8 Ingredients to Give Any Meal a Healthy Boost
Want to improve the nutritional quality of your meals without having to change your diet?
Well, you’re in luck.
You can make healthier versions of your favorite foods—pasta, fried rice, smoothies, oatmeal, sandwiches, stir-fries—simply by incorporating nutrient-dense ingredients like seeds, spices, nut butters, and plant-based proteins into meals. These foods provide a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats to help ensure that the body is getting all it needs to function properly and efficiently.
Research shows that a balanced diet that includes a range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein can help you manage weight, increase energy levels, slow the effects of aging, and support a strong immune system, and is one of the best defenses against chronic illness and disease.
But what are these ingredients and how can you include them into your weekly eating regimen? We’ve got you covered. Check out the list below for a roundup of nutrient-dense superfoods to add to your Meatless Monday recipes.
You can bolster the dietary fiber and protein content of any meal with a cup of canned beans or chickpeas. They’re ready to eat right out of the can, and their mild flavor is well-suited for dishes like cauliflower chickpea curry, chickpea tabbouleh, Marsala pasta, or even chocolate chip cookies! stews, dips, and salads. You can also experiment with dry chickpea pasta, which is more nutritious than traditional wheat-based pastas.
This is a broad category and includes foods like sour dough bread, yogurt, and kombucha, but when it comes to adding fermented foods to your meals, try starting with more recognizable products like sauerkraut, kimchi, and slaws. Besides contributing a tangy crunch to salads, sandwiches, and grain bowls, these foods contain natural probiotics for better gut health and digestion.
You should always have a bag of pre-washed or frozen spinach, kale, or arugula in your refrigerator. Leafy greens are incredibly versatile, appropriate in everything from salads and smoothies to dips, soups, and pastas. Dropping a handful into the blender or sauté pan is an easy way to add more vitamins (C, A, and E) and minerals (folic acid, iron, and calcium) into your diet, or try them in these smoky grits and greens or loaded kale pesto.
A spoonful of peanut, cashew, sunflower, or almond butter can make a smoothie taste like a nutty, toasty dessert like chocolate mousse. But a couple tablespoons of nut butter can also fortify your drink with protein, antioxidants, healthy fats, and essential minerals like magnesium and selenium. Nut butters are energy dense, making them a good breakfast option. Try adding some to a breakfast sweet potato or chocolate peanut butter protein snack.
It’s called nutritional yeast for a reason. This inactivated type of yeast (the yeast cells are killed during manufacturing) is cultivated specifically for food consumption and gives foods a savory flavor. It’s low in calories, relatively high in protein, and a good source of vitamin B12 and trace minerals. It also adds umami, which gives a delicious ‘cheesy’ flavor to dishes. You can use nutritional yeast as you would Parmesan cheese, sprinkling it on top of popcorn, pasta, or any other dairy-free cheese sauces.
Also known as pumpkin seeds, pepitas are typically sold without the hard white shell that you’d find on the seeds from a carving pumpkin. Instead, pepitas are green and oval, with a nice toasty flavor and pleasant crunch. Nutritionally, pepitas are a good source of plant-based protein and trace minerals like phosphorus, manganese, iron, and zinc. You can add pepitas to any dish that needs some texture, like butternut squash soup, a kale and grain salad, or a sweet potato chili.
Seeds such as hemp, chia, and flax are nutritionally dense and can be effortlessly added into chia pudding, oatmeal, overnight oats, or baked goods to provide extra fiber, healthy fats, and protein. Three tablespoons of hemp seed contain nearly 10 grams of protein, while chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
You’ll have no problem adding this inexpensive plant-based protein to everything from breakfast scrambles to smoothies to shawarma to curries. Tofu comes in a range of textures and varieties: soft and silken, which are better for blending into smoothies and stews, and firmer types that should be pressed before baking and frying. Add these to jerk tofu wraps, blend into an Alfredo sauce, or bake into crispy nuggets for salads.
Looking for more ways to eat more plant-based foods? Check out our list of 20 essential Meatless Monday ingredients you should have in your pantry. If you decide to make one of these delicious recipes, let us know by tagging @MeatlessMonday and #MeatlessMonday on your social media posts for a chance to be featured on our channels.