March 26, 2014
Light, fresh flavors are the order of the day. So whether your goals include dropping a few pounds before summer or simply eat healthier, you’ll want to clear out those old cans of gravy, boxed mac and cheese, and leftover holiday candy to make room for foods with the fresh light flavors of spring.
Where Do I Begin?
With all the fresh, brightly colored produce from local farmers, your neighborhood farmer’s market can offer just the right amount of inspiration for spring-cleaning your pantry. By purchasing items that look appealing, you’ll be more likely to eat healthfully, as opposed to simply buying something because you heard it was good for you.
Even if you can’t hit a farmer’s market, you can take advantage of the field-to-table selections at the grocery store. Larger supermarkets also have in-store recipe cards to offer ways to utilize specific items. Additionally, you’ll find a number of great recipes in the Healthy Living section of the ACE website for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Variety is Key
Choosing a wide variety of foods to enjoy helps ensure you’ll meet all the nutritional requirements for good health. The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate website is a useful resource for focusing on the five key areas to a balanced meal: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. Filling your home pantry with these good-for-you items shouldn’t be a chore, but rather an exercise in relearning how you like to eat and what foods stimulate your taste buds.
Fruits and Vegetables
Produce provides a majority of your body’s nutrients including fiber, antioxidants and minerals. By choosing brightly colored vegetables and fruits in whole form, you’ll ensure that your meal is not only loaded with these vital nutrients, but also appealing to the eye.
Grains are also a great source of fiber, which contributes to overall digestive health. But fiber can also play a key role in managing cholesterol, blood sugar regulation and helping us feel full when we are watching our weight. Grains also contain a number of B-vitamins that are key to metabolism. Whole-grain foods such as whole-wheat breads and pastas are great additions to your spring pantry. By simply exchanging white rice for brown, white pasta for whole wheat, and so forth, you can dramatically increase your grain intake while staying full on smaller amounts of food. Try experimenting with a few of the so-called ancient grains such as quinoa, which, like beans, legumes and soy, offers a great source of plant-based protein to help you stay full and satisfied throughout your busy spring day.
Protein is a vital macronutrient used by the body for the formation of tissues and blood. When consuming animal-based protein, choose lean cuts of meat with all visible fat trimmed, skinless poultry or fish to help minimize saturated fat intake, which can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Plant-based foods such as soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh, soynuts, soymilk, etc.) along with seitan, made from wheat protein (gluten), offer a low-fat protein alternative to lighten up any springtime meal.
Much like protein, you’ll want to select low-fat or fat-free dairy options to help decrease your intake of saturated fat and overall calories. Cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and, of course, milk all represent excellent dairy options. In addition to protein, dairy foods provide calcium and vitamin D to help ensure optimal bone health. Recent studies also indicate that low-fat/non-fat dairy foods may help reduce your risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases (Alonso, 2005). Another study found that regular consumption of low-fat dairy foods is associated with lower incidences of type 2 diabetes (Liu, 2006).
One of the easiest ways to lighten a dish for spring is by using herbs and spices. In addition to providing new and exciting flavors to our meals, herbs and spices offer antioxidant health benefits and eliminate the need to season with added fats. For example, try this easy 30-minute recipe, Chicken with Sugar Snap Peas & Spring Herbs, from the ACE website.
Spring-cleaning doesn’t always have to be a chore, especially as we make room in our pantry for all the delicious flavors the season has to offer. By simply starting with the foods you enjoy, you can build a healthy repertoire of meals that work into even the busiest schedule.
Alonso, A. and Beunza, J. (2005). Low-fat dairy consumption and reduced risk of hypertension, the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) cohort. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82, 5, 972-979.
Liu, S. and Choi, H. (2006). A prospective study of dairy intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care, 29, 7, 1579-1584.
Gina Crome Contributor
Gina Crome is a registered dietitian and ACE Certified Professional. Her career promoting healthy lifestyles developed after losing 172 pounds on her own. For 20 years, Gina's mission has focused on guiding individuals toward a better quality of life. She holds a master's degree in clinical psychology as well as a master's of public health in nutrition from Loma Linda University. More Blogs by Gina Crome