What Nutritionists Wish You'd Eat
Call them the Magnificent Seven: Foods fit bodies (still) need.
Dietitians are usually greeted by a common question: What should I eat? The fit ask, too. “With so much conflicting nutritional information out there, even the most well-intentioned athletes get confused,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It’s a worthy question. The right foods helps you perform (and feel) your best; the wrong ones can sideline progress. But even if we eat right, we’re human. We get stuck in ruts. We fill up on the same old snacks. We fall back on the same old habits.
To fill a fitter plate, start with these seven foods that, according to top R.D.s, a high-performance diet could use more of.
By now, you know yogurt is a must-eat for its gut-friendly bacteria, but its cousin kefir is frequently ignored, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It. The fermented milk drink is slightly fizzy and, like yogurt, packs a good hit of calcium. What sets it apart: It’s lower in lactose, milk’s sugar that some people find hard to digest. Some brands are 99 percent lactose-free, meaning you can bone up on probiotics sans bloat. Even more: Research finds drinking kefir can help improve your body’s ability to digest lactose in the first place, making this drink even easier on the stomach.
“Most people are afraid to try sardines,” says Amari Thomsen, R.D., founder of Eat Chic Chicago. “But these little fish pack a big, nutritious punch.” One can (about 4 ounces) offers a whopping 26 grams of protein—30 percent of your daily calcium needs. Sardines are also a good source of energy-revving iron and vitamin D. Don’t worry about taste, either: You can find canned flavors like cayenne pepper, lemon olive oil, and tomato sauce.
Anyone who’s sugar-conscious has likely cut chocolate from their menu. But Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies recommends the sweet stuff to clients. “It’s packed full of plant compounds called flavonoids, which can help improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and even boost your mood,” she says. Reap the benefits with an ounce of chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa. Know: The higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar content.
This vegetable has far more pros than cons. “It’s very low in calories and its natural sugar is released slowly into your system. That gives you a lot of energy,” says Keren Gilbert, R.D., author of The HD Diet. Plus, beets contain antioxidants known as betalain pigments. On of them, called betaine, can help boost metabolism and increase levels of feel-good hormones like serotonin in your brain, she says.
Spiralizers have made zucchini a star substitute for pasta, but the athlete needs to get back to real thing, says Samantha Heller, R.D., author of The Only Cleanse. “With the 200 calories per cup and 7 grams of protein, a bowl of pasta will help fuel your workouts,” she says. Top with a homemade tomato sauce, vegetables, and edamame for a high-fiber, energy-sustaining, plant-based meal, she says.
This plant-based protein can easily be added into staple dishes (a stir-fry, curry, or marinara pasta) as a meat substitution. A three-ounce serving packs just 80 calories (and 9 grams of protein), plus calcium and iron, too. There’s a myth that soy causes breast cancer, but when eaten in moderation, it does not, says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., author of Plant-Powered for Life. In fact, it may even lower your risk, points out the American Institute for Cancer Research. “In many parts of Asia, people have a lower risk of chronic diseases, and they eat tofu daily,” adds Palmer.
What they are: Peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans like kidney or navy beans. Full of plant protein, fiber, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, they’ve been linked to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and a decreased risk for heart disease, says Rumsey. Ample protein and fiber content also slow digestion, helping keep you fuller for longer. Toss them onto a salad, into a soup, or eat them as part of a rice bowl.