Many of us hear the word “diet” and immediately think “ugh.” Hey, we don’t blame you. Restricting your calorie intake and often eliminating dangerous foods from your day-to-day isn’t necessarily a blast. What if we were to tell you, though, that there are loads of foods that can add flavor and zing to your eating routine, without adding inches to your waistline?
We caught up with nutrition expert and television personality Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, to get her tasty, must-include foods for your healthy diet. The best part: They’re all inexpensive and easy-to-prepare.
- Cocoa powder
“We’ve all heard about the health benefits of dark chocolate,” says Bauer. “Unsweetened cocoa powder contains even more antioxidants, which can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve the elasticity of blood vessels and may increase HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol,” adds Bauer.
How to use: Make chocolate protein pudding by adding a few teaspoons to nonfat Greek yogurt, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons into a bowl of oatmeal or stir into steaming almond milk for a hot chocolate treat.
“These inexpensive (and totally under the radar) legumes are practically overflowing with fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease,” says Bauer. “Lentils are also a fantastic vegetarian source of iron—rich protein, which helps your hair grow longer and stronger.”
How to use: Add lentils to a vegetable soup or mix them with beans to create a delicious bean salad.
- Hot sauce
“This is an easy way to add zing and flavor to recipes without adding a lot of calories,” says Bauer. “Plus, there are so many great brands, you can experiment to find your favorites.”
How to use: Fold it into your scrambled eggs for a morning pick-me-up or create a spicy mayonnaise for the perfect dipping sauce.
- Buttery spreads
“Soft tub, trans fat-free spreads, like Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, are a tasty way to incorporate good fats (plant-based, unsaturated) into your diet,” suggests Bauer. “They have far less saturated fat and calories compared to butter and they’re incredibly versatile.” (More into the full-fat butter movement? There’s an energy-boosting coffee with your name on it.)
How to use: Use it in the pan for scrambled eggs, sautéed veggies or fruit. Bauer’s pick? Sauté apples with a little cinnamon and then create a parfait with quinoa and Greek yogurt.
- Chia seeds
“These ‘nutrition sprinkles’ are especially rich in plant-based omega 3 fats and also deliver fiber and calcium,” says Bauer.
How to use: Sprinkle chia seeds into oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or cottage cheese; mix them into dips or salad dressings. You can also add them to pancakes, muffins and other baked goods.