This new year, how would you like to inspire someone—maybe a friend, a family member, or even a stranger—to eat more healthfully? You have the power to do just that, and it can start with the next bite you take. "Everything you put in your mouth matters," says Joel Fuhrman, MD, a board-certified family physician and host of his own health show on PBS. "It matters for your health today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now, and it matters for the health of people around you."
That sounds like an awesome opportunity, but where should you start? "Lean into change," says Kathy Freston, New York Times bestselling author of The Lean. "You don't have to be drastic or strict or give up all of your favorite things. Just take steps away from the choices that make you feel heavy and sluggish and move toward the choices that make you feel better." Freston’s approach means "crowding out" the not-so-healthful fare with all of the good-for-you foods you choose instead.
Read on to get 10 cutting-edge food resolutions from Fuhrman, Freston, and other top nutrition experts across the country.
1. BE A QUALITARIAN
"The best change you can make in the New Year is to become a qualitarian," says Ashley Koff, RD, founder of the ashleykoffapproved.com (AKA) Stamp of Quality Nutrition. "That means making the better-quality choice—note, I never say best quality—for everything you put in your body." Aspiring to eat perfectly all the time isn't practical, but in most situations there's a better choice, she says: "For example, if you're at a convenience store grabbing something on the go, that could mean buying water, unsalted nuts, and a piece of fruit. If the fruit isn't organic, aim for organic next time."
2. EAT G-BOMBS
Fuhrman coined the acronym G-BOMBS to help people remember to eat greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds every day. "Each of these foods has fascinating new research documenting its health-promoting effects, including immune system, anticancer, and antiaging benefits," he says. These foods can also help keep your weight in check. Here's why: Mushrooms, onions, greens, and berries help block the growth of blood vessels that fuel fat storage. Beans are high in resistant starch, a type of fiber that slows digestion and helps promote blood sugar stability and a sense of fullness. Seeds are rich with hunger-satisfying protein.
3. FLEX YOUR FLAX
"Aim to eat 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds every day, because they're full of fiber to help fill you up and crowd out hunger," Freston says. "Plus, these tiny seeds supply B vitamins, omega-3 fats, and are an especially rich source of lignans, a fiber that the good bacteria in your gut turn into powerful cancer-fighting compounds." Freston likes adding ground flaxseeds to blended protein-packed smoothies, which she makes by combining coconut water, a plant-based protein powder (such as Vega Sport), a frozen banana, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Store ground flaxseeds in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity.
4. BYOB: BUILD YOUR OWN BROTH
Vegetable broth is a great swap for the oil typically used to sauté vegetables. To avoid the sodium and additives of prepackaged broth, Allyson Kramer, author of Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats, advises making your own. "Three keys to good vegetable broth are carrots, celery, and onions," she says. "Beyond that, add whatever vegetables you have on hand." To start, fill a large stock pot with the cleaned vegetables and water, leaving about 2 inches at the top. Cook mixture at medium to medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 3 hours, Kramer says. Use cheesecloth to strain out the solids. Cool, and freeze individual portions in ice cube trays.
5. SPICE IT UP!
Include herbs, spices, and alliums at least once each day, advises Gita Patel, MS, RD, author of Blending Science with Spices. "Not only do herbs and spices add flavor and aroma to recipes, but they're also some of the most potent sources of antioxidants of any food," Patel says. "Many spices help battle inflammation and regulate blood sugar and blood pressure." She suggests stirring cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg into breakfast cereal. And add parsley, cilantro, or chives to a salad or sandwich. Garlic and onions, a natural in dinnertime dishes, support the body’s production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant and the body's master detoxifier, Patel says.
6. COOK UNDER PRESSURE
Make whole-food vegetarian meals in no time flat with a pressure cooker. "Pressure-cooking cooks food in 50–70 percent less time than traditional stove-top cooking," says Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, a cooking instructor and author of The New Fast Food. She notes that the new "spring valve" pressure cookers sold today are completely safe, and plenty of online videos show how easy they are to use. "The pressure cooker is magical for dried beans," she says. "If presoaked, you can cook black beans in 6 minutes at pressure, which means 20 minutes or less from start to finish."
7. FIGHT FAT WITH ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
"Eating pro-inflammatory foods can cause inflammation that triggers fat storage, including around the belly," says Brenda Davis, RD, coauthor of several books on vegetarian and vegan eating. "In turn, being overweight or obese triggers inflammation because overfilled fat cells release hormones that promote inflammation, so it's a vicious cycle." She lists pro-inflammatory foods to limit, including processed foods, high-sugar foods, dairy products, and any food you’re sensitive to, such as gluten. On the flip side, foods that fight inflammation include whole foods rich in antioxidants, including most vegetables, fruits, and spices such as turmeric, as well as foods that supply omega-3 fats, such as nuts and seeds.
8. KEEP METABOLISM ON TRACK WITH IODINE
"Metabolism depends on many factors, including production of thyroid hormones, which requires getting enough iodine in your diet," Davis says. In a recent study of vegans and vegetarians in the Boston area, average iodine intakes of vegans (but not vegetarians) fell short. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need the most iodine. Top vegetarian sources of iodine include iodized salt, dairy products, and eggs. Sea vegetables, such as kelp, and liquid iodine drops can help vegetarians and vegans meet their iodine needs, Davis says.
9. BEAT BEAN BOREDOM
"Protein-rich beans make flavorful, satisfying meals when you mix and match them with sauces, vegetables, and/or whole grains," says Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, author and nutrition adviser for The Vegetarian Resource Group. Quick-and-tasty ideas she recommends: Make a chilled bean salad with black beans, sliced scallions, chopped bell peppers, corn, and a light salad dressing; serve over lettuce, if desired. Or stir some marinara sauce into your favorite beans, and serve over whole-grain pasta. For an Asian twist, mix adzuki beans with a sesame-ginger salad dressing or hoisin sauce, and serve over rice. Barbecue sauce adds a Southern flair when mixed into pinto beans or black-eyed peas.
10. GO FOR FERMENTED FOODS
Yogurt and kefir are common sources of probiotics, which support digestive health and your immune system. But you can find probiotics in fermented foods beyond the dairy case, including in jarred sauerkraut and kimchi, Patel says. Kimchi, which originated in Korea, is typically made of fermented, seasoned cabbage, and has a tangy flavor similar to sauerkraut. Look for vegetarian kimchi in your supermarket's refrigerated produce section or at Asian grocery stores. "Use kimchi as a condiment on sandwiches, a flavoring for rice, or an easy stir-in with a can of white beans served hot or chilled," Patel suggests.
YOU'VE GOT MAIL
Hungry for more? We’ll be dishing out 21 additional food resolutions via inspirational daily e-mails beginning January 14. Sign up at vegetariantimes.com/newfoodresolutions.