Now that we’ve officially entered the dregs of winter, the supermarket’s produce section has started to look a little dull and dismal and you may feel like your diet is lacking a bit on the nutrition front as a result. Here are five superstar foods you can add to your cart this week to give your meals an instant upgrade.
Kale is a nutrient-dense dark leafy green that offers a trifecta of ingredients for enhancing eye health: beta-carotene (a form of pre-vitamin A), lutein, and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are a potent antioxidant pair that work together to protect the eyes from diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Kale is also rich in fiber (for a healthy heart and regular digestion) and vitamins C and K (for healthy blood vessels).
Kale makes a terrific side dish when sautéed in a drop of olive oil with garlic and chili flakes. It’s also a great addition to hearty soups and stews.
This winter staple is brimming with beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant the helps repair and renew your skin to give it a youthful, radiant glow. Once converted to vitamin A, beta carotene also helps your immune system function at its best. Beta carotene, along with other carotenoids found in butternut squash, may also help fight arthritis aches and pains.
Butternut and other winter squashes, such as acorn, are also good sources of potassium and magnesium; two nutrients that help manage blood pressure and keep bones healthy and strong.
You can serve butternut squash mashed (like potatoes), or cut it into cubes and roast it to bring out the veggie’s nutty, sweet flavor.
During the winter months, when fresh berries are out of season, frozen berries are your best bet. They’re riper, sweeter, and less expensive than fresh this time of year. To really get a good buy, pick up jumbo bags of frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries at club stores or discount retailers.
Berries deliver a generous dose of vitamin C, which helps keep skin looking firm and vibrant. That’s because vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, a protein responsible for giving skin its structure and elasticity. In addition, berries are one of the top sources of anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that give berries their deep purple-blue hue. Exciting preliminary research shows that anthocyanins may actually help preserve memory by protecting the brain from cellular damage that occurs as we age.
Add frozen berries directly to smoothies for a hit of natural sweetness and vibrant color. Or, thaw them in the fridge overnight and use them to top yogurt or a bowl of oatmeal.
Lentils are incredibly rich in fiber and protein, which means they’re digested sloooowly to provide a steady, sustained stream of energy. They’re also a good source of several B vitamins that are essential for energy production, as well as iron, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
Unlike dried beans and other legumes, lentils don’t require pre-soaking, and they cook up quickly in about 20 minutes. To make a simple, fast lentil side dish, start by sautéing diced onions, carrots, and celery and a few cloves of minced garlic until soft. Then add 1 cup brown or green lentils, 2 cups water or broth, and a couple of bay leaves. Simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are just tender. Or, whip up a big batch of lentil-vegetable soup, and you’ll have a hearty lunch to warm you up for days to come.
A relative newcomer to the dairy case, Greek yogurt provides twice as much protein as traditional yogurt. Greek yogurt is strained to give it a thick, creamy texture, and this process also concentrates the protein. Incorporating protein-rich foods like Greek yogurt is critical to any weight loss plan, since protein helps you stay fuller longer so you can keep hunger pains at bay while dieting. Adequate protein also helps you build and maintain strong muscles.
Yogurt is one of the best natural sources of calcium, which helps keep bones dense and strong. A 6-ounce container typically proves 25% of the Daily Value for calcium.
Enjoy Greek yogurt plain, or jazz it up with nuts, seeds, chopped fruit, wheat germ, or a sprinkling of granola.