If ever there’s a time for a do-over, it’s after wrapping up a month of ungodly butter and alcohol consumption. There are no more holidays, no more feasts. It’s time to make amends with your liver.
Now is when people rush into healthy changes with an enthusiasm that’s borderline dangerous. My spin classes are bursting with people who seem unsure of whether they’d like to be there. The sidewalks are choked with runners in squeaky clean new shoes that are certainly giving them blisters.
I double down on vegetables this time of year. It’s not a tough switch, as I’ve been trying to eat well since the days of “health food stores.” As a teenager, I was one of those intolerable vegetarians who glared at people just trying to eat a hot dog in peace. I’m more of a gentle guide now. I’m as at home eating a hot dog as I am chomping on salad. It’s all about balance. And balance feels good after months of excess.
A word about the term “superfood”: There is no shortcut to health. But adding some of these nutrient-rich foods to your diet, especially if you’re replacing junkier things, can change your diet in small ways. Let’s get started.
Kale and other leafy greens
Kale is almost cliche these days, but dark leafy greens of all sorts are rich in vitamins and minerals including iron. But just because they’re good for you doesn’t mean they have to taste like medicine.
The key is adding plenty of flavor. Fat is good. Acidity is essential. Cooking time is also crucial. While collards are excellent slow-simmered with a bit of pork, kale is a bit better when it’s steamed in the saute pan just enough to wilt but not lose that vibrant color.
For a quick side dish, I like to strip kale leaves from their stems and chop them into rough ribbons. I saute a couple of sliced garlic cloves in olive oil, add the kale and then stir in a spoonful of adobo sauce from the container of chipotles that’s always in my fridge. I add a dash of rice vinegar, some salt and pepper, a tiny bit of water, then cover my kale and steam it until it’s dark green and soft.
Adding more leafy greens to your diet doesn’t have to mean cooking, either. If you like iceberg lettuce salads, try adding in raw baby kale or arugula. Or toss some baby spinach into your smoothies.
More greens, please:Pass the greens, please: 12 Southern recipes for collards, kale and turnip greens
People claim blueberries can do everything from ease depression to fight cancer. I can’t make those claims, but they are packed full of vitamin C and potent antioxidants. Eating them is simple; just, you know, eat them.
My recommendation is to buy big bags of frozen berries, which last longer and can be more cost-effective especially if you can find them on sale. Thawed, frozen blueberries are great in cereal, yogurt and oatmeal. When frozen, I like to whir them up in a smoothie with yogurt, oat milk, and some protein powder or collagen as a recovery drink after a long workout.
Avocados are full of good fats and vitamins and, honestly, this is one healthy food you should be able to get behind. You can make guacamole. You can add lightly salted avocado slices to your tacos. Don’t forget the squeeze of lime! Avocado toast gets a bad rep, but it’s such a big improvement nutritionally over a buttered piece of bread. My 7-year-old even likes avocado toast for breakfast, as long as I drizzle some honey over it.
Here’s how I make my avocado toast: Toast a slice of whole wheat bread, top it with sliced avocado, add sea salt, olive oil, green onion and sliced hot peppers or red pepper flakes. You can also add a fried egg on top for extra protein. This is a simple, good-for-you breakfast.
I suppose you could buy probiotic supplements and hope for the best, but nothing works better than the real thing. Fermented foods are amazing for gut health and overall health, but they remain a fairly misunderstood category. That’s because Americans have only really, truly started to embrace fermented foods. Yes, we’ve been eating sauerkraut for years but, as a culture, we’ve only recently hopped on the funky food bandwagon.
Getting more fermented foods in diet is easy. Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Add kimchi to burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and omelets. Develop a taste for kombucha. Even real, true lactic acid-fermented pickles (look for that on the label) are full of probiotics. There are plenty of companies making excellent ferments out there, including the fairly readily available Wildbrine. I love the company’s fermented red cabbage and beets on tacos, salads and tempeh Reubens. Tempeh? Another great-for-you fermented product made from soybeans.
My recommendation is to find high-fat salmon (I particularly like the large freezer packs from Whole Foods) and keep it frozen until just before you’re ready to cook. I’ll usually thaw my fish overnight in the refrigerator and, if I’m working from home, pop it in a relatively cool oven — just 300 degrees! — to slow cook. If your salmon has plenty of fat, it will melt perfectly at this temperature, leaving you a super-tender fillet.
Slow-cooked salmon is perfect served with a lunch salad, but it’s also great with risotto, potatoes and greens or any vegetable really. Yes, full-fat fish can have a stronger flavor, but it’s worth getting used to. Fish should never smell “fishy,” but those fragrant fats are where the good stuff lies, including memory-boosting, skin-soothing omega 3s.
Not into cooking salmon? Buy it hot or cold smoked at the store and eat it with bagels or fried eggs and salad in the morning. Savory breakfast salad? It’s a thing of beauty and the perfect way to get your veggies in nice and early.
Have cooking questions? Want to share a topic for a future column? Email Mackensy Lunsford at [email protected]