While you’re spring-cleaning the rest of your house, don’t forget the kitchen, cupboard and fridge. The best way to get healthy is to have plenty of good food available. We won’t make you throw out all the junk food (everyone needs a little treat now and again), but we'll help you get the advantage when it comes to eating right. What makes the following nutrition tips so surprising? They take you back to the basics -- and they work.
Step 1: Stock up on spring super-fruits and vegetables
Superfoods are all the rage in the nutrition world, but many of the veggies we all know and love are just as super as acai. Buying seasonal vegetables has the bonus of making sure they’re at their peak, when they’re packing the most nutrients they can. We recommend buying them from the farmers' market so you know exactly how they’re grown (or more importantly, how they’re not grown — with crazy chemicals in unnatural circumstances).
On your next shopping trip, pick up these spring powerhouses.
- Green peas: Filled with vitamin C and thiamin, green peas help allergy sufferers and help ward off depression.
- Artichokes: Skip the can and learn to cook them fresh, because artichokes contain cynarin and a probiotic called inulin. They help with digestion and actually make other foods taste better by stimulating your taste buds.
- Asparagus: Packed with vitamin K, vitamin A, protein and folate, this spring green helps transport calcium to your bones and boosts your immune system.
- Fava beans: High in fiber, iron and protein, these oft-overlooked beans work to lower your cholesterol and (bonus!) stimulate sexual desire.
- Lettuce: Think anything but iceberg here! Different kinds of lettuce are all chock-full of antioxidants and come in a variety of colors that will make your salad more appealing (and tastier).
- Arugula: A great addition to salads because of its peppery flavor, arugula is a source of magnesium, which helps strengthen bones, keeps your immune system going strong and aids in muscular health.
- Radishes: Eaten with broccoli, they work together to ward off cancer. They’re also a great source of vitamin C in their own right. The leaves are also edible and may be even better for you, with even more vitamin C, calcium and protein.
- Green onions: Also called scallions or spring onions, these little guys are packed with an antioxidant that lowers your blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart disease. They also act like an antihistamine, which is great for people with allergies.
- Spinach: Popeye would be proud. This leafy green is an unexpected source of vitamin C, as well as folate, betaine, lutein and zeaxanthin. It helps ward off age-related eyesight issues, gives you more energy for exercise and boosts your immune system.
- Spring squash: The nutritional properties of squash depend on what kind you get, but they’re all packed with bonuses. Plain old yellow squash has vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, calcium and all 10 of the amino acids your body needs but doesn't produce.
- Strawberries: Packed with fiber and vitamin C, strawberries protect your heart and increase good cholesterol. They also lower your blood pressure and help ward off cancer.
- Sweet cherries: Cherries are high in potassium, antioxidants and fiber, but lower in calories than many fruits. But eat them whole instead of in a pie, where you’ll add unnecessary sugar to the mix.
- Apricots: Beta carotene, potassium, fiber and vitamin C make apricots an excellent choice for spring. They help prevent heart disease and are great for your eyesight, and even lower in calories than cherries. (Feel free to enjoy them dried, though they do have more carbs that way.)
- Berries: Berries of any kind are loaded with antioxidants. The other benefits vary from fruit to fruit, so enjoy as many varieties as you can.
While just about any seasonal fruit is better for you than cake or cookies, research before you buy to stick with those that have a lower sugar content.
Step 2: Eat leaner meats
There’s nothing wrong with a little red meat in your diet, but most of us get too much. Cut down to red meat once a week (and keep your portions in control — a serving size is about the size of a deck of cards). Look for fish and chicken instead.
If you’re worried about mercury in your diet from sea creatures, opt for “light” tuna over “white” tuna. White tuna is albacore, which is larger and older when caught, so it’s had more time to accumulate mercury (three times as much)!
When selecting your cuts of chicken, don’t automatically go for white meat. While it’s true that white meat has fewer calories, it also has less iron, zinc, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamins B6 and B12. And as any chef will tell you, it also has more flavor!
If you’re just craving beef, avoid the drive-through and make it at home. Choose cuts with the least amount of visible marbling (fat). The leanest cuts are top sirloin steak, top and bottom roast or steak, eye of round roast or steak, and sirloin tip side steak.
Limit your consumption of organ meat, though, to no more than once a month. Things like liver are packed with cholesterol. If you’re going to eat it, do it on your cheat day and go for gold — fry it up and enjoy, then be extra-good next week.
Step 3: Eliminate overprocessed breads
White bread, even enriched white bread, is only made with one of the three nutritious parts of the wheat berry, the endosperm. That means a lot of the nutrient heavyweights, like fiber, vitamins B6 and E, zinc, chromium, folic acid and magnesium are stripped out.
But don’t just grab for any “wheat” bread on the shelf. You’re looking for bread made with 100 percent whole grains (whole grain or stone-ground, not enriched wheat flour). If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, skip it. It should have 120 calories or fewer, and 3 grams of fiber or more per slice.
Better yet, buy a bread machine and learn to make your own. Once you get the whole yeast thing down, it’s easier than you think! Just look for healthy recipes that don't contain white flour.
Step 4: Getting more healthy foods in your diet
We’re sure there were more than a few of the spring superfoods we listed you just don’t like. But there are several ways you can sneak them into your diet.
- Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta and top it with a homemade tomato sauce with spinach and artichokes.
- Make a pesto using spinach, radish leaves and arugula, which is much more flavorful than the traditional pesto. Toss it with some whole-wheat pasta and a lean protein like shrimp or chicken.
- Make a puree of yellow squash and heat it with a few ounces each of sharp cheddar, jack cheese, ricotta (another surprising superfood), Parmesan and your favorite spices. Toss it with some tricolor pasta for a healthier mac and cheese.
- Make a salad of leafy greens, arugula, diced radishes, broccoli florets, green onions, fresh spinach, cooked artichoke hearts and fava beans, and top it with homemade strawberry or raspberry vinaigrette. No need for croutons; the radishes will provide plenty of crunch.
- Serve steamed asparagus with a dijon-based sauce instead of hollandaise, or steamed squash and red peppers tossed with low- or no-sodium seasoning alongside a lean cut of chicken topped with a broth-based mushroom sauce or marinated in just a touch of dark Mexican beer, low-sodium soy sauce and fresh lime juice.
- When you’re on the go, pack a snack of dried apricots and sunflower seeds to keep your energy up.
- Make a smoothie with frozen yogurt and a mix of berries, including strawberries.
More nutritious tips
6 Super foods for your heart
Brain power: Eat to improve your memory
The anti-inflammatory diet: Eating foods to heal your body