In each of That Salad Lady’s creations there are common ingredients that are packed full of flavor and nutrition. Rather than make every blog thousands of words when you’re hungry and want to get straight to the recipe, this page details some of the amazing benefits of those ingredients. To keep you in the know, we also highlight a lot of basic concepts related to food and nutrition. We’ll continuously update this page, so be sure to check back!
Less recognized by their classification, allium vegetables include garlic, onions, leeks, chives, scallions and shallots. Besides being excellent flavor enhancers for most foods, alliums are also nutritional powerhouses. Along with high levels of vitamin C, they contain a dense cocktail of phytonutrient antioxidants. Regularly eating alliums is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, chronic inflammation and various cancers.
Allium Hack: Consume alliums raw to reap the maximum nutritional benefits. Salads are a great way to do this! We love red and green onions for their vibrant colors and the mild flavors they offer as toppings. We also love our garlic for the flavorful punch it adds to dressings. If you’re allium intolerant, red cabbage, celery and radish make flavorful alternatives.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different substances act as antioxidants. By offsetting the presence of cell-damaging free radicals, antioxidants boost immunity and help ward off disease. While the body produces some antioxidants, others are provided by the diet. Dietary antioxidants come in the forms of vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (copper, selenium and zinc) and phytonutrients housed in plant-based foods.
Antioxidant Hack: It’s always best to get your antioxidants from foods rather than supplements, as there’s a whole lot of difference in the overall composition. It’s also safer, as taking exceptionally large doses or “megadoses” (very large amounts) of certain antioxidant supplements (vitamin A, vitamin E and selenium) could actually lead to adverse health effects.
There’s truth behind the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” as apples are chock-full of powerful antioxidants known to help stave off disease. The apple’s main claim to fame is its rich content of pectin – a type of fiber. Largely owing to pectin, eating apples naturally supports intestinal balance, reduces blood sugar levels and promotes heart health.
Apple Hack: You can bring more texture, flavor and nutrition to any bowl or meal by keeping apple skins intact. Just be sure to give your apples a thorough soak and rinse in drinkable water spiked with a little baking soda and you’re good to go!
Apple Cider Vinegar
For centuries, apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been used in cooking and medicine to treat a range of common illnesses. Made from fermented apple juice, it is well-recognized for its beneficial effects on blood sugar and gut health. While a good source of B vitamins and phytonutrients, most of ACV’s health-promoting effects are linked to a wide presence of probiotics.
ACV Hack: We use a lot of ACV in salad making. In addition to its flavor-enhancing and health-promoting benefits, it is also a good appetite suppressant. Adding a couple of tablespoons to your daily diet can help reduce urges to overeat throughout the day. We generally suggest using raw, unfiltered ACV. Compared to filtered varieties, it contains more probiotics and other nutrients.
Classified as a berry, the avocado is a savory fruit largely comprised of is monounsaturated fat. Though calorie dense due to its fat content, the avocado is also packed with fiber, vitamins and health-promoting antioxidants. The greenest portion of the fruit (closest to the skin) is the richest in antioxidants. So be sure to scrape the peel clean before you toss it.
Avocado Hack: The skins of avocados can be brown, green or purple in color but should be free of very dark blemishes. Choose an avocado that yields to a firm but gentle squeeze. This means it’s all ripe and ready to eat. If an avocado isn’t ripe, throw it in a paper bag and it’ll be ready in a couple of days.
The texture and sheer saltiness of bacon lends itself perfectly to a great salad bowl. But as a processed meat, many would assume bacon to be fairly unhealthy. The good news is that bacon is not all bad. It’s actually a good source of quality protein and other essential nutrients. Notably, 50% of the fat in pork bacon is monounsaturated.
Bacon Hack: When used sparingly and paired with vegetables and other whole foods (as we do) bacon can be a nutritious add-in. Switch up your bacon and enjoy the wide range of flavors offered by different varieties. You can experiment with turkey, beef and even meatless bacon varieties and see what you like. Almost any type of bacon can bring a dish to life.
One of the most popular salad vinegars, balsamic vinegar is a deep, brown-colored, thick and rather sweet vinegar made from crushed grapes. The freshly crushed juice that contains the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes used is known as “must” and it’s a valuable source of antioxidants, probiotics and other valuable nutrients. The must is also what gives balsamic vinegar its naturally sweet flavor and thick texture.
