Why is this topic of super foods important?
In this time of physical distancing, what are you doing to stay in good health? Exercising, getting good sleep, limiting alcohol, and not smoking are obvious ways to boost health. So is a nutrient-rich plant-based diet. Let’s focus though on super foods. These great foods are super for health.
If you’ll note, I’m talking about two words – super & foods – foods that are super. I’ve never liked the verbiage superfood. No one or two superfoods is the end-all-be-all to health – it is the totality of the diet that makes a difference.
I’ve said many times, don’t focus so much on one perfect superfood, focus instead on an overall healthy diet.
A wholesome, nutrient-rich diet consisting of plenty of plant-based foods is key.
When I was drafting this post, I had many foods to discuss. I realized though it best to narrow it down.
- canned tomatoes
- Greek yogurt
- onions and the onion family
PLUS I have one bonus item for you!
The listed foods are vegetarian friendly, naturally gluten-free, low in fat, inexpensive, and most have a long shelf life. Plus, you likely have many on hand!
1. Canned beans/legumes
Although dry beans are cheaper – less than $2 per one-pound bag, I prefer canned. Why?
One word – convenience. Dried take longer to prepare. I know with the current state of the world, many people are sheltering in place and may have a bit more time. So, if experimenting with dried is your preference, go for it.
A note of caution. Due to the high fiber beans contain, eating too much too fast may backfire so be careful (haha). Increase slowly while increasing fluid intake.
What canned beans/legumes am I talking about?
Black, red, kidney, pinto, black-eyed peas, white (cannellini or Great Northern), navy, garbanzo/chickpeas.
- Excellent sources of protein and fiber and loaded with good-for-you nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, magnesium, and disease-fighting antioxidants.
- Beans contain about 7-8 grams of protein per ½ cup and 6-8 grams of fiber providing one-third the daily value of fiber for women and one-fourth for men.
- They are the best source of naturally occurring fiber found in most any food. Furthermore, the type of fiber – soluble – is the type that helps lower cholesterol, a bonus.
- Rinse canned beans to reduce sodium. Research confirms a 40 percent reduction by rinsing under cool running water for two minutes.
- I also need to mention lentils – another terrific legume and quick-cooking! Although not usually found in a can, they are a legume and easy to prepare.
Please see the end of this post for recipes. But here are a few quick ideas:
- Add to salads, pasta, stews, and soups
- Bean quesadillas
- Black bean burritos
- Black bean burgers
- Beans and rice
- Breakfast – eggs & black beans with salsa or fresh tomato
- Roast broccoli & white beans
- Roasted chickpeas
- Hummus – chickpeas, garlic, and tahini (sesame seed paste) blended…a bit of olive oil
- Lentil soup – dry lentils, water, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, herbs of choice
- Grilled veggies with chickpeas
- Grill or roast a boatload of veggies – onion, zucchini, yellow squash, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, etc.
- Mix 2 cups veggies with 1 can beans…serve over some quinoa or brown rice or over salad greens with a light balsamic dressing (or any v&o)
- Texas caviar – so versatile! (Cold bean, corn, tomato salad)
- I use whatever I’ve got on hand. But the basics include your bean of choice (black bean most common), corn, tomato, jalapeno, and a light balsamic vinaigrette.
2. Canned tomato products
We know how good fresh tomatoes are, but would you be surprised there is great value in canned? Why?
- When tomatoes are cooked cell membranes break down releasing the disease-fighting/ immune-boosting phytonutrient called lycopene.
- Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and sauce, diced tomatoes, etc. are excellent. Just beware of added sugar in some products like stewed tomatoes.
(See recipes below)
NOTE: Sodium content in canned food – I’m pleasantly surprised over the past few years I’ve seen sodium content declining in some canned foods. It’s still something to be aware of though if sodium is a concern for you. Buy low sodium or no salt added products to offset higher sodium foods.
3. Greek yogurt
- Yogurt – my preference is Greek (strained yogurt) because of the higher protein content. Yogurt contains live active cultures offering friendly bacteria – bonus to the gut.
- Focus on plain – your preference whether nonfat but that’s what I buy, nonfat plain.
- Flavored yogurts may contain lots of added sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt with fruit – fresh, frozen, or canned in its own juice.
- Look for yogurts that have live and active cultures printed on the label. These cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases.
- Greek yogurt can be substituted for sour cream, cream cheese, or used for cream soups.
- You can also make your own Greek yogurt. It is just strained yogurt and before Greek was a thing, I used to make my own. I call it poor-man’s Greek yogurt. Watch my video.
- Avocado toast
- Mash a small avocado and mix with some Greek yogurt to boost protein.
- Add salt and pepper or I’ve been using a bagel seasoning – yum!
- Spread on toast or roll up in a whole wheat tortilla.
Remember when nuts were in the do not eat category because of their high fat content? Good news – the fat in nuts is the good heart-healthy fat. More good news – there are no bad nuts.
- Although nuts and seeds (think sunflower and pumpkin) are in the protein category of the dietary guidelines, because of their high fat content, calories add up easily. One-quarter cup has about 200 calories yet only 6-8 grams protein.
