March is National Nutrition Month®, a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to explore new foods and flavors, keeping taste and nutrition on your plate at every meal. In keeping with that theme, here are 5 great foods to add to your cooking arsenal, if you haven’t already.
Avocados are a delicious, creamy superfood that are often overlooked because people think they’re too fattening. However, this wonderful fruit contains more protein than any other fruit and is high in healthy monosaturated fats, folate, potassium, vitamin E and the antioxidant lutein. These things can help protect your body from heart disease, cancer, degenerative eye and brain diseases, contribute to better blood flow and reduced blood pressure. Avocados are delicious eaten plain with salt and pepper, and can easily be incorporated into many recipes, including salads, omelets, dips, and more…including smoothies! Add half an avocado to smoothies to add creamy texture and nutritional boost.
Blueberries are not only a sweet treat, but they’re also packed with disease-fighting phytochemicals, flavinoids and soluble fiber. They are rich in vitamin K and dietary fiber, and are believed to promote brain health and reduce cancer risk. By protecting the brain from oxidative stress, blueberries may also help prevent the onset of age-related diseases. In addition to making a wonderful snack, blueberries are often used in desserts, pancakes, muffins, jams and sauces. Try tossing some in your salad or smoothie.
Kale, a cruciferous vegetable, is becoming increasingly popular as a nutritional powerhouse. Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and rich in calcium. It also contains three times more lutein and zeaxanthin than spinach. Steaming kale yields the greatest nutritional benefits, but it may also be stir-fried, sautéed or boiled, added to salads or used to replace spinach or collard greens in recipes. It is widely believed that consuming kale lowers one’s risk for cancer and aids in the body’s detoxification system.
Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants and fiber, rich in vitamins C and K, potassium, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. They are mainly available fresh in the fall. About the size of an apple, the deep red fruit is filled with jewel-toned seeds held in place with a spongy membrane. The seeds are sweet-tart and crunchy, and are the only part of the plant that is edible. Squeeze for ruby red juice to use in sauces, marinades and dressings or eat the seeds plain, with fruits, on salads, or atop low-fat yogurt and desserts.
Sweet potatoes are popular in the south and in the rest of the country during the holiday season, but they’re packed with nutrients and dietary fiber, and should be added to your diet year-round. Sweet potatoes top the charts in vitamin A concentration, offering up to 90 percent of one’s daily recommended intake in one serving, and are good sources of beta-carotene, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium (Vitamin A and beta-carotene are essential for both eye and skin health). Sweet potatoes contain an enzyme that converts most of its starches into sugars as the potato matures. This sweetness continues to increase during storage and when they are cooked. There are myriad ways to prepare sweet potatoes. Besides the traditional recipes (candied, sweet potato pie, whipped, fries) sweet potatoes are wonderful baked in the skins, grilled or sautéed. You can substitute them in place of russet potatoes in stews, hashes, soups, casseroles and more.
What are you waiting for? Start cooking with healthier foods now!