Balsamic Vinegar Hack: Though balsamic vinegar is quite nutritious, all brands aren’t created equal. Many contain artificial colorings and other additives. Most grocery stores stock a good amount of high-quality brands. Just ensure the ingredients label lists “grape must” as a first ingredient, not just “balsamic vinegar.” Some may also contain wine vinegar, but the presence of must is a good indicator of higher quality.
Among the most common root vegetables, beet (also known as “table beet” or “beetroot”) is chock-full of nutrients, many that are difficult to get from other foods. Most notably, beets contain natural chemicals called nitrates that support blood pressure control and overall heart health. They’re also rich in antioxidants like betaines, which offer protection against diabetes, cancer and inflammatory disorders.
Beet Hack: You can reap the full benefits of beets by eating them whole, or even drinking fresh beet juice. While commercially canned and pickled beets can also be part of a healthy diet, it’s important to know that many of the water-soluble vitamins naturally found in beets are lost when they’re processed. This includes folate (vitamin B9), which has powerful belly fat-burning effects.
Among the healthiest, tastiest salad ingredients, bell peppers are well-known for their superior nutrition profile. Of the many colors sold, green peppers are generally the least sweet and the lowest in nutrients as they’re prematurely picked. But whether yellow, orange, purple or red (the ripest and best), colored varieties contain a dense cocktail of potent antioxidants including those disease-fighting carotenoids.
Bell Pepper Hack: The longer bell peppers stay on the vine, the more they’ll cost you. While it’s great to eat a rainbow of different peppers, don’t let a color markup deter you from reaping their overall benefits. If price is an issue, you can always go green. Eating some bell pepper is better than eating none at all.
Whether you like blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries or raspberries, they’re bitter and sweet, relatively low in sugar and just plain ole’ good for you. They’re all naturally high in vitamin C, flavonoids and other antioxidants. Diets rich in berries are proven to be especially beneficial in both the prevention and treatment of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Berries Hack: The versatility of berries is endless. Berries can bring a range of flavors and textures to practically any dish, especially salads. Take every opportunity to include them in yogurts, cereals and smoothies for good health and great taste. For maximum nutrient absorption, we recommend always pairing berries with nuts and seeds (their butters too) or other healthy fat sources.
Creamy, rich bound salads are among the most craveable dishes. We pack ours with the highest quality ingredients for maximum nutrition and flavor. Bound salads are generally lettuce-free and typically comprised of hearty, whole food ingredients “bound” together by thick, creamy dressings like mayonnaise. Some of the most popular include chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad, potato salad and coleslaw.
Bound Salad Hack: Many bound salads are used as sandwich fillings so you can add a lot more nutrition by substituting bread with large lettuce leaves. You can also mix things up by “binding” your salads with other whole food dressings in place of mayonnaise. You’ll get plenty of nutritional bang for your buck by using ingredients like yogurt, avocado and even hummus.
With its unique texture, flavor and filling effects, broccoli shines in practically any salad bowl. It also has a well-earned reputation as a functional food. Besides being a very rich source of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K, broccoli is notably rich in several classes of phytonutrient antioxidants that have been shown to boost immunity and even protect against cancer.
Broccoli Hack: If you generally don’t like the bitter flavor of broccoli, salads are one of the best ways to eat it! We recommend cutting it in bite-sized pieces to tame the taste. Pairing broccoli with ingredients like bell peppers, bacon and/or cheese can also lessen the bite.
Practically every conversation about diet and nutrition is in some way or another connected to calories. Calories are simply units of measurement used to gage the amount of energy your body gets from consuming different foods and beverages. They’re also used to describe how much energy your body naturally expends (burns) at rest and during different types of physical activity.
Calorie Hack: While a number of uncontrollable factors influence the number of calories your body naturally burns (see Metabolism), many factors are directly under your control, such as the foods you eat, your activity levels and the types of activities you perform. Eating a lot of thermogenic foods, engaging in strength training and even sleeping can all boost your body’s calorie-burning potential.
