It’s one thing to know you should eat to protect your health. It’s another thing to choose, buy, and cook the good stuff. That’s where the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus comes in: The interdisciplinary center offers all kinds of programs (fitness, weight loss, mind-body therapy, and even a series of dietician-led virtual cooking classes for $6 per lesson) for patients, people in the community, and medical professionals at Anschutz. But it’s up to registered dietician and manager of campus and community initiatives Lisa Wingrove to use the latest research about nutrition to inform easy-to-execute meals and recipes. “We can’t assume that people just know how to prepare food that’s good for them and appealing to them,” she says. “We have to create a bridge from the science to the table.” Start with these five simple switches Wingrove recommends to get more nutritious bang for your grocery buck.
Doctor Says: Boost your brain health.
The Science: “When we look at research about Alzheimer’s risk and about [ways to support] mental acuity, we see that omega-3 fatty acids are very important. They reduce inflammation in the brain,” Wingrove says. “And the good news is, it’s just as easy to grill salmon as it is to cook steak.”
Also Try: Walnuts, quinoa, or flaxseed
Doctor Says: Eat your veggies.
Skip: Your daily banana
Serve: Roasted vegetables, such as asparagus and cherry tomatoes
The Science: It’s not that fruit is bad, of course; it’s just that Americans tend to grab the proverbial apple (or banana) a day because we think vegetables take too much time and effort to prepare. Not so, Wingrove says. Toss just about any mix of veggies in a bowl with olive oil, herbs, and spices (a tiny pinch of salt is OK, too) and cook at a high temperature (420 degrees or so) for seven to 10 minutes. “Antioxidants and phytonutrients in vegetables work at a cellular level to repair damage that happens as a natural result of metabolism,” Wingrove says, adding that this damage might also be tied to certain types of cancer and other illnesses.
Also Try: Sweet potato with cinnamon, carrots with a drizzle of honey, or cauliflower with fresh chopped garlic
Doctor Says: Your immune system seems weak.
Skip: The same ol’ flavorless dishes
Serve: Alliums, such as onions, garlic, and leeks
The Science: “There’s tons of research that strong immune function is tied to a widely varied microbiome”—that is, the microbes that live on and inside the human body, many of them in the gut, Wingrove says. “If our diet is bland and unvarying, our bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract are bland and unvarying. For the most benefit, you want diversity of flora, and alliums help keep that flora varied.”
Also Try: Scallions, shallots, or chives
Doctor Says: Have you thought about plant-based proteins?
Serve: Soy, such as tofu or edamame
The Science: “Red meat is a cause of inflammation in the body, which is a leading cause of colon cancer. Plus, the fat in red meat is bad for cardiac health,” Wingrove says. The Food and Drug Administration recommends 25 grams of soy protein per day to reduce blood cholesterol levels by about 12 percent, but Wingrove says that even if you only sub in one plant-based protein each week, “it replaces those bad fats with health-promoting fats.” The trick to prepping tofu is getting as much moisture as possible out by pressing it between a baking sheet and something heavy (like cans of tomatoes) for an hour or more before marinating and cooking.
Also Try: Lentils or chickpeas
Doctor Says: Reduce your sodium intake.
Skip: The saltshaker and processed foods—even healthy-sounding soups and broths—which tend to have high sodium contents
Serve: Herbs and spices
The Science: Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is that there are plenty of other ways to flavor food. “I love Chinese five-spice powder on kale baked in the oven to make chips,” Wingrove says. “Be a little adventurous; you’ll be surprised by how many more flavors exist beyond saltiness.”
Also Try: Lemon and lime zest on fish or whole-grain mustard and Dijon as a marinade for chicken breasts