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Functional Foods
Make Every Calorie Count

by Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

Fitting in functional foods
Fitting functional foods into your eating plan (and your family’s) is easier than you think. If you’re not used to eating whole-grain bread or if the only fruit you eat is apples, for example, you might feel a little overwhelmed at first, but the key is to incorporate more healthful foods into your eating plan gradually. Be adventurous — experiment with one or two new foods every week. You may decide you don’t like whole wheat pasta, but perhaps brown rice will become a new staple for you. Below are some tips to get you started.

Make a list and check it twice. Take stock of your pantry and refrigerator. Are you already choosing whole-grain cereals and eating a lot of green vegetables? Great! Keep up the good work, but be willing to try some new foods.

Try planning out a week’s worth of menus at a time. It might seem time-consuming at first, but it will likely save time at mealtimes. Using your weekly menu, make out a shopping list to ensure that you’ll have everything you need on hand. Include at least some of the following functional foods on your list:

  • Green, red, yellow/orange, blue/purple, and white fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Dried or canned beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, or barley
  • Whole-grain bread, bagels, and English muffins
  • Whole-grain hot and cold cereals
  • Olive oil for cooking and for salad dressings
  • Tomato products, such as tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and tomato paste
  • Yogurt with live cultures
  • Fresh or frozen fish, such as salmon, and canned fish (in water), such as tuna and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds for snacks, to put on cereal, or to use in cooking
  • Low-fat, whole-grain crackers
  • Tofu, tempeh, or soy milk
  • Eggs fortified with omega-3 fatty acids
  • Margarine containing plant stanol or sterol esters (if you have high LDL cholesterol)
  • Green and black tea

Take it meal by meal. Get a head start on the day by eating a breakfast rich in functional foods. Oatmeal or whole-grain cereals with milk, low-fat bran muffins, whole-grain waffles or pancakes, yogurt, and fresh fruit are all excellent choices. Polish everything off with a cup of hot tea or sugar-free cocoa.

For lunch, consider bringing leftovers from last night’s supper. Or grab a sandwich on whole-grain bread, vegetable soup, or vegetarian chili. At the salad bar, go for the dark, leafy greens, and throw some chickpeas or kidney beans on your salad. Top it off with just a sprinkling of sunflower seeds or walnuts. Drizzle everything with an olive-oil–based vinaigrette dressing.

If you snack during the day, choose fresh fruit and a small handful of nuts or seeds, or try spreading a small amount of peanut butter on an apple or half a banana. Other snack ideas include nonfat or low-fat yogurt, whole-grain crackers, and light popcorn.

Be smart at supper by substituting brown rice, quinoa, or another whole grain for white rice or potatoes. Try whole-grain pasta with a low-fat marinara sauce, or whip up a stir-fry using tofu instead of meat or chicken. Aim to include two different-colored vegetables in your meal, such as broccoli and carrots or spinach and yellow summer squash.

Keep portions in check by picturing your plate: About half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, a quarter of your plate should be covered with some kind of carbohydrate food, such as a starch or a fruit, and the other quarter of your plate should covered with a lean protein food (fish, poultry, lean meat, or tofu).

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