Dietitians are often asked what we eat. The truth is that most of us Registered Dietitians eat a pretty balanced and varied diet. We usually don’t follow diet fads or label our way of eating too specifically, other than calling it “healthy and balanced”. A healthy way of eating can mean many things….so, that doesn’t really answer the question “what do you eat?”, does it?
To give you a quick glimpse into my diet, here are my top 5 favourite foods that I tend to keep on hand at this time. Note that I say, at this time, as like any human my tastes and cravings change. The foods that populate my cupboard tend to change with the season or family activity levels. In other words, my top 5 foods now, may not be my top 5 foods a year from now. Over time, new foods pop up in the rotation while others become less frequent. A healthy diet is dynamic and allows for changes.
You also won’t hear me calling any of these foods "superfoods", even if I boost about some super nutritious qualities they have, I will NOT call them superfoods. None of these foods alone are the key to good health. They are more like little pieces to the puzzle that is a healthy diet.
So, let’s begin.
Nuts are great to have on hand. These days, walnuts are my nut of choice. I always seem to have these little brain-shaped nuts hanging around in my kitchen. Not only do walnuts make a satisfying snack on their own or paired with cubed cheese and sliced apple but these nuts make a great edition to a number of dishes. Try adding walnuts to salads, pastas, pestos, hot cereal or even scrambled eggs. They truly more versatile than you would think.
Walnuts are a good source protein, fiber, magnesium, copper, manganese and those heart healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. In nutritional studies, researchers have found that a diet rich in walnuts improves your cholesterol profile, may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and also may be protective against colorectal cancer.
Leafy greens are a long running staple in my household. I’m not particularly stuck on one type of leafy green, though, as I usually just tend to buy what looks or is priced best. Sometimes it’s Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach, watercress, and yes, even the current king of the leafy greens, kale. Each of these greens has their culinary strength. Most taste delicious sauteed with garlic and olive oil (a veggie side-dish staple in my house). Some work well in salads, stirfrys, smoothies, soups and even as a replacement for tortilla wraps.
On the nutrition front, there is a very good reason dietitians seem to be cheering on leafy greens. Most leafy greens offer a powerhouse of nutrients including vitamins A, C, and K; folate, magnesium, calcium, iron (non-heme) and trace elements like manganese and copper. Some leafy greens like kale, collard greens and watercress belong to the cruciferous group of vegetables which have been linked to decreased cancer incidence. Intake of leafy green vegetables, in general, has also been associated with lower cancer rates, reduced risk of diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These are all pretty good reasons to make leafy green veggies a mainstay in your kitchen, don’t you think?
If you’ve ever met a dietitian, you’ve no doubt heard the recommendation to go meatless a few times a week. Swapping out meat-based meals for plant-based ones has a number of health benefits including improvement in cholesterol, blood sugars and weight. And just in case you’re not sold on the health benefits, a couple of other bonuses for choosing plant-based proteins are that they are fairly inexpensive and by having other protein sources to base meals around, you’ve just increased the variety of meals you can make.
While I’m fond of most legumes these days, lentils seem to make it into a lot of my meatless meals. Why, you ask? Well, it has nothing to do with their taste (although I do think they are rather tasty), it is that they are so quick to cook. Unlike other dried legumes that need to be soaked overnight and then need at least a good hour on the stove, lentils take relatively little time to cook. This means that you don’t have to plan a day ahead of time when you want to cook lentils. They make a great, veggie last minute meal. Lentils have saved the day a few times, especially on those nights when we’ve not made it to the grocery store before dinnertime.
Lentils make a great addition to soups, or replacement for ground meat in tomato sauces or tacos. There are also many wonderful warm and cold lentil-based salads that will make a super filling and satisfying meal.
One of my go-to “grains” is quinoa. I put with word grains in quotation marks because, technically, quinoa isn’t a grain, it’s a seed. But because it is cooked and served like a grain, it gets lumped in with other grains like rice and barley. No matter its classification, this delicious little pseudo-grain is the perfect edition to your meal routine.
If I’m going to be super honest with you, the reason quinoa has become a gem in my kitchen is its short cooking time. Don’t get me wrong, I love its nutty taste and nutritional prowess but the convenience of quinoa is a huge selling point. Like lentils (mentioned above), cooking quinoa can be done last minute...or the last 15 minutes to be exact. I don’t think anyone could argue that ease of preparation is a bad thing, especially on busy weeknights. Whether it’s served as a simple side, as part of a more extravagant salad, or as an addition to a soup, quinoa is a fantastic option for those wanting a little more dietary variety but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen prepping.
Nutritionally, these little grain-like seeds have much to offer. Unlike your typical grain, quinoa is a good source of protein. More specifically, it offers a complete selection of the essential amino acids that most plant-based proteins are lacking. Its impressive protein content aside, quinoa has other nutritional attributes to boast about, as well. It is a great source of fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and folate.
Growing up on the Canadian west coast, fish has always been an important part of my diet. And this trend has continued into my adulthood. From fresh, to frozen or canned fish is a great edition to the meal rotation.
For me the bonus of fish is that it is fairly easy to prepare, and when cooked in filet or steak form fish is also quick on the preparation front. And if you’ve been reading this post closely, you’ll have started to see a pattern...I like food that is quick and easy to prepare. Who doesn’t?
Tinned fish, either wild salmon, sardines or tuna, have become a pantry staple in our house, as well. Not only can this version of fish hang around in your pantry for quite a while, it makes a super easy meal either in classic fish sandwiches, wraps or in pasta salads.
Fish has rightfully earned a reputation for being a nutritional superstar. It is low in saturated fat and rich in heart healthy unsaturated fats. Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna and herring, are a great source of those anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Fatty fish intake has been associated with decreased cerebovascular risk, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Fish is also a good source of vitamin D, a nutrient which many of us are in need of. Knowing all this, it makes sense why current nutrition recommendations push for at least 2 servings of fish per week, doesn’t it?
There you have it. A quick glimpse into my cupboards to give you a snapshot of what this dietitian eats. Now that I’ve shown you mine, what about you? What are your top 5 healthy foods you keep on hand?