One of three essential macronutrients, carbohydrates (“carbs”) represent the body’s preferred fuel source. Carbs are chemically structured in a way that provides immediate energy (calories) for all the muscles and organs, including the brain and nerves. Besides being the body’s chief source of fiber, carbohydrates also include sugars and starches. This is why they’ve gotten such a bad rap.
Carb Hack: There’s a trick to eating carbs – up your intake of plant-based sources and limit the refined carbs (sugars and processed grains) that offer little nutritional value. In addition, since all carbs ultimately turn into sugar, we always recommend pairing them with protein and/or fat. Doing so helps to slow the rate at which the body digests and absorbs that sugar.
Often referred to as the “King of Vegetables,” carrots are among the world’s most popular health foods. They’re most known for their exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, a powerful carotenoid phytonutrient that functions as a potent antioxidant. Due the presence of beta-carotene, carrots have protective effects against heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammatory disorders and various types of cancer.
Carrot Hack: You can take full advantage of the health-promoting benefits of carrots by consuming 1-2 daily servings in whole form (1-2 cups fresh or 1/2-1 cup previously frozen and steamed). Carrot juice is as beneficial as the carrots themselves. Just err on the side of 8-12 ounces a day, as it’s more of a concentrated source of sugar when compared to whole carrots.
There are dozens of different cheeses, each of which offers unique flavor, texture and nutrition. We use a variety of quality cheeses including blue, feta, Parmesan, cheddar and even goat cheese, a great choice if you’re intolerant to dairy foods. Besides being valuable sources of fat, protein and calcium, these cheeses are packed with beneficial probiotics that support gut health.
Cheese Hack: We believe in enjoying cheese. But we also recommend familiarizing yourself with the different serving sizes to avoid overindulging. You might be surprised to know that a single serving of cheese is just a mere ounce. For soft cheeses, that’s about the size of a ping pong ball. For hard or cubed cheeses, that’s roughly equivalent to four dice.
An ancient medicinal and functional food that’s rich in phytonutrient compounds, chia seeds are widely consumed around the world. Besides being a valuable source of protein, chia seeds contain incredibly large amounts of omega-3-fatty acids and calcium. They’re also packed full of fiber. In fact, you can get over 40% of a day’s worth of fiber in just two tablespoons.
Chia Seed Hack: Despite their small size, chia seeds are a huge nutrition source. They can also bring unique texture and taste to any salad or recipe. In case you’re wondering if the seeds used to grow Chia Pets are the same ones we’re talking about, they are! But don’t eat your chia pet! Head to your local supermarket for a fresh batch.
People eat more chicken than any other meat. It’s a staple here too! Besides being one of the most convenient, affordable and versatile meats you can find, chicken is an excellent source of many essential nutrients. Protein is probably the first that comes to mind, but you can also get an ample supply of B vitamins and antioxidants from chicken.
Chicken Hack: When including chicken in your diet, as with any other meat, we recommend pairing it with plenty of leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables. The leaner the cut of chicken the better. So, you’ll get the most nutritional bang for your buck from boneless skinless chicken breast, which is classified as a white meat.
You might not know them by name, but you’ve eaten a good number of cruciferous vegetables in your lifetime. Also called “crucifers,” these include broccoli, Brussels sprout, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards and kale. Since most are leafy greens, crucifers are incredibly nutritious. But it’s the extraordinary presence of cancer-fighting phytonutrients that really makes them stand out.
Crucifer Hack: If you regularly drink raw, fresh crucifers in smoothie or juice blends, we also recommend eating (chewing) them in whole form – perhaps in salads. Remarkably, those powerful cancer-fighting phytonutrients are actually released and most potent when crucifers are chewed. These compounds give crucifers their uniquely bitter tastes. Along with superior nutrition, they bring amazing texture to salads and other foods.
Due to their cholesterol-rich yolks, many have labeled eggs as dietary devils but they’re incredibly nutritious. Besides being an excellent source of protein, egg yolks are packed with good fats and a cocktail of micronutrients and antioxidants, many of which aren’t found in other foods. Notably, they contain all four fat-soluble vitamins, which support a range of vital body functions.
