Secret #1: Pick the Most Powerful Produce
What to Add to Your Cart: Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts are one of the best ways to amplify your nutritional bang for your buck in the produce aisle, especially if you don’t love the taste of broccoli or eat as much as you should. These refreshingly crisp sprouts are rich in the antioxidant sulphoraphane glucosinolate (SGS). How are they different from broccoli? Broccoli sprouts contain significantly higher levels of SGS, a powerful cancer-fighting compound. Just 1 ounce of broccoli sprouts has, on average, as much SGS as 6 servings or more of broccoli. Research from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 65, 972-977, August 2011) last year found that broccoli sprouts significantly help reduce oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes. Tuck into sandwiches, heap on salads, pair with grilled fish, or nibble as a light and crunchy snack.
Secret #2: Make Your Snacks Count
What to Add to your Cart: Popcorn
Snacks continue to represent a larger portion of total calories consumed than ever before. Just this month, new research from the USDA reported that Americans are consuming about one-third of their total calories from “empty calories” in snacks foods – meaning foods that are often high in sugar and fats but with little added nutritional value. The study found that men ages 20 and older are consuming an average of 923 calories a day from snack foods; for women, it’s about 624 empty calories each day.
One of my favorite simple snacking secrets is popcorn. One serving of popcorn is 3 cups (a nice hefty portion) and packs 3.5 grams of fiber, which is good for your heart, your blood sugar, and your digestive system. All for only 93 calories! A brand new study suggests there’s another perk as well: Popcorn seems to be particularly high in antioxidants, a health benefit which can’t be tacked on to many other foods in the snack aisle.
Choose plain, air-popped popcorn, as it is lower in calories and sodium than microwave popcorn (and more budget-friendly too). If you can find colorful heirloom varieties (many gorgeous red, purple and black corns are making a comeback), you may boost the antioxidant content even further, and the vibrant colors are a fun twist.
Secret #3: Role Reversal – Think Main Course, Not Sides
What to Add to Your Cart: Spaghetti Squash, Bell Peppers and Zucchini
When shopping at the grocery store, many of us think of produce as a “side dish” to the meat, fish or chicken we’ll buy in another aisle. However, one of my best secrets to lose weight with a full plate is to reverse your thinking. Feature vegetables as the superstar of the meal, with the meat and grains as the sideshow. Some of my favorites include:
Spaghetti Squash: This stunning, orange-hued squash can be pulled in spaghetti-like strings and be a perfect stand-in for carb-heavy pasta. Because 1 cup has just 42 calories, you can enjiy a slightly larger portion while still being healthy. Toss with your favorite low-sodium roasted tomato sauce for something that gives you the comfort you crave, but in a more nutrient-rich package.
Bell Peppers, Eggplants or Zucchini: Many food traditions from around the world (where meat is an expensive luxury item) have shown us how to roast a vegetable, hollow it out, and fill it with a hearty grain and protein mixture. Rice and lamb stuffed zucchini from Greece, for instance, stretches the food dollar while also balancing the plate in a nutritious way.
Experiment with any combination of sweet or savory flavors that inspires your family. A general guideline is to take a cooked whole grain (such as quinoa or brown rice), combine with a bit of lean protein (beans, tofu or finely chopped chicken or lean beef) and plenty of seasoning (mint, cumin, cilantro, coriander, cinnamon ... the options are endless), and tuck it into a roasted vegetable. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by a delicious main dish that leaves you feeling incredibly satisfied, is well within your budget, and modifies your plate to be more plant-based all at the same time. What’s not to love?