When you’re losing weight, it’s helpful to focus on the things you can add to your life instead of what you need to subtract. Rather than cutting out entire food groups (which can lead to cravings and yo-yo dieting), focus on enjoying more of the foods that make you feel great and deliver the nutrients your body needs to function at its best. Here, registered dietitians share what underrated or overlooked foods they’d like to see more of on people’s plates and how to make it happen.
When it comes to whole grains, “barley doesn’t get as much attention as oats, but it’s an affordable, filling and nutrient-dense grain choice,” says Desiree Nielsen, RD, author of “Eat More Plants.” Like oats, barley contains soluble beta-glucan fiber that is fantastic for regulating digestion and supporting a healthy gut microbiota. The potassium, sterols and beta-glucan also make barley a heart-healthy pick.
You probably know basil as a flavorful herb you can add to pizza, pasta or soup. But its relatively flavorless seeds “are the new super seeds,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO at New York Nutrition Group. “With twice as much digestion-regulating fiber as chia seeds, basil seeds are nutrient-packed. They offer bone-building calcium and magnesium, as well as iron and plenty of inflammation-fighting antioxidant properties.”
Like chia seeds, you can blend them in a smoothie, mix into baked goods or pancakes, and even soak them in water or milk for a smoother basil seed pudding, says Moskovitz. “Eating about 2 tablespoons of basil seeds per day will help you reach more than half your fiber quota for the day.”
“Black beans are a gut superfood because they are incredibly high in fiber (15 grams per cup),” says Nielsen. In particular, they contain fermentable resistant starch that helps foster a healthy gut microbiota, she notes. “The combination of fiber, protein and slow-digesting carbohydrates keeps blood sugar stable for longer-lasting energy. Black beans also contain a host of critical minerals such as zinc, iron and energizing copper.
“If you’re new to beans, start with a smaller serving, perhaps 1/4 cup, and slowly work up to a full serving to let your digestive system adjust,” recommends Nielsen. Start with these 5 creative ways to use beans (no recipes required) and work your way up to savory bean-packed chilis and even baked goods like brownies.
“Bone broth is great for gut health and high in protein,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD. “One cup contains 41 calories and 9 grams of protein, making it an easy snack.” It’s also rich in antioxidants and some research suggests it could help with inflammation related to respiratory tract symptoms — making it great for cold and flu season.
When purchasing bone broth at the store, pay attention to sodium levels. You can also make your own at home by simmering leftover chicken bones in water with aromatics like onion and celery. This bone broth egg drop soup serves one, but it can easily be doubled or tripled.
“Eggplant is an under-utilized veggie, and it’s rich in potassium, fiber and vitamins, A, C and K,” says Beth Warren, MS, RDN, author of “Secrets of a Kosher Girl.” Including it in sides and mains “helps keep you full and enhance flavor and texture.”
Get creative with eggplant, says Warren, who recommends making eggplant “boats” by scooping out the inside and refilling it with sautéed veggies and whole grains. You can also slice it thinly and top it with sauce and cheese for a pizza-like preparation. Or make this lighter, quicker eggplant Parmesan or this hearty stir-fry.
“Spaghetti squash is an easy-to-whip-up, plant-based, low-carb veggie option,” says Warren. “It’s high in vitamins B6 and C and keeps you full with its high-fiber content.” One cup (150g) of spaghetti squash contains just 42 calories and 10 grams of carbs compared to 220 calories and 43 grams of carbs in standard pasta.
“Cold-water, oily fish like salmon is one of the leading sources of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as bone-building calcium, vitamin D and potassium,” says Moskovitz. Eating just 8–9 ounces of wild salmon per week gives you all the anti-inflammatory omega-3’s you need for an entire week.
Wild-caught salmon has an advantage over farm-raised due to its higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, though it has a stronger taste and tends to be more expensive. As an alternative, farm-raised is still OK, says Moskovitz. In either version, you’re getting a great source of protein, which can help with weight loss.
Bake salmon with veggies for an easy sheet-pan meal, make salmon burgers by combining canned salmon with bread crumbs, eggs and seasoning, or top your avocado toast with a few slices of lox, or smoked salmon, recommends Moskovitz.
Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.