Egg Hack: There are a lot of different types of eggs on the market (conventional, cage-free, free-range, organic and pastured). Given that the markup can be as much as 80%, there’s no shame in choosing whatever’s best for your budget. If you so choose to go the conventional route, rest assured knowing you’ll still benefit from all the valuable nutrients eggs offer.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Just as the name implies, extra-virgin olive oil (or EVOO) is a liquid fat derived from olives. An “extra-virgin” label essentially means the oil is unrefined and therefore contains all the valuable nutrients naturally present in olives. Besides being a good source of the fat-soluble vitamins E and K, EVOO is also packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
EVOO Hack: Not only does EVOO provide superior nutrition, but it’s also incredibly versatile for cooking and eating. As heat and light can reduce the overall quality of EVOO, you’ll get maximum nutrition and flavor by storing it in a cupboard or pantry that’s cool and dark. Ideally, you want to use EVOO within a year from the date it was bottled.
One of three essential macronutrients, dietary fat primarily helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) housed in whole foods. Collectively, these vitamins promote growth, reproduction and overall good health. Fat comes in different forms and compared to other macronutrients, it is particularly calorie dense. But, contrary to popular belief, eating fat won’t inherently cause weight gain.
Fat Hack: Be mindful of foods marketed as “fat-free,” especially salad dressings. Aside from having slightly lower calorie counts, these foods offer no added nutritional value. You can improve your diet quality and your health by getting a good daily dose of high-quality fat in the forms of nuts, seeds, avocado, EVOO and even oily fish (salmon and tuna).
Similar to water-soluble vitamins, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are essential micronutrients that support a healthy metabolism by helping the body unleash calories stored in macronutrients. They are especially critical for optimal cell function, heart and blood vessel health, proper nerve function, bone and skin integrity, vision and immunity. Vitamins A and E also function as antioxidants.
Fat-Soluble Vitamin Hack: It’s always better to get your fat-soluble vitamins from the range of whole foods that contain them rather than supplements. These include deeply colored vegetables (leafy greens, peppers and carrot), nuts and seeds, fatty fish, egg yolks and dairy foods. Since the body needs dietary fat to properly absorb these vitamins, it’s also important to incorporate full-fat foods into your diet.
Sometimes called “roughage” or “bulk,” fiber is the indigestible part of plant-based foods. When you consume fiber-rich foods, your body absorbs the nutrients and the fiber simply passes through. In passing, fiber absorbs excess wastes and pushes them out. Through its collective functions, fiber regulates your body’s use of sugars, reduces the presence of cholesterol, and keeps your bowels moving.
Fiber Hack: Your intake of natural fiber is generally a good measure of your overall diet quality. Only plant-based foods contain natural fiber. Though many cereals, drinks and snacks carry “high-fiber” labels, most are refined carbohydrates and offer little nutritional value. You might meet your daily fiber needs by consuming these foods but know that fiber alone doesn’t make them any healthier.
The term “functional food,” refers to any foods that provide health benefits beyond basic macronutrients and micronutrients. Sometimes called “superfoods,” many have been proven effective in the prevention and management of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Vegetables, berries, oily fish, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, EVOO, honey, teas and coffee are among the more well-known function foods.
Functional Food Hack: A lot of fortified foods and dietary supplements are marketed as functional foods. Also called “nutraceuticals,” these include many processed products made with cereal grains, juices and meal replacement shakes. Though functional foods can be fortified, enriched or enhanced with nutrients or other health-promoting ingredients, unprocessed or minimally processed foods are the most beneficial and better for overall wellness.
For centuries, garlic has been used medicinally for diseases and illnesses ranging from heart disease, high-blood pressure and cancer, to diabetes, inflammation and even the common cold. Often referred to as “Mother Nature’s Underground Pharmacy,” garlic contains many unique phytonutrients that boast powerful antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Notably, freshly crushed, cut or chewed garlic is most effective.
Garlic Hack: Besides its medicinal benefits, garlic is one of the best all-natural, all-around seasonings you can find. Whether meats or pastas, salads or salad dressings, just a single clove of this pungent, spicy, yet sweet spice can bring virtually any food to life. For prevention and overall good health, add at least three cloves of fresh garlic to your daily diet.
Goat cheese has a tart, earthy flavor that sets it apart from cow cheeses – and it’s more easily digestible. Besides being rich in protein and probiotics, goat cheese offers more calcium than cow cheeses. It’s also a good source of B vitamins and contains much higher levels of vitamin A (retinol), which is both a fat-soluble vitamin and an antioxidant.
