When was the last time you walked into the supermarket and made a beeline for the bulgur or cabbage?
These underrated stars aren’t just delicious and healthy. They’re also relatively unprocessed, inexpensive, and versatile.
Cheap. Quick. Nutritious. How could we resist lentils?
A half cup of cooked lentils has 9 grams of protein and a hefty 8 grams of fiber, plus a good dose of magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and folate and other B vitamins. For just 120 calories, that’s a deal.
Like all dried beans and peas, lentils help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. And, like other plant proteins, they carry a smaller environmental footprint than meat. But unlike most other dried beans, you don’t need to soak ‘em before cooking. Yes!!!
Toss black or French lentils—they hold their shape when cooked—into a salad, or use them to replace that starchy side on your plate.
Save (less-firm) brown lentils for soup or stew. And red lentils (the softest) have their skins removed, so they cook in just 10 to 15 minutes. Use them in a thick soup or curry. Or add them to packaged or takeout Indian lentil dishes to cut the salt.
A head of green cabbage can stay fresh in the fridge for weeks and gives you plenty of bang for your buck. Feeding a small army of friends? Cabbage goes far.
Plus, you’ve got options. There’s also the vibrant purple-red cabbage or the more delicate Napa or savoy.
A cup of shredded raw cabbage is packed with vitamins C and K, and also delivers a decent dose of folate and fiber. For around 20 calories…and a whole lot of crunch…that’s hard to beat.
Slice some into thin ribbons—or grab a pre-shredded bag—and start bulking up your meal. Use it raw for a salad or slaw that won’t wilt. Prefer cooked? Add it to stir-fries, soups, or fried rice. Mmm…
Pineapple is no slouch in the nutrient department. One cup has roughly 90 percent of a day’s vitamin C, 2 grams of fiber, and a smattering of potassium, magnesium, folate, and other B vitamins—all for only 80 calories.
But it’s not just about the numbers. Have you ever gotten a bad pineapple? You can count on irresistible, juicy fruit hiding underneath the prickly skin because pineapples are typically picked ripe. Just look for one with fresh-looking dark green leaves and a sweet smell.
Google “how to cut a pineapple” before you dig in. (Blending in a smoothie? Just use frozen.) Then get chopping…and snacking. Or mix diced pineapple with tomato, white onion, jalapeño, and wine vinegar for a tropical salsa to top chicken, fish, or tofu.
4. Salmon pouches
Fillets get all the attention, but salmon pouches are also superstars.
First, inside is almost always wild salmon—pink or sockeye—that has often been sustainably caught (see seafoodwatch.org).
Second, fatty fish like salmon can help protect your heart. They’re rich in the omega-3 fats that may matter. You get 300 to 600 milligrams of EPA + DHA omega-3 fats in a 2½ oz. pouch. Bonus: you also get around 15 grams of protein and 50 to 75 percent of a day’s vitamin D, which is rare to find in foods.
Third, pouches are easy (no draining!). Simply mix with vegetables (celery, scallions, cherry tomatoes), fresh herbs (parsley or dill), and a light dressing (olive oil and fresh lemon juice). Serve on a salad or with whole-wheat toast or crackers.
Short on time? You can’t beat bulgur. Simply add boiling water, cover for 10 to 15 minutes, and drain. Ta-dah! (Coarser bulgur needs a longer soak, or a 10-minute simmer on the stovetop.)
Bulgur—dried wheat that’s steamed and cracked—isn’t just for tabbouleh. Sub it for the side of brown rice on your dinner plate, and you’ve doubled the fiber. Or cook it with raisins or other dried fruit and top with nuts for a new spin on hot cereal.
The whole-grain goods: a ¾-cup (cooked) serving has 6 grams of fiber, 10 percent of a day’s magnesium, and a decent dose of iron, zinc, and many B vitamins.
What’s more, stores like Whole Foods sell bulgur in bulk. Whether you’re trying to sidestep excess packaging waste or want to buy only what you need, it’s a find.
Photos (top to bottom): Gresei/stock.adobe.com, monticellllo/stock.adobe.com, NjoyHarmony/pixabay.com, Chicken of the Sea, Gresei/stock.adobe.com.
The information in this post first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.
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