It has become in vogue for health-conscious consumers to have a “must have” food that they choose to include in their daily diet mainly because of its nutritional benefits. In order to pinpoint the popular ones, I took a consensus and asked a group of top registered dietitian-nutritionists which “must have” food or beverage is number one on their daily menu and why. Here are the results in a nutshell (in no particular order):
1) Sharon Palmer, RDN says, “I have so many foods that I must eat, but my go to are walnuts. Because I’m plant-based, I include them every day for a boost of omega-3s. I have them in my steel cut oats every morning.”
2) Amy Gorin, MS, RDN says, “I eat plain Greek yogurt almost every day. I love how creamy and satisfying it is–and it’s an excellent source of protein at about 17 grams per 6-ounce serving, especially for vegetarians like me. My breakfast bowl combines the 2 percent fat version with fruit (such as pitted cherries or raspberries), nuts (such as almonds or pistachios), chia and flaxseeds.”
3) Emily Cope, MS, RDN says, “As a plant-based eater, quinoa is a ‘must’ for me to get a hearty, protein packed breakfast in the morning. My Berry Quinoa Breakfast Bowl is made with quinoa, which is cooked like oatmeal and topped with all of my favorite ingredients like fresh fruit and almonds.”
4) Lauren Gibson, RD says, “Garlic, because it’s a healthy way to add a ton of flavor to a wide variety of dishes. Vegetables that were seemingly boring are taken to a whole new level with the addition of garlic. My Arugula Salad with Lentils, Garlic and Goat Cheese and Garlicky Green Beans are my favorite weeknight dishes to get my daily dose of garlicky goodness!”
5) Melissa Burton, RD, CDE says, “Now that this NYC transplant has lived in CA for a few years, I can’t live without avocados. Avocado toast with lemon, Sriracha and hemp seeds is how I start almost every morning. The dose of healthy fats and buttery texture keeps me satisfied for a long time! I’ve been known to put avocado everywhere I possibly can!”
6) Heather Mason, MS, RD says, “My favorite food are walnuts. I eat them every day either on top of my cereal, oatmeal, or sprinkled on top of yogurt. I love them mainly for their taste and crunchy texture. Heart disease runs in my family and I feel good knowing that I’m getting some heart healthy omega-3’s from my walnuts.”
7) Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RD says, “Apples! I try to eat one everyday, not just because the old adage tells us to. They are loaded with phytochemicals and if I’m eating an apple, I’m not eating junk.”
8) Amanda Field RDN, CD says, “Whole grains! Steel-cut oats, farro, and barley are my current favorites. The protein and fiber keep me full.”
9) Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD says, “Peanut butter! It’s the perfect blend of protein and fat, and of course it’s delicious and satisfying. I like it best smeared on a banana with dark chocolate chips as an afternoon or evening snack.”
10) Brittany Poulson, MDA, RDN, CD, CDE says, “Oats! They can be used in so many ways, sweet or savory, and have great health benefits. I love them as traditional oatmeal in the mornings, in a smoothie or yogurt parfait, baked in breads, muffins, cookies, added to pancakes, as a mix-in to trail mix, or even used in meatloaf. The list could go on!”
11) Shannon A. Garcia, MDS, RD, LD says, “Greek yogurt! What a great blend of protein and carbohydrate, with many brands offering a 1:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates. It’s perfect as part of breakfast, a stand-alone snack, as a substitute for mayo or to lighten up homemade baked goods!”
12) Andrea Ovard, RD, CD says, “Avocados! I love them and put them in everything from my morning eggs to my lunch sandwich to my dinner quesadilla. It’s a great way to add in healthy fats and can even be substituted for less healthy fats, like butter, in baking!”
13) Lara Felton, MBA, RDN says, “Chia seeds. I like the texture the seeds lend when mixed into things and they are a great source of healthy fats and protein. I love chia seeds mixed into oatmeal, smoothies, creamy nut butters, or yogurt for breakfast. They also make a great topper for roasted sweet potatoes or mixed with coconut milk or almond milk to make a pudding for a sweet treat.”
