Expanding Your Culinary Horizons Is the Key To Escaping a Food Rut—Here’s How
This week, we’ll be focusing on expanding your culinary horizons. This means embracing new ingredients and flavor profiles—because “healthy food” doesn’t just mean kale, quinoa, almonds, and grilled salmon.
Yes, all of those foods are nutritious—however, did you know that you can and should enjoy foods from all of the cuisines and cultures around the globe as a part of a healthy pattern of eating? Think about the warming ital stew from Eating From Our Roots that you made last week: It was brimming with a wide variety of vegetables and had a deliciously comforting flavor.
So, let’s get out of that food rut, shall we? We all have them. We make the same five meals on autopilot, buy the same products at the supermarket each week, and eat the same snacks day in and day out. Those days will soon be behind us.
This week, we will travel to parts of the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. As your taste buds take a trip to these parts of the globe, some of the flavor profiles may be familiar and others new. We’ll also be familiarizing you with a number of important nutrients, like probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, and sharing simple (and deliciously diverse) ways to get more of them into your diet.
Use the next seven days as an opportunity to expand how you define “healthy food,” and continue to consider the many ways that you can broaden your shopping, prepping, and cooking routines to include more health-promoting nutrients and foods. I’m ready when you are!
Day 15: Fit more probiotic-rich foods into your meals
Last week, we focused heavily on increasing your plant intake. One of the many reasons why plants are so rich in health benefits is due to their prebiotic fiber content. Prebiotic fibers—which are found in foods like Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, and almonds—are indigestible carbohydrates that act as nourishment for the good bacteria living in your gut, known as probiotics.
Probiotics are live and active microorganisms that support every aspect of human health, as the bacteria in your gut is linked to not just your digestion, but also your immunity, cognitive functioning, longevity, and even your mood and mental state. Including foods that are rich sources of probiotics further supports the bacterial diversity and health of your gut, and therefore your overall well-being.
Some probiotic-rich food options to consider adding to your diet today, plus how I recommend serving them, are below:
- Yogurt and skyr: try them with wild berries and seeds
- Kefir: try it alone as a drink
- Fermented sauerkraut: try it with a potato pancake
- Kimchi: try it paired with a bowl of rice
- Sourdough bread: try it with a slice of smoked salmon, cucumber, and dill
- Fermented cheese: try it on a seeded cracker
Day 16: Try an antioxidant-rich morning drink
Yesterday we challenged ourselves to eat more probiotic-rich foods, and today we’ll be tackling the task of drinking more antioxidant-rich beverages. Hope you’re thirsty, because there are plenty of options on tap!
As you remember from last week, antioxidants are chemical substances found in plants. They act as free-radical scavengers to combat inflammation in the body, reducing as well as protecting our cells from oxidative stress. Phytochemicals are among one of the most researched categories of plant compounds that offer antioxidant capacity.
Your morning drink is a great way to up your antioxidant intake. Coffee, espresso, black tea, green tea, 100 percent pomegranate juice, 100 percent grape juice, and 100 percent prune juice all have significant antioxidant content. (And, of course, they’re all made from plants.)
But the antioxidants you consume at breakfast time don’t just need to come from beverages: Nuts, seeds, and berries have significant antioxidant content, too. (And when it comes to versatility, nuts and seeds are hard to beat. You can enjoy them in their whole form on top of probiotic-rich yogurt, spread them on toast as nut butter, grind them into a flour for breakfast breads, or blend them into smoothies.)
Stay tuned; tomorrow is a major antioxidant winner, too.
Day 17: Give your drinks and dishes added anti-inflammatory benefits with herbs
We spoke earlier this month about the significant antioxidant capacity of spices, but did you know that herbs—and herbal teas—provide similar anti-inflammatory benefits in the body?
Phytochemicals are found in herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and oregano. Current research suggests that these species, when consumed regularly and over time, can help support healthy blood sugar levels, and reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well as degenerative diseases.
For instance, capsaicin, a compound found in hot chili peppers, has been shown to have antitumorigenic and anticarcinogenic properties and be supportive of the respiratory system. Parsley is an excellent source of luteolin, a phytochemical that helps to reduce inflammation and boost cognitive health, as reduced inflammation is associated with fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety, as well as reduced risk of cognitive decline or neurodegenerative disease with age. Rosemary, aside from having delicious flavor, has been shown to help improve immunity, brain health, and sleep due to its rich apigenin content.
