These tasty options are just as good for your health and weight—minus the yawn factor
You sip a mug of green tea with breakfast every morning, snack on oranges and almonds at work, and eat a skinless chicken breast, brown rice, and steamed broccoli for dinner most nights. So, how do you fare nutritionally? Amazingly well—you're a model eater. But before you fire up the rice cooker again, know that your repertoire of tried-and-true foods may be compromising your health and your waistline. "Not eating a wide selection of foods deprives you of certain nutrients," says Molly Kimball, R.D., a nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic's Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. And eventually you'll likely grow weary of your menu mainstays, which will make that order of chili-cheese fries even harder to resist. To cover all your nutritional bases—and invigorate your taste buds—swap some of your old favorites for these eight power foods.This new list of superfoods will have you feeling—and looking—better in no time!
BEEN THERE Broccoli
DO THIS Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe has the same green florets and name as broccoli, but it's an entirely different vegetable. Popular in Italy (where it's called rapini), this dark leafy green has a slightly bitter taste. It contains a quarter of the calories of its cruciferous cousin—only nine per cup—and twice the amount of vitamin A. Talk about a superfood. "Broccoli rabe is also a good source of folate, vitamin K, and beta-carotene," says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. And, like broccoli, it's high in sulforaphanes, compounds found to have a protective effect against stomach, lung and breast cancers.
SERVING TIP Rabe with smaller leaves has a milder taste than its larger-leaved counterparts. Blanch in salted boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. Remove and pat dry. To cook, sauté a clove of crushed garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 4 cups of broccoli rabe and cook until heated through, or about 5 minutes. Toss with whole-wheat pasta, finely chopped figs, and toasted pine nuts.
BEEN THERE Brown Rice
DO THIS Amaranth
The ancient Aztecs believed that eating amaranth could give them superpowers, and for good reason: This nutty-tasting grain is one of the only non-meat sources of all nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The body uses these amino acids to create muscle. Plus, for about the same number of calories as brown rice, you get nearly double the protein and three times as much fiber. "Amaranth is also high in many nutrients that women need, like iron, zinc, and calcium," says Lorna Sass, author of Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way.
SERVING TIP "Amaranth isn't a true grain, but its tiny seeds cook into a fluffy pilaf or polenta-like porridge," says Sass. She recommends boiling 1 cup of amaranth with 1 3/4 cups water, covered, for about 9 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Add a little olive oil, minced parsley, and finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes. (To make porridge, simmer for 20 minutes with 3 cups of water and a pinch of cinnamon.) Popped amaranth also makes a satisfying low-calorie snack: Heat 2 tablespoons in a skillet over high temperature and stir until most of the grains have popped into puffy kernels. Season with sugar and cinnamon.
BEEN THERE Almonds
DO THIS Walnuts
Almonds are the ideal snack: They're portable, filling, and if you're tired of your old standby, throw some walnuts into the rotation. Though they do contain more fat per 1-ounce serving than almonds (18 grams versus 14), the majority of fat in walnuts is omega-3 fatty acids. "They're one of the few plant-based sources of these healthy fats," says Steven Pratt, M.D., author of SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. Most Americans are deficient in omega-3s, which help protect against depression, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. In act, in 2004 the FDA allowed advertising stating that these nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease. "Walnuts are also high in sterols, plant compounds that inhibit the absorption of cholesterol," says Pratt. Research shows that eating walnuts regularly can cause LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels to drop by as much as 16 percent. What's more, a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who ate about 10 walnuts with a meal high in artery-clogging saturated fat experienced less harmful inflammation in their blood vessels than those who didn’t have the nuts.
SERVING TIP Toasting walnuts brings out their flavor. Place 1 ounce (about 7 nuts) on an ungreased sheet and bake at 350°F for 5 to 10 minutes, or cook in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Chop and toss into pancake or muffin batter, or sprinkle on top of a salad or lowfat yogurt.
BEEN THERE Oranges
DO THIS Kiwis
Proof that good things do come in small packages: When Rutgers University scientists analyzed 27 different fruits, they found that kiwifruit was the most nutritionally dense, meaning it had the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals per calorie. Compared with an orange, for example, a large 56-calorie kiwi contains 20 percent more potassium. "And next to dark leafy greens, kiwis are one of the top sources of the antioxidant lutein, which is important for your vision and heart health," says Pratt. In fact, Norwegian researchers found that healthy adults who ate two kiwifruits a day for a month lowered their triglycerides—blood fats that can lead to heart disease—by 15 percent. Experts say that the effect may be due to the fruit's high levels of antioxidants.
