Standout Foods Take Center Stage

Meet with a dietitian and one of the first questions you might ask him is, “What should I eat?” The answer, in part, lies in the reason for seeing him in the first place. Most dietitians will tell you to eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups, but there are also some particular standouts that you might want to make an extra effort to add to your repertoire. These are foods that may wait quietly on the sidelines while the superfoods take center stage. Think about adding some of the following tasty treats to your menus.

Barley. Barley admittedly can sometimes taste bland. I’ve made soup with barley and it definitely needs a lot of seasoning. But flavor issues aside, barley is a great source of soluble fiber, the kind of fiber that takes up fluid in the digestive tract and can help lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Barley also has a low glycemic index[1], which means it doesn’t cause quick spikes in blood glucose after you eat it.


Some other benefits of barley are that this grain contains B vitamins, vitamin E, and types of antioxidants called lignans. A half-cup of cooked barley has about 100 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrate. Ideally, try to choose hulled barley, which is the whole-grain form of barley. It takes longer to cook than the more common type of barley, called pearl barley, but it has more nutrients.

Suggestions for eating barley: Cook it up and eat it like oatmeal. Throw in some cinnamon for an extra blood glucose-lowering boost. Or make a barley pilaf and serve it in place of your usual rice or potato.

Pistachios. Almonds have been the “health hero” of the nut world, but pistachios are starting to come into their own. Pistachios contain about 14 grams of fat per one-ounce serving, but about 90% of that fat is the heart-healthy kind (mono- and polyunsaturated). In one study, participants’ LDL (“bad”) cholesterol dropped by 14% after including pistachios in their diet for just three weeks. Also, compared to other snack nuts, pistachios have the highest antioxidant content, another factor important for heart health. Avoid the red-dyed pistachios and choose these nuts in their natural state.

Suggestions for eating pistachios: Steam or roast Brussels sprouts until almost tender. Add to a pan and sauté in a little olive oil. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and pistachios (whole or chopped). Sauté a few more minutes until the Brussels sprouts are glazed. Serve up and enjoy!

Turmeric. Turmeric is a spice best known for giving curry its vibrant color; it also makes yellow mustard, well, yellow. This spice has long been used in Asian medicine to treat a number of conditions, such as bleeding, bruising, flatulence, toothaches, and chest pain, to name a few. Turmeric gets it vibrant yellowy-orange color from a pigment called curcumin, which has been found to be a very potent anti-inflammatory agent. Studies have shown numerous benefits of curcumin; for example, people with rheumatoid arthritis found less swelling and stiffness after using turmeric. And it may be partially responsible for the low rate of Alzheimer disease in India. Experiments in the lab have found that turmeric inhibits the growth of cancer cells and can prevent the spread of cancer in mice.

Suggestions for using turmeric: Mix some turmeric into your egg salad for a sunny, vibrant color. Or whip up a vinaigrette salad dressing and add turmeric for a health boost. Be careful, as turmeric can stain. It’s not a bad idea to wear gloves when handling this spice.

Avocado. Sometimes called an “alligator pear,” the avocado, which is actually a fruit, is brimming with nutrition. Yes, it’s high in fat: One whole avocado has at least 300 calories and 30 grams of fat. But it contains unsaturated fat, including omega-3 fat, which helps to promote heart health. It also has fiber, potassium, and vitamins C, K, B6, and folate. An avocado is a perfect fit for those following a lower-carb eating plan, as well. Because avocados also contain carotenoids, the California Avocado Commission recommends peeling an avocado like you would a banana; doing so helps preserve the carotenoid content (the greatest concentration of carotenoids is closest to the peel).

Suggestions for using avocados: Avocados are great in dishes, salads, and on their own. Try spreading on whole-grain bread in place of mayonnaise. Use it as a garnish for black bean soup. The possibilities are endless!

More next week!

  1. glycemic index:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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