Stuck in a food rut? If you're looking to liven up your diet to satisfy both your taste buds and nutritional needs, you don't want to miss this list of healthy-but-often-overlooked foods.
1. Swiss Chard
Why it's good for you: With red and yellow stems, and dark green leaves, Swiss chard is both beautiful to look at and a nutritional powerhouse. A true "super food," 1 cup of Swiss chard has just 35 calories, and meets 300 percent of your daily vitamin K needs and 109 percent of your daily vitamin A requirements. Packed with disease-fighting carotenoids, Swiss chard may protect aging eyes.
How to eat it: Sautee with a little chopped garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, as you would spinach.
2. Flax Seeds
Why they're good for you: Loaded with plant chemicals known as lignans, flax seeds may provide some protection against cancers that are sensitive to hormones, such as breast cancer. Plus their omega-3 essential fatty acids have heart-healthy effects.
How to eat them: Try them in yogurt, cereals, salads, and breads. To ensure you release the omega-3 fats, be sure to grind the seeds prior to serving.
Why it's good for you: Turmeric probably isn't a staple in your spice rack—but it should be! It is a major ingredient in Indian curries. Used as both medicine and food for centuries, studies suggest that this relative of ginger is a promising preventive agent for a wide range of diseases, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory properties.
How to eat it: You can use turmeric as a base for your next curry or simply sprinkle some on chicken breasts prior to grilling.
Why they're good for you: Virtually fat-free and low in sodium, the artichoke is rich in vitamin C, folate, potassium, and especially fiber. The bottom (or what is often referred to as the "heart") of an artichoke has just 26 calories but 3 grams of fiber.
How to eat them: Preparing and eating artichokes might seem a bit daunting given their unusual shape and texture. But as long as you have a good knife, they are simple to steam and make a wonderful appetizer or side dish. After steaming, start by pulling off the outermost petals. Dip the base of the petal into your favorite sauce. Once all the petals have been removed, you've arrived at the heart, which you can slice and dip.
Why they're good for you: Beets are one of the best sources of folate. Folate is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth, such as infancy and pregnancy. One cup of beets provides only 60 calories, no fat, about 40 percent of your daily value for folic acid, and 4 grams of fiber.
How to eat them: Enjoy beets raw, sliced, or prepare a delicious beet salad by tossing them with olive oil and a splash of lemon.
Why they're good for you: While they may not be the sexiest item in the produce aisle, prunes (or dried plums, which sound more appealing, but are the same) are chock full of health benefits…plus they are delicious. One serving (about five dried plums) has 3 grams of fiber, 293 milligrams of potassium, and 16 mg of magnesium, all for less than 100 calories. Studies have shown that dried plums promote heart and digestive health.
How to eat them: Prunes are a perfect on-the-go snack—you can buy them pre-packaged and just pop them into your purse or briefcase. They also add a bit of natural sweetness to desserts and baked goods.
7. Chia Seeds
Why they're good for you: You remember the Chia Pet, don't you? Well, now chia seeds are the latest hot trend. And they really do pack a nutritional wallop. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber and polyunsaturated fats. A tablespoon has 70 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fat, and 7 grams of carbohydrates. They contain healthy "ALA" fats that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
How to eat them: Chia seeds add a crunchy texture and nutty flavor to foods. Sprinkle them on cereal, salads, or yogurt. They can also be mixed into baked goods or smoothies.
For more smoothie ideas, check out Appetite for Health's mix-n-match smoothie recipe chart at www.appforhealth.com/2011/07/mix-n-match-smoothie-recipes/.
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is a frequent nutrition contributor to top-tier national morning shows including the Today show, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health, as well as dozens of local affiliate stations across the country. Please visit her blog at www.AppforHealth.com.