- Walnuts (my fave) are unique in that they are the richest source of omega 3s.
- For the mineral selenium (a powerful antioxidant) nothing beats the Brazil nut.
- Check out my homemade trail mix containing walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds. Here’s the recipe.
- See the 4 overnight recipes in this blog I posted recently.
- Make hot oatmeal with milk to boost protein (use soymilk for highest protein compared to other plant-based dairy alternatives)
- Add oats to a smoothie.
- Make homemade oat milk. Read my post or watch my video.
- Use oats in place of bread crumbs in meatloaf.
- Steel cut or whole rolled oats? Nutritionally there is no difference. The difference is in the processing and therefore texture.
- No-Bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bites – mix 1 cup dry oats, ½ cup peanut butter, ¼ cup honey. Roll into bite-size balls, about 15. Refrigerate at least an hour and that’s it!
6. Onion family
Onions are in the allium family which also include garlic, shallots, chives, leeks, scallions. They contain allicin, a phytonutrient (plant compound) with immune-boosting benefits.
- Roasted Garlic
- Heads of whole garlic and olive oil.
- Slice the top off garlic heads and put in a pan with cut side up. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake in preheated (350 degree) oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 15 to 30 minutes more. Garlic will be soft and easily squeezed from their skin. Serve with crusty bread or crackers.
- Added benefit – roasted garlic doesn’t seem to leave you with long-lasting garlic breath. 🙂
Finally, here is my bonus super food! Sweet potato
This nutrient-rich spud is an excellent source of beta carotene. The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A which helps boost the immune system.
- Others in this category: pumpkin, acorn squash, carrots (fruits like apricots, mangoes, cantaloupe, peaches/nectarines)
- Neily’s favorite lunch 5-minute lunch – protein powered sweet potato
- Microwave a medium (about 5 to 6 ounce) sweet potato about 4 minutes.
- Top with ¾ cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1-ounce walnuts (slightly less than ¼ cup).
Now, what to make?
Unlike baking where precision is important, with cooking it’s not. There are many ways to adjust recipes for what you’ve got on hand.
I like to keep things simple so don’t stress if you don’t have exact ingredients. None of the recipes below will be altered dramatically if you need to substitute. For example:
- Substitute any beans you have on hand for ones in the recipes.
- No diced tomatoes? No problem! Use crushed tomatoes, or canned plum tomatoes or even fresh if you’ve got them.
The recipes following use three key ingredients mentioned above – beans, tomatoes, onions.
Neily’s Zucchini, Tomato, Bean Cuisine
- 1 zucchini, sliced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 can (14.5 ounce)tomatoes
- 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 can (15-ounce) beans of choice, drained/rinsed
Saute onion and zucchini in a nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray. Add crushed garlic, tomatoes, and beans. Simmer 10 minutes over low to medium heat. Can be a main dish or a side.
Spicy Black Bean Salad
- 1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained/rinsed
- 1 cup tomatoes, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 small onion, diced (sub green or red)
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 or 2 diced jalapenos
- Juice of one lime (or about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro (optional)
Mix all together. Serve on top of mixed greens, wrapped in a tortilla, or use as filling for pita bread.
White Bean Avocado Wrap
- 1 can (15-ounce) white beans, drained/rinsed
- 4 whole-wheat 6-inch wraps
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup red onion, diced
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ cup cucumber, diced
- ½ avocado, sliced
- 1-2 cloves garlic
Mix beans, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic together. Mash the mixture and divide between wraps. Lay the red onion, cucumber, and avocado slices on top then wrap. Makes two servings.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots, chopped (substitute a small onion if needed)
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cans (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes
- 1 can (15-ounce) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained/rinsed
Heat the oil in a skillet and add shallots sauteing about 3 to 4 minutes. Add pepper and garlic stirring another minute. Add the garbanzo beans and tomatoes. Simmer about 10 minutes.
Serve over quinoa, couscous, or brown rice.
Neily’s 4-Bean Soup
- Olive oil (about 2-3 tablespoons)
- 1 medium chopped onion
- 6-7 stalks sliced celery
- 1-pound carrots, diced
- Several garlic cloves, crushed
- 5-6 cups low sodium broth
- 1 can (15-ounce) black beans (rinse all the beans to reduce sodium 40%)
- 1 can (15-ounce) red beans
- 1 can (15-ounce) white beans
- 1 can (15-ounce) dark red kidney beans
- 2 cans (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes (use flavored like jalapeno, chili pepper, etc.)
- 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
- 1-2 teaspoons cumin
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and cook the onions, carrots, celery until tender – about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another few minutes. Add broth, beans, tomatoes, and seasonings. Cook on medium heat at a low boil for about 10 minutes then simmer until ready to serve. Can be made hours in advance.
Serve with nonfat Greek yogurt for an extra boost of protein!
There you have it!
What do you think? What are your ideas using these super foods?
- canned tomatoes
- Greek yogurt
- onions and the onion family
Let me know in the comments – I love new ideas.
Be well, stay safe, and wash your hands!
Image credits: Neily on Nutrition
Jennifer “Neily” Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach