12 Foods You Must Add to Your Diet This Year
If you're making a health-related New Year's Resolution this year, you may want consider focusing on just being healthier rather than weight loss. Often, if you choose to improve the quality of your diet, you will lose weight anyway. Also, focusing on health gives you more ways to measure success than simply seeing the numbers on the scale. (See also: 9 Cheap, Healthy Filler Foods)
If you'd like to improve your health but aren't sure where to start, consider adding some (or all!) of these foods to your diet over the next year. For a manageable goal, try adding one food each month. Make including it in your daily consumption a habit, and you will have a healthy new year, all year long.
1. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate isn't just an easy way to start adding healthy food to the diet, it's actually good for you. It contains chemicals that can reduce blood pressure, and it also has flavonoids, which are antioxidants that lower bad cholesterol and raise good.
Add a square or two of dark chocolate to your diet each day as a dessert or part of a snack. The darker the chocolate, the healthier, because darker chocolate contains more flavonoids and less sugar. Start with 70% cacao, and work your way up to 85%. (See also: 10 Flavorful Foods Worth the Splurge)
Beets are one of those vegetables that scare a lot of people. While they do have a very distinct taste, they are also fairly sweet. Their dark red color indicates that they are high in phytonutrients, which lower inflammation and are high in antioxidants. In addition, beets are high in many vitamins and minerals that help the body function better.
Add beets to your diet by eating them raw in a salad, roasting, or pickling them and adding them to sandwiches and salads.
These little seeds don't look like much, but they pack a big nutritional punch. Not only are they high in fiber, but they seem to offer some protection against certain types of cancer.
Flaxseeds can seem a little intimidating at first, but they are actually easy to incorporate into the diet. Grind them up, either with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder, then put them in smoothies, use them to top yogurt or cottage cheese, or put them in juice to add some texture.
4. Black Beans
Not only are black beans economical and easy to cook, but they pack quite a nutritional punch. They are high in protein and fiber, and they can function as a meat substitute, at least some of the time. Black beans also have some omega 3s, so they can aid in heart health, and they contain the same antioxidants — anthocyanins — that are in blueberries. The darker the bean, the more of these there are.
Black beans are great by themselves, as a side to Mexican-inspired dishes, as an ingredient in salsa, or as a main course in black beans and rice. (See also: 20 Healthy Black Bean Recipes)
Lots of people think of spinach as the picture next to "Yuck!" in the dictionary. However, the leafy green contains so many nutrients. It's high in folate and in vitamins A and C, among others. It seems to encourage immune functioning, protects against the vision diseases that can come with age, and works against heart disease and some cancers.
If you're not sure about spinach, try fixing it in a way that's different from how you've eaten before. Try cooking it and serving it with pasta, or throw it raw into a salad. You can spice it almost any way you want to, so almost everyone can find a way to eat it that they can enjoy. (See also: 35 Ways to Use Frozen Spinach)
Sometimes, people avoid avocados because they're known to be high in fat. The fat in avocados is monounsaturated, though, which is considered a good fat. Your brain needs this kind of fat to function, as do several other major organs. In addition to being packed with good fat, avocados are high in vitamins and fiber, and they have been proven to lower cholesterol.
Avocados are great in guacamole, even for people who are turned off by their slippery texture. Some people eat them on salads and in tacos, too. And others eat them straight, or maybe with a tiny bit of added salt.
Eggs are another food that some people avoid, because they believe that eating them can raise blood cholesterol. However, studies show that a moderate consumption of eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods does not to correlate with a higher risk of heart disease. Eating an egg a day should be fine (unless you have other risk factors for heart disease. Then, consult your doctor). Egg yolks also have some nutrients that are harder to find, like choline, which can lower breast cancer risk.
Eggs are pretty easy to incorporate into the diet. Scramble a couple of eggs in the morning, add a fried one to your sandwich for lunch, or hard boil them for snacks. (See also: 10 Eggs-for-Dinner Recipes)
Blueberries have long been touted as a superfood, and it seems to be true. They seem to lower both bad cholesterol and blood pressure, which is great news for your heart. They're also full of polyphenols, which are great for your body. The fresher and bluer the berries, the better they are for you. (See also: The Best Way to Choose and Store Fruit)
In the summer, when blueberries are in season, eat them fresh or as part of a dessert parfait with yogurt. Later on, you can eat frozen or dried berries. Put them in smoothies (especially the frozen ones) for a taste of summer all year round.
Once again, the healthy fats in these nuts seem to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. While this is true of many nuts, walnuts often seem to get lost in the shuffle. (See also: The Best and Worst Nuts)
Eat more walnuts by adding them to salads, or by eating them plain as a snack. Combine them with dried fruit — raisins and figs work especially well — for an added dietary punch.
That breakfast mush you eat every once in a while? Add it to your daily diet, and you could see a reduction in your overall cholesterol, as well as a reduction in your bad cholesterol. Oats can also work to change the shape of the bad cholesterol molecules that remain, so that they are less harmful to your heart. It may also lower your risk for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Many athletes also swear that oatmeal improves their performance.
If you don't like oatmeal for breakfast, try using it to make granola bars or cookies. You can also use it to add texture to smoothies, or toast it with a light coating of honey for a crunchy snack. (See also: Ways to Eat Oats When You Hate Oatmeal)
Tomatoes are a major source of lycopene, which helps prevent some types of cancer and seems to prevent skin damage from UV rays. It also seems to be tied to the prevention of cardiovascular disease, by helping blood vessels regulate blood pressure and by helping your body handle cholesterol in healthier ways. Tomatoes are also a rich source of other vitamins, which work together with the lycopene to improve your body's functioning.
Raw tomatoes can be added to sandwiches and salads, or they can be eaten on their own. Cooked tomatoes are incredibly versatile, forming the base for pasta and pizza sauces. Stewed, they can be seasoned and eaten as a side dish.
12. Sweet Potatoes
Often overlooked, sweet potatoes contain carotenoids, as indicated by their orange color. They also have vitamin C and potassium, and are a decent source of fiber. While they are carbohydrates, they are healthier than white potatoes because of how they are absorbed in your body.
Try to avoid adding sugar to sweet potatoes, and instead let their natural sweetness shine. Make roasted sweet potato "fries" in your oven, or bake them and add butter just like you would with a white potato. You can even mash them, if that's a texture that works for you.
Do you plan to add these or any other foods to your diet in 2014? Tell us about it in the comments.
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