.
GoGoQuinoa.com. 2015. Kaniwa (Quinoa baby). Accessed Aug. 25, 2015. http://gogoquinoa.com/product/kaniwa-quinoa-baby/.
Ibarrola-Jurado, N., et al. 2012. Dietary phylloquinone intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in elderly subjects at high risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96 (5), 1113-18.
Janssens, P.L., et al. 2013. Acute effects of capsaicin on energy expenditure and fat oxidation in negative energy balance. PLOS ONE, 8 (7), e67786.
Juraschek, S.P., et al. 2012. Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95 (5), 1079-88.
Kim, J.Y., et al. 2011. Effects of lycopene supplementation on oxidative stress and markers of endothelial function in healthy men. Arthrosclerosis, 215 (1), 189-95.
Kim, Y., & Je, Y. 2014. Dietary fiber intake and total mortality: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Epidemiology, 180 (6), 565-73.
Kleessen, B., et al. 2007. Jerusalem artichoke and chicory inulin in bakery products affect faecal microbiota of healthy volunteers. British Journal of Nutrition, 98 (3), 540-49.
Latimer , L.A., Pope, L., & Wansink, B. 2015. Food neophiles: Profiling the adventurous eater. Obesity, 23 (8), 1577-81.
Mizoue, T., et al. 2015. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are associated with increased likelihood of having depressive symptoms among Japanese workers. Journal of Nutrition, 145 (3), 541-46.
Monterey Bay Aquarium. 2015. Mackerel, Atlantic. Seafood Watch. Accessed Sept. 2, 2015. www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/detail/369/mackerel-atlantic-purse-seine-us-north-atlantic-scomber-scombrus.
Muley, A., Muley, P., & Shah, M. 2014. ALA, fatty fish or marine n-3 fatty acids for preventing DM?: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Diabetes Reviews, 10 (3), 158-65.
Nishimura, M. et al. 2015. Effects of the extract from roasted chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) root containing inulin-type fructans on blood glucose, lipid metabolism, and fecal properties. Journal of Contemporary and Traditional Medicine, 5 (3), 161-67.
Ramnani, P., et al. 2010. Prebiotic effect of fruit and vegetable shots containing Jerusalem artichoke inulin: A human intervention study. British Journal of Nutrition, 104 (2), 233-40.
Reis, S.A., et al. 2014. Mechanisms used by inulin-type fructans to improve the lipid profile. Nutricion Hospitalaria, 31 (2), 528-34.
Schultz, H. 2013. Couple brings German-style quark to US market. Food Navigator-USA. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015.
Self Nutrition Data. 2014a. Beans, adzuki, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4273/2.
Self Nutrition Data. 2014b. Fish, mackerel, Atlantic, raw. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4072/2.
Self Nutrition Data. 2014c. Jerusalem-artichokes, raw. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2456/2.
Self Nutrition Data. 2014d. Kumquats, raw. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1935/2.
Self Nutrition Data. 2014e. Quinoa, uncooked. Accessed Aug. 25, 2015.
Teh, S.S., & Morlock, G.E. 2015. Effect-directed analysis of cold-pressed hemp, flax and canola seed oils by planar chromatography linked with (bio)assays and mass spectrometry. Food Chemistry, 187, 460-68.
Timm, D.A., et al. 2010. Wheat dextrin, psyllium, and inulin produce distinct fermentation patterns, gas volumes, and short-chain fatty acid profiles in vitro. Journal of Medicinal Food, 13 (4), 961-66.
Vadiveloo, M., Parekh, & Mattei, J. 2015. Greater healthful food variety as measured by the U.S. Healthy Food Diversity index is associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome and its components in US adults. Journal of Nutrition, 145 (3), 564-71.
Vadiveloo, M., et al. 2015. Dietary variety is inversely associated with body adiposity among US adults using a novel food diversity index. Journal of Nutrition, 145 (3), 555-63.
┼╗ebrowska, A., et al. 2015. Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation improves endothelial function and maximal oxygen uptake in endurance-trained athletes. European Journal of Sports Sciences, 15 (4), 305-14.