Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer. We tend to eat simpler and lighter – perhaps because we’re on the go more. For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden mixed together with oil and vinegar, a scoop of low-fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.
Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, it hit the spot.
I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen that I use just about everyday. They might not be glamorous but they are my back-up when there are no leftovers or I don’t feel like a big meal production. These foods make their way into at least two of my meals daily because they provide me with two important dietary parameters: promoting health and keeping me full – I hate being hungry!
My list will keep you full and healthy too
The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal. The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean sources of protein and heart healthy fat.
Fiber nourishes your gut biome while a healthy gut biome boosts your immune system. It is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps to slow down digestion, keeping you fuller longer. Good sources include oats, barley, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and some fruits and veggies.
Insoluble fiber helps to speed digested food through the colon, reducing exposure to potentially hazardous toxins and is found in wheat bran, veggies and whole grains.
Fiber keeps you full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men, 38 gms daily. The average American consumes only 15 gms or less a day so focusing on good sources like beans, whole grains and cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) will quickly get you to your goal.
Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Your body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so you need to consume it regularly and in the right amount. The Institute of Medicine recommends you eat .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult. That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily depending on the level of activity.
Some research indicates eating large amounts of protein at once does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day. On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein. Healthy sources of protein include fish, poultry, eggs, low-fat cheese, low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt, soy, nuts and beans.
Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth. It also helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins, so you want to mind you portions. Eaten in small amounts, focusing on heart-healthy ones, will help lower your bad cholesterol, improve your cardiovascular health and keep you fuller longer.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most of your fat come from unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, avocado, fish and nuts. The guidelines also recommend that less than 10% of your calories come from saturated fat.
10% of your calories amounts to 22 gms or 3 1/2 oz of cheese (yikes!) for a 2000 calorie diet!
My list of ten foods
My ten “must” food list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and helps me get my fiber, my protein and some healthy fat.
- Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish. Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health. I use it in dips, I add it to my waffle mix, I’ll add it to my smoothie or have it for breakfast topped with fruit and nuts.
- Low-fat cottage cheese – High in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms and is a good source of calcium. I top my Wasa crackers with it along with some olives as a snack. Or I have it as a side with my salad for lunch.
- Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer. And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells. I shave it to add a nice crunch to my salads or make a slaw to add to fish or chicken tacos or as a side.
- Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans. It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. I add two tbsps to my oatmeal or I add it to my Bob’s Red Mill waffle mix. I also add it to my cakes or crisps – you won’t even know it’s there.
- Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium. I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of peanut butter. They satisfy my chip crunch and hold up to the moisture from the cottage cheese without getting soggy.
- Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. Ne’r a day goes by that I don’t have at least one Wasa with PB, ayuh. It’s my go to snack and occasional lunch.
- Steel-cut oats – less processed than old-fashioned and quick oatmeal, they are also lower in glycemic index, having less impact on blood sugar. Oats are an excellent source of fiber. I mix in flax seed and some fruit and boost the protein either with a scoop of organic whey protein powder (I like unflavored Promix) or 1/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt. My husband has even made a risotto with steel-cut oats that was delicious!
- Lentil beans – high in fiber, folate, manganese as well as protein they are the most versatile legume. They only take 45-60 minutes to cook making them convenient to add to rice. I either use them for lentil soup or I add them to brown rice or barley to boost the protein and fiber. I even made a paella with some left over rice and lentil mix along with shrimp, leftover pork and frozen shucked mussels (and lots of paella spices). YUM!
- Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory oil, a key component to the Mediterranean diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label. Consider getting yours from California or Greece or from only reliable sources in Italy.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil and a few spices, this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil. Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars. Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance). It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats. Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, lowering post meal blood sugars. The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.
It’s about being better, not perfect
I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet. But I do believe the more I consume these foods on a daily basis, the more I will reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. And perhaps eating these will offset my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese;)! Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better. Eating these ten foods on a regular basis might help you on your journey to health too!
Barbara specializes in helping people lose weight and improve their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word