Goat Cheese Hack: If you’re a fan of cow cheese but are dairy sensitive or lactose intolerant, goat cheese is an excellent choice. Besides being very nutritious, it’s incredibly versatile. We use a fair amount of goat cheese in salad making, and it can add unique flavor and texture to almost any dish. Just a ping pong-sized serving can go a long way.
Though largely comprised of sugars, honey contains a unique combination of phytonutrients that function as powerful antioxidants. By virtue of its antioxidant potential, regular consumption can be especially beneficial in the management of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and various cancers. Honey also houses essential hormones known to suppress hunger and appetite in ways that help reduce overeating.
Honey Hack: Not all honey is equal. Benefits only apply to 100% pure honey as over-processing causes many phytonutrients to be lost. You’ll know the honey is “pure” when a product is simply branded “honey.” The branding may also include a specific source (“Clover Honey”). Since pure honey is a single ingredient food, that’s all you’ll see listed on the ingredients label.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Whether kale, spinach or lettuce, leafy green vegetables are cheap and easy to come by. In addition to being convenient, affordable and versatile, they’re among the richest sources of fiber, micronutrients and phytonutrients. Notably, leafy greens contain large amounts of vitamin K, an often overlooked vitamin that greatly supports heart health. The darker the leaves, the more nutrient-rich the greens.
Leafy Green Hack: Salads are, without doubt, among the best ways to get more leafy greens in your diet. Believe it or not, salads dressed with EVOO or full-fat dressings are best, as the fat helps maximize the amount of nutrients you absorb. In the absence of dressing, you can easily pair leafy greens with other quality fats to reap the benefits.
The term “legume” essentially refers to plants that carry edible seeds in a pod. You’ve surely eaten legumes before – whether beans, peas, lentils or even peanuts. Among the cheapest and most nutritious foods around, legumes collectively boast high levels of fiber, protein and key micronutrients. Regularly eating them can help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and support heart health.
Legume Hack: There are literally hundreds of different types of legumes. As they’re extremely versatile, relatively cheap and easy to come by, we recommend experimenting often to see which types of legumes you like. We also recommend choosing your cooking methods wisely. Many traditional legume-based recipes include considerable amounts of processed meat, salt and other additives, which could lessen their potential benefits.
A sub-class of essential micronutrients, some key macrominerals include calcium, potassium, phosphorous, sodium and magnesium. Due to the vital bodily functions they support, the body needs macrominerals in relatively large amounts. While some are structural components (calcium in bone), others are electrolytes (potassium and sodium) that are critical for proper functioning of the heart, nerves and other organs.
Macromineral Hack: Keep regular tabs on your macromineral intake as deficiencies can occur at different stages of life. In most cases, you can obtain adequate amounts by eating a diet rich in whole foods. Key sources of macrominerals include leafy greens, potatoes, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), nuts and seeds, whole grains and virtually all animal-based foods (meat, seafood and dairy foods).
You’ve likely heard the term “macros” tossed around – it’s a trendy term for the word “macronutrients.” These include the carbohydrates found in grains, veggies and fruits, the fat housed in nearly everything that tastes good, and the protein contained in meats and other whole foods. Collectively, macronutrients provide calories (energy) and are needed to fuel body functions and everyday activities.
Macronutrient Hack: A balanced diet generally includes carbohydrates, fat and protein from a variety of whole foods that are minimally processed. Plant-based foods, lean meats and eggs are among the best. Since each macronutrient has a specific function in the body, there’s really no need to any of them from your diet. Just keep tabs on what you’re eating, as you can have too much of a good thing.
We talk a lot about “metabolism” in the context of nutrition. Metabolism refers to the energy your body uses to fuel vital functions (breathing, blood pressure and brain activity). This energy comes from calories housed in the macronutrients you get from consuming foods. Metabolism is influenced by many factors like your age, gender, muscle-to-fat ratio, hormonal status and activity levels.
Metabolism Hack: The higher your metabolism, the more calories you’ll burn at rest and during any types of physical activity. So, anything that increases your metabolism will inherently boost your body’s ability to burn fat and lose weight. While certain influential factors are beyond your control, you can definitely kick your metabolism into high gear by exercising regularly and eating certain foods.
