3 Healthy Ways to Add Mealtime Variety
Do you find yourself preparing the same meals for you and your family week after week? Do you ever think about trying something new, but then purchase the same groceries as if you are on autopilot? You are not alone! Our busy schedules, family demands and personal preferences can make it hard to break free from our food routines, thus creating a monotonous meal cycle. While there is nothing wrong with eating the foods we enjoy, it can sometimes prevent us from getting all the nutrients we need. The good news is switching it up is easier than you think and the benefits far exceed just the prevention of mealtime boredom.
Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods in moderation is what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics refers to as a “Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating.” When we eat the same foods over and over, we give our bodies the same nutrients over and over and may be missing out on some key ones. For instance, if you continuously have a white dinner roll as a starch at dinner, you may be missing out on the nutrients provided by whole wheat bread such as fiber, iron and protein. For a more balanced diet, it is important to include a variety of foods from each food group. To make more nutrient-dense switches, try focusing on these key areas: swapping out refined grains for whole grains, incorporating fruits and vegetables of different colors, and including plant-based proteins.
Opt for Whole Grains: Choosing whole grains over refined or processed grains will help increase your intake of a variety of nutrients important for your health. These nutrients include protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron and micronutrients like selenium and magnesium. The process of refining grains removes some of these important nutrients that whole grains keep intact. Refined grains include white flour and white rice and are often used to make many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries. Whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat flour, barley, quinoa, oatmeal and buckwheat.
Eat the Rainbow: Besides the added bonus of an aesthetically pleasing plate, incorporating fruits and vegetables of all colors will help increase your intake of a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For instance, red, orange and yellow foods are often rich in vitamin C and carotenoids. Carotenoids are pigments in plants that act as an antioxidant and play a role in eye health and certain cancer prevention. Carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and mangoes are great sources of carotenoids. Blue, purple and red foods are rich in anthocyanins, a pigment in plants that has both antioxidant and antimicrobial functioning and is thought to improve neurological, heart and visual health. Some food sources include blueberries, grapes, red onions, radishes and cherries.
Incorporate Plant-based Powerhouses: You guessed it – incorporating different forms of plant-based proteins will boost your intake of a variety of nutrients too! Soy-based proteins like tofu and tempeh contain isoflavones, a phytoestrogen shown to decrease the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. Legumes (beans, nuts and seeds) are another great option that will provide an added bonus of more fiber and micronutrients like calcium, potassium and folate in addition to protein. Additionally, plant-based proteins are leaner and can help decrease intake of saturated fats from less lean animal proteins. An added bonus for all, but especially for those looking to make their heart a little healthier.
Bottom Line: It may seem like a daunting, time consuming task to add variety to your diet, so try to take it slowly. You do not need to completely uproot your meal routines – making one simple switch per day or per meal can really add up. For instance, if you always have oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter for breakfast, try swapping out the banana for a handful of blueberries on some mornings. Or at lunch, in place of the grilled chicken on your salad, try the grilled tofu or roasted chickpeas instead. And at dinner, in place of your white rice, try brown rice or soba noodles instead. Even small steps can make a big impact on our health. In line with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s theme for National Nutrition Month this March, commit to making some of these switches for a healthier lifestyle, “bite by bite.”
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