It’s about time, isn’t it? Here’s how to take the guesswork out of building a healthy plate.
Lately lots of nutritionists have been talking about so-called superfoods –foods so profoundly dense with nutrients that you’d be a fool not to eat them. Some are a bit challenging to pronounce (acai, goji, mangosteen, noni), but that’s not the only problem. There’s also no FDA-approved definition for the term “superfood.” So some food marketers use the term even when it’s not deserved.
The good news? While there may be debate over what exactly constitutes an individual superfood, there’s no argument when it comes to superfood groups. It’s simple. There are four of them: fruits and vegetables, wholesome carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. More good news? You’ll find each group represented heartily in Mindful meals. The idea is that we’ve got your nutrition concerns deliciously covered, which means there’s one less thing for you to stress about in your day. So fill your fridge with foods from these categories and you’ll never have to wonder if you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Here’s a closer look at each group plus simple ways to get more of them throughout your day.
Fruits and Vegetables
Percentage of your plate per meal: 50.
Why they’re important: Ounce per ounce, fruits and vegetables have more vitamins, minerals, and immunity-boosting antioxidants than any other foods. Aim to eat as wide and colorful a variety as possible, so you’re getting the full spectrum of their health benefits. It can be as simple as varying your salad combinations from day to day, ordering vegetable side dishes, and grabbing some fruit to-go. When you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping don’t limit yourself to what’s available in the produce aisle—frozen vegetables and fruits are just as nutritious as fresh. When buying canned items, look for those that have few or no added sugars or salt.
Prime examples: Dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, apples, pomegranates, and berries.
Tasty suggestions: In the morning, add slices of fresh or dried fruit to your cereal or oatmeal or dice up a few vegetables and add them to scrambled eggs. Come lunchtime, ask for extra vegetable toppings when ordering your favorite Mindful flatbread or make your own crudité assortment to have with your soup. Keep no-added-sugar fruit cups and no-fuss fruits like bananas and grapes handy for between-meal noshing. When dinnertime rolls around, toss up a quick side salad and combine your favorite vegetable with a whole-grain rice or pasta for a powerful one-two nutrition punch.
Percentage of your plate per meal: 25.
Why they’re important: Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, but that’s largely because they’re misunderstood. There are actually two types: complex and simple. You’re smart to limit the number of simple carbs that you eat because much of the beneficial fiber and nutrients have been removed during processing. Examples of simple carbs include white bread, white rice, and traditional pasta. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are largely unrefined, meaning the natural fiber and key nutrients still remain. That’s why they’re called whole grains. You digest them more slowly, which gives you longer-lasting energy and helps you feel fuller longer, so you may also eat less. Keep in mind you don’t need to completely ditch your beloved staples (whew!) you just need to make more room for the heartier stuff. A good rule of thumb is to make about half of your daily grain choices whole grains.
Prime examples: Oatmeal, barley, flaxseed, whole grain breads, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa.
Tasty suggestions: Start your morning off with a bowl of steaming-hot oatmeal or pair your morning scramble with rye toast. Not a fan of a big breakfast? Pop a whole-grain waffle in the toaster and indulge in your favorite fruit or nut topping for a quick-yet-nutritious nibble. For lunch, you’ll opt for good-for-you grains like quinoa. Try adding a spoonful to your salad greens. Whole-grain breads are a no-brainer for mid-day sandwiches. Experiment with a slice you haven’t tried before and you’ll likely find your new favorite. And at dinner, do a mix of half whole-wheat pasta and half regular pasta (or white rice/brown rice) and your tastebuds won’t be startled by the switch-up.
Percentage of your plate per meal: 25.
Why it’s important: After age 30, our bodies naturally lose 3 percent to 8 percent of our muscle mass per decade—if we don’t work to maintain it. While we can’t lift weights for you, we’re happy to help you get more high-quality protein. Protein, after all, is the building block of muscle tissue, providing all the necessary nutrients to keep your body strong, healthy, and balanced. Note the word “lean,” though. Meats full of saturated fat do more harm, especially to the heart, than good. Lean protein also aids in weight-loss efforts by helping you feel more full. Knowing this we’ve loaded our menu with delicious food choices with little saturated fat—10 percent of calories or less is our great-taste standard.
Prime examples: Beans, skinless chicken or turkey breast, top sirloin beef, fish, plain nonfat yogurt, eggs, and skim milk.
Tasty suggestions: Egg-whites are a perfect way to start your day with a lean protein. In the lunch line, keep your eye out for shrimp, salmon, and chicken. Bean soup is another protein-packed lunch choice. Dinner options are wide-ranging—baked chicken fingers or fish bites; tacos made with ground chicken or turkey breast; or a stir-fry with slices of tenderloin steak are all crowd pleasers.
Percentage of plate per meal: Selectively.
Why they’re important: Like carbohydrates, fats have been unfairly blanketed as bad. There are two basic types—unsaturated and saturated—and again it’s the latter that should be minimized. Saturated fat comes largely from animal sources and can raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Unsaturated fat, however, actually promotes heart health. You’ll find it listed on labels as polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat. The omega-3 fatty acids that have garnered so many health headlines in recent years (largely because of how they benefit the heart) also fall into this category. All fat is calorie dense though, so even the good stuff needs to be enjoyed in modest amounts to avoid weight gain. A splash of olive oil on your salad or when cooking, for example, is plenty.
Prime examples: Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, almonds, and wild salmon and other fatty fish.
Tasty suggestions: Add a handful (about ¼ cup) of your favorite nuts to oatmeal, yogurt, or salads. When you’re making a breakfast or weekend smoothie toss a spoonful of flaxseeds into the blender. Look for sliced avocados to use as a sandwich topping (try it with soups, too). And make a point to have fish twice a week—if you’re not a huge fan of the taste you can easily disguise it by making things like fish tacos or stir-frys (using olive oil, of course!) for a quick family dinner.