These are just a few of your options. Today, consider adding herbs to your eggs or oats in the morning, or try adding some basil into your sandwich or leftover ital stew at lunch. You can also wrap parsley into a falafel pita, or sprinkle cilantro over fish tacos. Or try steeping herbs like lemon balm or rosemary in hot water for a warming mug of antioxidant-rich herbal tea.
Tip 18: Try adding more tropical fruits to your diet
While the herbs we cooked with yesterday have a splendid reputation in the mainstream wellness world, fruit tends to be different. It often gets demonized due to its naturally-occurring sugar content. (Insert heavy sigh.)
Here’s one I’d love to shout from the rooftops: Fruit is not the enemy! Tropical fruits are not forbidden fruit!
Fruits contain some sugar, yes, but they also pack a bounty of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients. Also, not all fruits are created equal, especially tropical fruits: They come in all shapes and sizes and range from very sweet to sour.
Have you ever had a pickled sour cherry? In Trinidad and Tobago, pickled sour cherries are stewed down with cinnamon and ginger and a sweetener of choice and enjoyed alongside a meal. Or how about guava? It tastes like a combination of peach and strawberry with the firmness of a pear with edible seeds. Guava can be blended into drinks, enjoyed with ripe persimmon for a tropical fruit salad, as well as made into jelly.
In terms of nutrition content, tropical fruits are a great source of vitamin C and also contain potassium, beta-carotene, and some B vitamins. In the U.S., tropical fruits may be harder to source in their fresh form. Frozen tropical fruits are just as good and, once defrosted, can be used the way you would fresh—so let’s all start adding more fresh and/or frozen tropical fruits to our meals and snacks.
Day 19: Up your omega-3 fatty acid intake by leaning into sustainable seafood
You can’t get out of your cooking rut without expanding the types of protein you’re eating on a weekly basis, am I right? This is precisely where today’s topic—shopping for nutritious, sustainable seafood—comes in.
Seafood is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are a key brain- and longevity-boosting nutrient that most folks don’t get enough of. According to the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, “Fish literally saves lives. Eating seafood two to three times per week reduces the risk of death from any health-related cause by 17 percent.”
That’s amazing! Current research has also found that there is a link between mood and omega-3 intake.
Many of my patients say they find it intimidating to make seafood, especially whole. They’ve also often shared that they’re unsure how to shop for or choose seafood. I totally get it. However, rest assured that there are many helpful resources to take the confusion out of shopping for and cooking fish and shellfish. Check out the handy guides on these website to help make you a savvy seafood shopper:
Tip 20: Get more plant-based protein into your meals by cooking ancient grains
Yesterday we covered one of my favorite forms of animal protein, seafood, and today we’re pivoting to one of the most nutritious and versatile plant-based protein sources out there: ancient grains.
While there is no formal definition for ancient grains, the Whole Grains Council recognizes ancient grains as “grains that have not been significantly changed over the last few hundred years.” These would include heirloom varieties of blue corn that are indigenous to the Southwestern U.S. and Northern Mexico, as well as red and black rice and teff, quinoa, millet, fonio, and sorghum, most of which are native to parts of Africa and South and Central America.
All of these grains are great sources of plant-based protein, with fonio and quinoa being complete proteins, meaning they contain the full amino acid profile. Ancient grains are also wonderful sources of fiber, which is supportive of gut and metabolic health, as well as some vitamins and minerals.
Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll be using three types of grains to make a warming, nutritious breakfast recipe that’s packed with plant-based protein and our new BFFs, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip 21: Make Maya’s 10-min breakfast porridge
Want to explore ancient grains in your kitchen? Great news: It’s time to crank the heat.
This delicious breakfast porridge recipe lends itself perfectly to meal-prepping, meaning you can batch cook it to have on hand for the whole week. The dish combines protein- and fiber-rich oatmeal, fonio, and quinoa with the wonderful warming flavors of allspice and toasty hemp seeds for added crunch (plus omega-3 fatty acids and major antioxidants). Why not try topping it with some slices of guava or a few pickled sour cherries, too?
The best part: This delicious breakfast bowl only takes 10 minutes to make. Talk about ending the week on a high note. Great work, you.
Find the full porridge recipe here.
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