Also known as trace minerals, we need microminerals in almost minute amounts but they are no less essential than other micronutrients. They primarily work with specific proteins called enzymes to speed up or regulate a variety of bodily processes. Collectively, the microminerals support healthy thyroid activity, blood cell formation and function, and connective tissue synthesis which promotes proper wound healing.
Micromineral Hack: Microminerals are widely present in meats (beef, lamb and organ meats), seafood, eggs, whole grains and soy foods. As microminerals can only exert their effects when other micronutrients and macronutrients are present, it’s important that your overall nutrient intake is adequate. Similar to macrominerals, micromineral deficiencies can occur at different stages of life so regularly keep tabs on your intake.
There are four major classifications of micronutrients central to good nutrition and whole life wellness. These include water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals and microminerals. Collectively, these micronutrients help regulate metabolism and support normal body functions throughout life. Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients don’t provide calories (energy) and you only need them in relatively small amounts. Micronutrients are most plentiful in whole foods.
Micronutrient Hack: Unless you have a diagnosed deficiency, aside from taking a daily multivitamin, there’s generally no need to supplement. In fact, taking an excess of certain micronutrients may actually do more harm than good. If you think you may be at risk of a deficiency, we say play it safe. Check with your physician before starting any supplement regimen.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
A combination of different fats, monounsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated fats) are unsaturated fats that are generally referred to as “healthy” or “good” fats. From heart health, to blood sugar control, to cancer protection, they’ve been shown to offer a number of health benefits. Oleic acid is the most common monounsaturated fat in nature. This one’s widely present in EVOO.
Monounsaturated Fat Hack: We can learn a lot from our Mediterranean friends. With monounsaturated fats as a foundation, there’s a reason their diet is among the healthiest diets in the world. Really more of an eating style than a “diet,” there’s an emphasis on quality fat sources like EVOO, olives, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish. A little each day goes a long way!
Whether low-carb, vegan or all-inclusive diets, non-starchy vegetables are at the top of the list of “approved” foods. There’s a reason for this. Besides being high in fiber, micronutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants, of all foods, non-starchy veggies are the lowest in calories and sugar and have little to no impact on blood sugar levels. You can essentially eat them religiously.
Non-Starchy Vegetable Hack: There are far too many non-starchy vegetables to name here. That’s a good thing, as you have plenty of choices. We recommend familiarizing yourself with the starchy vegetables. If a vegetable isn’t “starchy,” it is “non-starchy.” You can also rest assured knowing that non-starchy veggies top the list of our “Five Bowl Basics,” so you’ll get plenty from our recipes.
Whether walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios or cashews, in and of themselves, nuts are a convenient and versatile source of quality nutrients and antioxidants. Due to a perfect balance of fiber, fat and protein, regularly eating nuts helps lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar and burn fat, especially belly fat. If you have allergies, you can reap similar benefits from seeds.
Nut Hack: You can consume nuts as a quick snack or add them to cereals, side dishes and, of course, salads for unique flavor, texture and nutrition. Nuts are powerful appetite suppressants that provide superior satiation (filling effects). Small portions go a long way. Just a quarter cup of nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter a day is all it takes.
Often called fatty fish, oily fish varieties are among the most nutritious and versatile protein sources around. Whether salmon, trout, tuna, sardines or anchovies, these fish are excellent sources of health-promoting omega-3s, energy-boosting B vitamins and bone-building vitamin D, which your body needs to absorb and use calcium. Selenium, a powerful immunity-boosting antioxidant, is also widely present in oily fish.
Oily Fish Hack: You can improve your body and brain function by eating oily fish just twice a week. These fish can be baked, grilled or pan-fried. Some varieties (tuna, sardines and anchovies) can even be enjoyed straight from a can. Adding oily fish to salads can be especially beneficial as those omega-3s help the body absorb certain vitamins contained in other ingredients.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Comprised of ALA, EPA and DHA (all tongue twister words), omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) are unsaturated fats classified as “essential.” This basically means omega-3s must be supplied through your diet because your body can’t make them on its own. Like monounsaturated fats, omega-3s are generally called “healthy” or “good” fats. They’re well known for supporting heart health and brain function.
