3 Foods You Should Be Eating (But Probably Haven't Thought Of)
With books and conference sessions on topics such as the brain-gut connection, food quality, and the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, Desiree Nielsen, R.D., is a key figure when it comes to functional approaches to nutrition. While she treats people with chronic digestive and inflammatory diseases, Nielsen makes sure to include a practical, lighthearted approach with her clients. She recognizes that although functional nutrition is crucial for health, it doesn't have to be a chore.
"I want people to have fun," she says on this week's episode of the mindbodygreen podcast—a unique (and very much appreciated) statement for such a renowned dietitian.
On this week's episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, I sat down with Nielsen to discuss everything from inflammation and gut health, to how to make the most of a plant-based diet, to how our anxiety levels can shed light on digestive issues.
When Nielsen explained her personal food philosophy, there were some pretty unconventional ingredients she tends to include in her grocery lists. Check out the three foods she recommends we should have on our plates for optimal nutrients. You might be surprised by her favorite picks!
In terms of deep green vegetables, Nielsen doesn't play it safe with your typical kale, spinach, broccoli trifecta. Although those greens are incredibly nutrient-dense as well, sometimes we just need a little variety on our plates. For a more unique, flavorful bitter leaf, Nielsen suggests you add some radicchio to your diet.
"It's a taste that's missing in our diet in favor of hyper-salty, hyper-sweet foods, and it's really balancing for the digestion," she says.
Nielson is all for switching up your veggies from day to- (no one wants a boring plate!), and radicchio is the perfect ingredient to mix up the flavors without sacrificing any essential nutrients.
"I want people to have fun and not think about therapeutic nutrition or anti-inflammatory nutrition as being only functional," she adds. "You should explore this kind of nutrition with the same sense of play you would any other culinary pursuit. So try those vegetables you've never tried before!"
"One of the foods that I eat probably every day without fail is hemp hearts," Nielsen states. The reason she feels so strongly about these seeds? They're an amazing source of plant protein.
"Three tablespoons of hemp hearts will give you 10 grams of plant-based protein, which is remarkable in such a small amount," she notes.
Hemp hearts are also high in minerals—especially magnesium—that many people lack in their immune systems. Basically, hemp hearts could very well be the Superman of superfoods.
Nielsen agrees: "Hemp hearts are just a really nutrient-dense food that are super simple to get into our everyday diet."
Like Nielsen, you can sprinkle hemp hearts in your smoothies, on top of your salads, or in a yogurt for that extra boost of protein and omega-3s.
While Nielsen is plant-based herself, she understands that some people's bodies thrive on animal protein, so she doesn't want to offer any hard guidelines. "It's about how much of those foods are you eating versus the plants," she says. "So if 80% of your food is plants, what that other 20% is is your own business."
Case in point: cold-water fish. These fish (such as sardines, wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and herring) are packed with protein and omega-3s, and they've even been shown to have positive effects on cardiovascular health and cholesterol.
"If we were looking at nutrient density and environmental impact, I think cold-water omega-3-rich seafood is really a great place to start," Nielsen says.
According to Nielsen, it might be best to include some cold-water fish in your 20% miscellaneous category. While you might be partial to the sweeter, buttery taste of lobster or sea scallops, opting for sardines or anchovies instead has the potential to better your health. Not all seafood is created equal!
With Nielsen's tips, your next dinner plate will be sure to have substantial levels of vitamin A, magnesium, protein, and omega-3s. Plus, if you've truly taken her advice to heart, you'll have fun creating new dishes with foods you might've previously overlooked at the grocery store. How's that for functional food?
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.