Today it starts -- your resolution to eat healthier this year.
I get it; You couldn't possibly not munch on barbecue pork sliders and cheesy taco dip while watching the parade of bowl games. So today, and for the next 364 days of 2013, you pledge to eat better and work toward a healthier you.
If you're confused about where to start, don't fret. I called on Nutrition Housecall's David Grotto, a nationally recognized dietitian and author, to show us the way.
Research has shown that making wholesale dietary changes overnight (like banning chocolate from the house), tends to backfire in the long run. On the other hand, making smaller changes over time leads to lasting, positive results.
Grotto's new book, "The Best Things You Can Eat" (coming to bookstores Jan. 8 from Lifelong Books), is almost two years in the making. It shines the spotlight on dozens of nutrient-packed foods and details their health benefits.
"I was frustrated by information out there that was not useful," says Grotto, of Elmhurst. Sure tomato paste contains cancer-fighting lycopene, but who will actually eat a cup of it?
So he researched 33 nutrients (from vitamin A to zinc), and determined the top foods that contain those nutrients.
Then he compiled a bunch of helpful lists, like the top sources of biotin and soluble fiber, and the best foods to control blood pressure or stop bad breath.
I asked Grotto to distill his research down to an approachable shopping list of ingredients that will lead us down a path to better health. Here are his top five, the foods that he says appear most frequently in his books and those foods that, if he were stranded on an island, he would want on hand.
"They don't have a heck of a lot of calories and you're not adding any fat," Grotto says in praise of this edible fungus. Try any variety of mushrooms in pilafs and stir-fries, toss sliced mushrooms into pasta sauce or sprinkle them onto pizza. Incorporate chopped mushrooms into burger patties or meatloaf.
When you eat mushrooms, he says, you're adding the highest version of a plant food that contains vitamin D, a vitamin we especially need from food sources on overcast winter days. Vitamin D helps build strong bone health and teeth.
Other attributes: Beta glucan, a compound that helps in absorbing cholesterol; and biotin, a nutrient that maintains cell health and supports healthy skin and hair.
People have known for years that collectively dried beans are good for you, but Grotto found that white navy beans are especially high in magnesium, a mineral that helps relax muscles and contributes to a good night's sleep. Add a (drained) can of white beans to chili, soup or stew, or mash them in a veggie dip.
Other attributes: Potassium keeps blood pressure low and keeps muscles from cramping; insoluble fiber helps the digestive track, which in turn reduces hemorrhoids and diverticular disease; vitamin B1 fights stress.
Yes, technically a bean, but so much more.
"I'm a soy evangelist," says Grotto, praising the soy bean's high content of iron and vitamins B1 and B2.
"We're seeing more young women with iron deficiency," he says, and that condition can lead to impaired immunity and preterm birth.
Grotto encourages consumption of whole soy beans, such as edamame, as opposed to soy in texturized vegetable protein (TVP) form, for maximum benefit. Add rinsed, canned soy beans to a chopped salad or steam edamame for a side dish to enjoy with tonight's dinner.
Other attributes: Omega 3 fats slow the signs of aging; insoluble fiber in dry-roasted soy beans has been shown to regulate glucose levels in adult diabetics.
"Greek yogurt has all the benefits of regular yogurt, plus protein which builds lean muscle tissue in children and adults," Grotto says. It can also slow muscle degeneration.
"I'm on another crusade to get people to eat 15 to 30 grams of protein for breakfast," he says, explaining that protein fills you up so you won't feel hungry two hours later.
A breakfast parfait with Greek yogurt, nuts and fruit, or a smoothie, is a good way to start the day. Also substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream as a chili topping or for mixing into dips and sauces.
Other attributes: High calcium content helps keep blood pressure in check; good bacteria fights the bacteria that causes bad breath.
Athletes and arthritis sufferers pay close attention: The anthocyanins in cherries act as an anti-inflammatory and that means less achy joints. "Cherries are a great pre- and post-workout food," Grotto says, adding that the benefits come not just from the whole fruit but from cherry juice as well.
Layer cherries in that breakfast parfait or take an afternoon snack break with a smoothie mixed with cherry juice and frozen cherries.
Other attributes: The naturally occurring melatonin helps you get to sleep; also a good source of fiber and cancer-fighting amygdalin.