Omega-3 Hack: Though essential omega-3s are well known for their heart-healthy benefits, omega-3 supplements haven’t been proven to be as beneficial. To reap the maximum benefits, it’s always better to get omega-3s from whole foods rather than supplements. You can get a good dose by regularly eating fat-rich foods like walnuts, oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds and whole soy foods, including edamame.
Plant-based foods contain thousands of natural compounds called phytonutrients, which, along with other essential nutrients, offer tremendous health benefits. Well-studied phytonutrients like carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, indoles and glucosinolates support normal bodily functions and have extremely powerful hormonal, antioxidant and immunity-boosting effects. In fact, phytonutrients help ward off many chronic diseases including heart disease, various cancers, and mental disorders like dementia.
Phytonutrient Hack: The key takeaway is that eating a variety of plant-based foods contributes to whole body health largely due to the phytonutrients they contain. Many phytonutrients give plants their pigments – the brighter and deeper the color, the higher the phytonutrient content. So, eat and enjoy your leafy green veggies, peppers, carrots, beets and berries, because they’re all good for you.
Commonly referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria, probiotics are naturally housed in fermented foods that have either been produced or preserved by the activities of living compounds called microorganisms. Microorganisms are essentially bacteria or yeast. Probiotics themselves live in the body where they exert numerous health effects. Notably, they help fight off “bad” bacteria, aid digestion and boost immune function.
Probiotic Hack: A wide range of foods are naturally rich in probiotics. These include yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and fermented soy foods (tempeh and miso). But they’re not all created equal – some are more heavily processed than others. Heavy processing inherently destroys live probiotic cultures. Whenever you’re in doubt, look for the phrase “live and active cultures” on product packaging.
One of three essential macronutrients, protein helps preserve muscle, burn fat and regulate metabolism. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. The body produces some amino acids (“nonessential”) while others must be supplied through diet (“essential”). Foods containing all ‘essential’ amino acids are classified as “complete” proteins. Those foods containing some (but not all) are termed “incomplete.”
Protein Hack: Get to know your proteins. Foods sources of complete proteins are generally referred to as “high-quality” proteins and include meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and soy foods. On the flip side, plant-based foods including most grains, cereals, nuts, beans and peas are considered incomplete. Though ‘incomplete,’ you can strategically pair these foods to form ‘complete’ proteins (rice and beans).
Saturated Fatty Acids
One of many dietary fats, saturated fatty acids (saturated fats) are derived from animal fats and plant oils and are generally solid at room temperature. They have long been called “bad” fats, deemed by many to be the major cause of heart disease. Despite widespread belief, little evidence directly links saturated fats with positive or negative effects on heart health.
Saturated Fat Hack: Instead of simply focusing on saturated fats, it’s better to keep tabs on your overall diet and lifestyle habits. When consumed in moderate amounts, saturated fat-rich foods like butter, milk, cheese, red meat, palm and coconut oils can be a part of a healthy diet. Some can even be beneficial due to the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they contain.
Similar to nuts, seeds have an excellent balance of fiber, fat and protein, which together support fat burning, disease prevention and overall wellness. The tastes and textures of seeds vary widely and different types contain unique phytonutrient compositions. But collectively, the nutrients housed in seeds are natural immune boosters that inherently support reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol and various cancers.
Seed Hack: Nutritious and incredibly versatile, seeds (and seed butters) can be included in practically any dish. While some are great for stand-alone snacking (pumpkin and sunflower seeds) others (chia and flax seeds) go well in cereals, smoothies and salads (of course). Just a quarter cup of larger-sized seeds or two tablespoons of smaller ones is all you’ll need in a day.
As the name implies, starchy vegetables are rich in starch, a type of carbohydrate that’s broken down into sugar. Unlike with non-starchy vegetables, eating starchy veggies causes blood sugar to rise. But, owing to fiber, the body doesn’t quickly digest and absorb them. Though relatively higher in calories, starchy veggies offer good nutrition including large amounts of micronutrients and phytonutrients.
Starchy Vegetable Hack: In comparison to non-starchy vegetables, starchy veggies are few and far in between. They include beets, carrots, corn, peas and all potatoes in addition to winter squash and plantain, which are technically fruits. The key to eating starchy veggies lies in portion control. So, we suggest treating them as you would treat other starchy foods like bread, pasta and rice.