14) Betsy Ramirez, MEd, RDN says, “Honey! I use it everyday. While most people may look at it as sugar, honey has antioxidants, enzymes, and antimicrobial properties that make it serve as a natural preservative. Honey can soothe a sore throat, and even help with allergies if bought locally. I use a little to sweeten my morning coffee, in homemade dressing and sauces, or on a simple piece of toast for breakfast. Keeping added sugar to 10 percent of your daily calories is important, so I watch the amount I use. It’s also the easiest label to read in the supermarket. It just contains honey!”
15) Dixya Bhattarai, RDN says, “Bananas – I absolutely love bananas and try to eat at least one a day. It is great with my breakfast smoothie with nut butter and makes a perfect portable snack. Bananas are nutrient dense – it is packed with many nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, fiber, and are naturally low in fat and sodium. There is a lot of controversy on banana because of it’s high sugar content but it is important to understand that sugar from banana is natural sugar. I never discourage anyone from eating a banana (unless they have a renal disease or other medical condition that would require them to watch potassium intake) because it really comes down to balance and moderation.”
16) Colleen Gerg, MA, RDN says, “I also eat chia seeds everyday. As a great source of healthy fats, and awesome for “digestive health” (regularity) when I mix them into oatmeal or have chia seed pudding for breakfast. I’m satisfied all morning.”
17) Dena Norton, MS, RD, LD says, “Lacto-fermented vegetables! Traditionally prepared sauerkraut, fermented pickles, and fermented carrots are my favorites. They’re cheap and easy to make at home, and are naturally chock-full of a variety of probiotics, prebiotic fibers, and beneficial yeasts to help maintain a healthy level of good bacteria in the gut and promote optimal immune function.”
18) Tina Gowin Carlucci, RDN, CDN says, “Eggs! They are so versatile and easy to whip up, plus packed with protein and totally filling. I use them to make cottage cheese pancakes in the morning. I also boil eggs for snacks or to slice onto avocado toast. Otherwise, I make a veggie omelet for dinner. They’re my go-to.”
19) Amber Ketchum, MDS, RD says, “Greens! I try to include spinach, spring mix or kale in a smoothie each morning to start the day with a serving of vegetables. I usually add frozen mango and Greek yogurt to the smoothie for a creamy texture and great flavor. Most people don’t eat anywhere near the recommended amount of veggies each day, and smoothies are a great way to get them in because you can basically “drink your salad.” Starting the day with these greens makes me feel energized and ready for the day!”
20) Lauren-Harris Pincus, MS, RDN says, “Green tea. It’s full of antioxidants, it’s relaxing, refreshing, and gives that extra tiny bit of metabolic boost. There are so many flavors and varieties that you’ll never get bored.”
21) Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND says, “Milk! The REAL stuff and nonfat. (I have no affiliation with the dairy industry and never have.) It’s one of my go-to protein sources – 1g protein per ounce. I don’t eat breakfast right away but get nearly 2 cups of milk in my coffee every morning… Yes I drink a lot of coffee. I also eat a few tablespoons of whole flaxseed every day. This might be TMI (too much information) but it’s “nature’s fast food” and great for regularity. Have yet to write a post about this…perhaps someday.”
22) Abby Langer, RD says, “I love certified organic sprouted whole grain bread because it’s hearty, has no sugar or preservatives, and it tastes amazing. I am pretty much spoiled now and can’t eat any other bread at this point!”
23) Angie Asche MS, RD, LMNT says, “Oatmeal – I must start every morning with a bowl of oatmeal. This breakfast (shown in the photo) is my favorite go-to just about every morning. 1/2 cup rolled or steel-cut oats, 1/2 sliced banana, 1/4 cup blueberries, 2 strawberries, and 2 tablespoons crushed walnuts. Sometimes I switch around the fruits and nuts, or use peanut butter instead of crushed walnuts. Oatmeal can lower your risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, and they also contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan. This fiber has been strongly linked to boosting your heart health, immune support and helps the body fight infection. I typically run in the mornings, so this breakfast is packed with the carbohydrates I need to get through my workouts!”