SERVING TIP If peeling a kiwi seems like too much work, simply slice lengthwise into four wedges and eat it like an orange. "Since the skin is edible, you can also toss the entire fruit into the blender to add a little citrus flavor to a smoothie," says Pratt. Store kiwis in the fridge away from apples and pears; these fruits emit ethylene gas, which can cause kiwis to go bad.
BEEN THERE Chicken Breast
DO THIS Pork Tenderloin
Still haven't embraced "the other white meat"? Consider this: On average, pork today contains 40 percent less artery-clogging saturated fat and 24 percent less fat overall than the pork of 15 years ago, reports a USDA study that examined nine different cuts. Meanwhile, the amounts of vitamin B6 and niacin in pork have risen. That's because farmers have given pigs healthier feed over the past two decades. The leanest variety? Pork tenderloin, which rivals even skinless chicken breast in terms of calories and fat (101 calories and 3 grams of fat per 3 ounces of pork versus 92 calories and 1 gram of fat in the same amount of chicken).
SERVING TIP Place a 1 1/2-pound tenderloin in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sear each side until browned. Remove meat from pan and mix 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Spoon glaze over pork in a small roasting pan, and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes. Any leftovers may be used for sandwiches: Spread whole-wheat bread with apple butter or apricot preserves and top with a few pieces of pork, thinly sliced apples, and red leaf lettuce.
BEEN THERE Green Tea
DO THIS White Tea
These silvery, feathery leaves actually come from the same plant as green and black teas, but they're harvested earlier. "Green tea has grassy undertones, while the white variety has a sweeter, more delicate flavor," says Bowden. But taste isn't the only reason to give white tea a try: According to a preliminary study done at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, it may be more powerful than green tea in protecting against cancer. Other research suggests that it may also fight germs that lead to viruses and infections.
SERVING TIP Although there are white tea bags and drinks on the market, Bowden recommends buying loose leaves such as Yinzhen Silver Needle White Tea ($30 for 4 ounces; inpursuit oftea.com). "The leaves are less processed, so it's healthier," he says. Steep them in water that's hot but not quite boiling for about 2 minutes.
BEEN THERE Salmon
DO THIS Mackerel
You opt for salmon because this superfood is high in omega-3 fatty acids. But mackerel contains even more of these healthy fats. Another bonus of choosing this fish is that it's low in contaminants like mercury and pesticides. The Environmental Defense listed Atlantic mackerel as one of its top seafood choices for health and environmental reasons. (Because these fish are a fast-growing species, they're not at risk of extinction like many other types.) If you prefer fillets, the Atlantic kind has firm, white flesh. The oilier Pacific variety, usually found in cans, has a flavor that's similar to canned salmon.
SERVING TIP Rinse and toss canned mackerel into salads or casseroles. Or whip up some mackerel burgers by combining it with crushed whole-wheat crackers, an egg, and seasoning; cook in a skillet over medium-high heat. You can substitute Atlantic mackerel fillets for any recipe using white fish, like mahimahi or bass.
BEEN THERE Spinach
DO THIS Swiss Chard
Swiss chard has a flavor similar to spinach, but with the crunchiness and bite of beet greens. Like spinach, it is low in calories (7 per cup) and contains vision-protecting lutein, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. But Swiss chard has more than twice the amount of vitamin K. In fact, just 1 cup of the dark leafy greens provides nearly 300 micrograms, or more than three times the recommended daily dose for the nutrient. Foods high in this bone-building vitamin are especially important for women: One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consumed more than 109 micrograms of vitamin K a day were nearly a third less likely to suffer from a hip fracture later in life than those who got less.
SERVING TIP Make a healthy omelet using Swiss chard: In a large skillet, sauté 1 cup of the greens in 1 tablespoon olive oil and a little garlic; set aside. Pour 4 egg whites into a pan. Cook for about a minute, and spoon the Swiss chard mixture into the center. Fold over, heat through, and serve.