If you’ve ever eaten Greek-style yogurt you’ve essentially eaten strained yogurt. Straining involves the draining or “straining” of regular (unstrained) yogurt to remove excess whey (a liquid byproduct) and lactose (milk sugar). The process itself results in a thicker, creamier yogurt that’s higher in protein and lower in sugar with a tart, somewhat acidic flavor like that of sour cream.
Strained Yogurt Hack: If you’re sensitive to lactose, you’ll likely be able to enjoy strained yogurt. By doing so, you’ll get a huge dose of vitamin B12, calcium and phosphorus, which collectively support bone health. Strained yogurt is also an excellent source of health-promoting probiotics. To avoid unnecessary sugar, choose plain varieties and add natural sweetness with fruit, granola or even dark chocolate.
As you’ve probably heard, eating too much sugar contributes to health problems. Sugars are essentially carbohydrates for which there are two types – simple and complex. The “simpler” the carbs, the faster they digest. The faster they also trigger the body to release insulin, a hormone that clears sugar from the blood. Over time, consistently high blood sugar levels and insulin release causes problems.
Sugar Hack: Natural sources of simple carbs (fruits, milk and milk products) and complex carbs (legumes, whole grains and starchy vegetables) are much more nutritionally beneficial than refined sources (soft drinks, candy, cakes, pastries, regular pasta, white rice and white bread. Whether from simple or complex carbs, be mindful of your overall sugar intake and know that quality and quantity both matter.
Certain foods contain nutrients that activate a process called “thermogenesis.” Thermogenesis involves the production of heat, which briefly increases metabolism. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you’ll burn at rest and during physical activity. Any food that activates thermogenesis will inherently boost your body’s ability to burn fat. Thermogenesis is also induced by sleeping and activities like strength training.
Thermogenic Food Hack: Spicy foods like hot peppers have powerful thermogenic effects. In fact, red peppers can increase metabolism by as much as 20% immediately after ingestion. Other thermogenesis-inducing foods include high-fiber foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, high-protein foods like meats and eggs, caffeinated coffees and green tea, herbs and spices like ginger and cinnamon, and even ice-cold water.
Also known as “bean curd,” tofu is a whole soy food made from curdling soy milk and pressing it into solid white blocks. Depending on how much water is pressed out, tofu is classified as silken, soft, medium, firm, extra-firm and super-firm. Besides being relatively inexpensive and incredibly versatile, tofu is one of only a few plant-based sources of complete protein and it’s rich in heart-healthy fats too.
Tofu Hack: When it comes to salad making, we generally suggest using extra-firm or super-firm tofu varieties. As they’re the firmest, both hold their shape when sliced or cubed for baking, grilling, pan-frying, stir-frying and even deep-frying. You can also crumble them to use like ground meat. Whether extra-firm or super-firm, you’ll achieve the best texture and taste by pressing and marinating tofu before cooking with it.
Though commonly considered a vegetable, the tomato is actually a fruit, more specifically a berry. Whether cherry, grape, roma, beefsteak or vine, they’re all juicy, sweet and packed full of heart-healthy, cancer-fighting nutrients. Notably, tomatoes are rich in powerful antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids, which give them their red colors. They’re also a valuable source of fiber.
Tomato Hack: With their tart and tangy flavors, firm textures and overall nutritional value, tomatoes make a great choice for healthy snacking, salad making and many recipes, especially omelets, soups and stews. If convenience is an issue, know that canned tomato products are also nutritious. In fact, compared to fresh tomatoes, canned varieties have the advantage of being even higher in carotenoids.
A combination of B-complex vitamins (or B vitamins) and vitamin C, water-soluble vitamins are essential micronutrients that support a healthy metabolism. Metabolism is the number of calories your body uses to fuel vital functions. Through various processes, water-soluble vitamins help the body unleash the calories stored in macronutrients. These calories are then used to maintain a constant supply of energy.
Water-Soluble Vitamin Hack: All whole foods (including animal-based foods) contain water-soluble vitamins, but some are best obtained from plant-based foods, namely vegetables and fruits. While these vitamins come in many forms, nine are widely recognized – thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6, biotin (vitamin H), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12 and the antioxidant vitamin C.