March was National Nutrition Month, but any month—any day—is a good time to think of ways to eat more nutritiously.
One way to do that is to stock your kitchen with healthier foods—an ill-supplied kitchen may be the top reason my patients tell me that they don’t cook at home. For healthier eating, there are a few foods that I recommend having on hand all the time.
Produce: Fruits and Vegetables. I recommend purchasing organic fruits and vegetables, which tend to have less pesticide residue. Some fruits and veggies can remain at room temperature, while others should be refrigerated. Generally speaking, do not wash the fruit or vegetable until it’s ready to be eaten or used in a dish. Since they have a limited shelf life, these foods also promote another healthy habit—meal planning.
Dairy: Yogurt, Milk, Eggs. I like to keep plain Greek yogurt on hand and then add my own fruit (sliced apple, grapes, strawberries), which can cut down on the sugar and calories. One benefit of Greek yogurt is the higher protein content, which is about twice that of other types of yogurt.
Organic milk is void of two additives—recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, also known as BGH; recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST) and antibiotics. Almond milk is a good alternative to cow’s milk, if you have an allergy to dairy.
A variety of cheeses, such as fresh mozzarella or imported cheddars, can be used sparingly on eggs, in salads, or with other dishes. Look for low-salt varieties of cheese, which means limiting your intake of cottage cheese.
Eggs are a tremendous source of protein and nutrients and they are essential for cooking. When made into an omelet or a scramble, the menu possibilities are endless. I like to use one whole egg and then mix in the equivalent of two or three additional egg whites to make an omelet.
Also keep fresh butter on hand but use it sparingly. Skip the margarine, which is loaded with chemicals.
Protein: Meats, Fish, and Nuts. I support a mostly plant-based diet, but most Americans love their meat—especially red meat. It’s important to limit red meat to reduce cancer threat. However, when it comes to ground beef, consider purchasing it at a market that grinds it fresh daily to lower the risk of foodborne illnesses from mass-produced ground beef. You may even want to purchase a meat grinder and grind your own meats at home. Since there is some convincing evidence that connects consumption of a lot of red meat with colon cancer, go sparingly with red meat and lean more toward chicken, turkey, and higher-quality cuts of pork (but not sausage, bacon, and other processed meats).
Avoid all deli meats, which are heavily processed and high in sodium; a 2 oz. serving of beef bologna has 540 mg of sodium, about one-third of an adult’s daily limit of 1,500 mg. Additionally, research suggests these meats are filled with carcinogens and increase your risk of cancer.
Also keep tuna fish and pink salmon on hand. These are excellent sources of low-fat protein and vitamins.
Salt-free, raw nuts are also good sources of protein. Plus, they are oil-free and lower in calories. Nuts are great as a snack, added to vegetable dishes, or tossed into a smoothie.
Prepared Foods. Frozen dinners and premade meals may seem convenient, but they contribute nothing to good health. The only acceptable frozen foods are vegetables and fruits without any added cheese, salt, seasonings, or sugar.
Also avoid keeping on hand snacks such as chips, candy, soda, and artificially sweetened and colored drinks.
There are only a few acceptable canned goods to keep on hand. These include a variety of beans, which should be rinsed thoroughly to remove excess salt before eating or cooking. Black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans are also ideal sources of fiber at 15 grams per serving.
Pasta and noodles are also okay in limited quantities. These can be incorporated into your meals on occasion.
Learn to Love Oatmeal. Oatmeal is an ideal choice for breakfast, a snack, or even a light evening meal. While Quaker Oats (old-fashioned) is a good choice, Quaker Quick 1-Minute Oats is also okay because it is not chemically altered, just put through a press to allow it to cook quicker and absorb water faster. Avoid instant microwave and flavored oatmeal, which only add more calories, chemicals, and artificial sweeteners to your precious body.