24) Nita Sharda, RD says, “Seeds – chia, flax, or hemp. I love using one of the three every day in my snack or breakfast to help up my fiber and omega-3 intake. They are versatile and easy to use.”
25) Sarah Mueller, RD says, “ I love to strength train. It builds my muscles, which increases my metabolism. So I make sure I eat enough protein with each meal so they can grow. I love mixing liquid egg whites with an egg every morning and eating it in a burrito or with some fruit.”
26) Bev Benda, RD, LDN, BCC says, “Cottage cheese – sometimes I add a small bowl to breakfast as a protein source, and sometimes I add it on top of salads (easy protein addition), but most of the time I have a good sized-bowl for lunch with either fresh fruit on top or canned fruit cocktail or canned Tropical Fruit. My mother used to say, “We are having a special dessert tonight” and we (all 5 of us) would race to the table to find cottage cheese with fruit cocktail with a strategic cherry on top. Can you see why I love it? It’s dessert!”
27) Sylvia Klinger, MS, RDN says, “Oranges – they are my go to fruit during the winter months. Rich in vitamin C, fiber and powerful antioxidants. Love juicing fresh orange juice every morning. It’s like my morning coffee.”
28) Abbey Sharp, RD says, “Cinnamon! I love its warm, comforting aromatic flavor in sweet and savory dishes. It has helped me cut back on sugar in my coffee and oatmeal thanks to its naturally sweet flavor. I also love the depth it adds to bolognese sauces and chili!”
29) Rachel Begun, MS, RDN says, “Leafy greens! I was brought up in a house where we had a salad to start almost every family dinner. And yes, I did help to make these salads. I crave leafy greens and I’m happy about that because they are the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber at very few calories per serving. In summer, I use kale and a variety of lettuces for smoothies and salads. In winter, I eat spinach or Swiss chard incorporated into omelets, escarole in soups and stews; and bok choy in a stir-fry.”
30) Tracee Yablon Brenner RDN, CHHC says, “I have a serving of dark chocolate or hot dark chocolate on most days. It’s a treat I look forward to. Plus it has health benefits and it’s a good source of magnesium.”
31) As for me, Layne Lieberman, MS, RD, CDN since I’m not a coffee drinker (except when I’m in Italy), it’s all about waking up to a frothy Chai Latte! Chai originated from India and is a blend of black tea with medicinal spices and herbs like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, fennel seed and black peppercorn. It’s available as loose tea, tea bags, liquid concentrate and powder. Chai tastes best combined with steamed milk and bit of sugar. Besides loving the spicy and smooth taste, chai has one-third the caffeine that is in coffee and it’s brimming with antioxidants!
While there is an extensive list of “must have” organic foods in my home, here are a few more, which have not been listed above – hummus (traditionally made with chic peas), carrots, sweet potatoes, berries, Espelette pepper, part-skim ricotta cheese, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, tofu, tomatoes and kombucha tea.
Since 2016 is the International Year Of Pulses, I’ll be adding this category to my “must have” list. Pulses are a subcategory of legumes, which refer only to the dried seed like dried peas, beans, lentils and chic peas. Soybeans and green peas are not part of this group.
Pulses are packed with nutrients and have a high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible. Pulses are low in fat and rich in soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. Because of these qualities they are recommended by health organizations for the management of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions. Pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity.
For farmers, pulses are an important crop because they can be both sold and consumed by the farmers and their families. Having the option to eat and sell the pulses they grow helps farmers maintain household food security and creates economic stability. Furthermore, the nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses improve soil fertility, which increases and extends the productivity of the farmland. By using pulses for intercropping and cover crops, farmers can also promote farm biodiversity and soil biodiversity, while keeping harmful pests and diseases at bay.
Pulses can contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on the synthetic fertilizers used to introduce nitrogen artificially into the soil. Greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing and application of these fertilizers, and their overuse can be detrimental to the environment. However, pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil naturally, and in some cases free soil-bound phosphorous, thus significantly decreasing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Note: None of the foods listed in this blog in any way are tied to industry sponsorship.
For a complete guide to healthy eating including 50 delicious and simple recipes for every meal of the day, pick up a copy of my book Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.