Maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet can be difficult. To help us make more nutritious choices, we asked dietitians to share their top recommendations on what we should stock in our refrigerators.
“Milk is one of the best ways for our bodies to get calcium in a form that is easily absorbed to help build strong bones,” says Pamela Patty, a registered and licensed dietitian with a specialty in diabetes education at INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City. “Two-percent [milk] is a great choice because it represents a balance of the three main energy nutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates.”
“Yogurt is another great source of absorbable calcium as well as a way to get probiotics to the body – those ‘friendly’ bacteria that help the immune system to stay healthy and robust,” says Patty. “My favorite choice is the Greek yogurt style. It’s creamier and thicker as far as texture goes, and nutritionally it is higher in protein.”
Connie Davis Bendel, a registered and licensed dietitian with Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa, also recommends Greek yogurt and adds that it is enjoyed in many ways.
“From breakfast, a quick snack or fruit dip to even substituting it for creams or mayo in recipes,” says Bendel. “You will save on sugar by buying plain and adding your own sweetener, like stevia or cinnamon.”
Another source of calcium and protein is cheese, but Patty advises individuals to be particular in their selections.
“Real cheese, like string cheese, versus processed cheese, like Velveeta or products labeled ‘cheese food product,’ usually have elevated levels of sodium due to the processing,” says Patty. “Another caution is to be mindful of the amount of fat in your choice. Cheeses made with whole milk will be higher in fat content and ultimately have more calories per serving, but that doesn’t mean fat-free is the better choice. Take a look at the ingredient list to see what is added when the fat is taken out. Artificial ingredients, stabilizers and preservatives do not trump real nutrients. Two percent or reduced fat cheeses can certainly provide a good middle of the road choice.”
“Salmon is a great source of lean protein packed with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and, as a bonus, it’s easy to cook,” says Bendel. “Ground flaxseed is a great plant source for omega-3s and can be added to smoothies or sprinkled on cereal or yogurt.”
“Eggs are the gold standard when it comes to evaluating the quality of protein in a food source. And thankfully, research has recently rescinded its ban on eating the whole egg,” says Patty. “For years the cholesterol in the yolk has been associated with causing heart disease and clogging arteries. It’s been an unfounded claim that now has been laid to rest. Nutrients like choline and naturally occurring vitamin D are in the yolk and are not found in very many other food sources, so eating a whole egg every day can go a long way to helping your brain and your bones to be healthy.”
“Nut butters are great for a quick meal or snack and can be spread on whole-grain toast, bagels or crackers or smeared on fruits and veggies,” says Bendel. “Just remember that nuts are high in fat, although good fat, so keep portions in check.”
Patty explains that shelled nuts are an easy way to add fat to a food choice that may not include it naturally.
“That may sound counterintuitive, but nutritionally speaking, the goal for meals and snacks is to have a balance of the major energy nutrients along with a variety of micronutrients, like vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients,” she says. “Fat has gotten such a bad rap that most people avoid it at all costs in their food choices, and that is just not healthy for the body. There are fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K that need a fat substrate in order for the body to absorb them. Without fat, the hair and skin are lackluster and appetite never truly gets satisfied.”
Patty also notes that she keeps shelled nuts in the refrigerator to help keep the fat component.
“Apples are an important source of soluble fiber and help the body regulate cholesterol production,” says Patty, adding that they’re also affordable, available year-round, and they keep well in the refrigerator for three to four weeks. “Oranges or [similar citrus] are an important source of vitamin C, which helps in immune system function, wound healing, collagen production and is a powerful antioxidant and important for maintaining skin, blood vessels and bones.”
Bendel commends berries for containing high levels of phytochemicals, which help protect cells from damage.
“Plus, there are never-ending ways to incorporate berries into your diet, whether it’s in cereal, a smoothie or part of a healthy snack,” she adds.
“Carrots are one of the best veggies you can eat,” says Bendel. “They are high in fiber, vitamins A and C and are great for a quick side veggie or with a low-fat dip like hummus. Leafy greens like spinach and kale make a quick side salad, or you can put it in a smoothie or throw it on a sandwich for an extra boost of nutrition.”