Healthy foodWhat if you could fill your body tank as easily as you fill your car? How would you know the foods that contribute to peak performance, ideal health and mental balance? There are only a few choices for your vehicle, but there are so many choices between types of body fuel. Figuring out the high quality healing foods and then affording them can feel overwhelming for many people.

Choose well
At the grocery store, shopping the perimeter (the outside edges) of the store is a good start. The outer walls of the store are usually where some of those ultra-healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are found, and protein staples of meat, fish, chicken or beans, too. Dairy foods like yogurt and milk are also on the outside walls of the store. Many of the foods on the inside aisles are poor quality, processed foods that have lost much of their original nutrition and may carry a higher price tag. In general, shopping the outside rim of the store will help fill your cart with whole, high-grade fuel.
Here’s a start:

Produce (fruits and vegetables):
Onions, cabbage, broccoli, fresh or frozen spinach, kiwis, oranges, apples and bananas. The ideal is to choose multicolored fruits and vegetables. Getting two cups of vegetables and two to three small fruit servings per day can lower blood pressure and weight, be brain healthy, and prevent cancer, strokes and macular degeneration.

Protein: Lean meat, chicken, beans, eggs, cheese, turkey, fish and shellfish. Our human bodies only need a palm-sized serving of animal protein or about one cup of peas or beans per day. Protein foods digest more slowly than carbohydrate foods and can help balance blood sugar. They are also essential building blocks for teeth, bones, hormones, hair, muscle and skin. A little protein at breakfast and lunch can help stabilize blood sugar during the day.

Grain or starchy vegetable: Oats, whole grain bread, sweet potato, rice, bean pasta or other pasta. We don’t need much, but a little at a meal tastes good and can help provide a sense of fullness between meals. These foods can boost fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium.

Healthy fats: These healthy add-ons, including olives, avocado, olive oil and nuts, or dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese, supply healthful fat. The dairy gives bone-strengthening calcium, protein and vitamins.
Eat at home more often
Eating out can be fun but it’s often faster, healthier and less expensive to eat at home more of the time.
Plan a few things you want to eat in the upcoming two weeks, select one new recipe and write a shopping list. Getting the planned foods in the house is step one. Many healthy foods can be assembled and don’t even require cooking (think: bean burrito with tortilla, canned beans, salsa and cheese). Even if you don’t follow your plan, you’re likely to feel more empowered and healthy. Knowing you have the ingredients at home that could become a healthful meal gives you more options. Choosing from the protein, produce, and grain and starchy vegetable groupings at each meal is a great start.

Add healing spices
Herbs, spices and seasoning vegetables add flavor and can reduce inflammation, boost mood and lower the risks for heart and cancer.
Garlic, onion, peppers and parsley can turn a good meal into a great meal.
Turmeric contains powerful plant nutrients (curcumin) that have cancer preventive and anti-inflammatory properties.
Saffron has recently been shown to boost mood and treat depression in supplemental doses. Why not throw a tiny bit into your next rice dish?
At our house we make our own super-spread by mixing inexpensive powdered turmeric with natural peanut butter and a little honey. This spread can be used on toast in the morning or as a sandwich spread at lunch. It’s an easy way to get a little of this healing spice in as a meal or snack. Garlic in any form (fresh, powdered or minced) is another cancer prevention champion that also lowers cholesterol if consumed regularly.
What benefits of health would you like in January? We hope you treat yourself by experimenting with one or more of these strategies.

Cynthia Moore, MS, RD, CDE, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, works as a nutritionist at the outpatient Nutrition Counseling Center-Northridge, University of Virginia, where she partners with clients who want to maximize healthy wellbeing