PSA: Even your healthiest meals may not be as healthy as they could be. Case in point: Topping your salads with eggs can boost carotenoid (a.k.a. disease-fighting antioxidants, like beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein) absorption, according to a recent study presented during the Experimental Biology 2015 meeting in March. In the study, people who ate scrambled whole eggs with their salads amped up carotenoid absorption three to nine times as much. With that (pretty major) benefit in mind, we tapped nutrition experts to share the foods that turbocharge each and every meal—plus a few smart swaps.
Make It Healthier: It may sound like a given, but be sure to load up on veggies for this morning meal, suggests Elizabeth Jarrard, RD, LDN, content specialist at Vega. The colorful additions are full of fiber, which will boost satiety and maintain a healthy weight, says Rachel Fine, MS, RD, CDN. And don’t just stick to egg whites. The sunshine-colored centers contain choline—a nutrient that helps fight fat and bolsters brain health—and good-for-you nutrients like iron, vitamin D and more. Your game plan: Mix one entire egg with half a cup of egg whites, and add the veggies of your choice, suggests Fine.
Make It Healthier: Hop on the chia seed train! With 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per ounce, they’re proof that the small can be mighty. Plus, these teeny seeds also pack plenty of cancer-fighting omega-3 fatty acids and bone-boosting minerals, like calcium and phosphorus (a nutrient that may also improve your aerobic capacity), says Fine. Just sprinkle some into your oatmeal to boost your energy levels and keep tummy rumbles and grumbles at bay.
Make It Healthier: Make sure the base ingredient (we’re looking at you, yogurt) is not only high in protein, but also of the Greek variety, suggests Jarrard. One of our favorites: Fage Total 2% Greek Yogurt. It’s brimming with protein—we’re talking 20 grams per 7-ounce container–and its fat content will help the body absorb the naturally-occurring, fat-soluble vitamins.
Make It Healthier: Use less fruit and add nuts, seeds, and coconut or nut butter (or even avocado) to make your morning sips higher in protein and lower in carbs, suggests Jarrard. While these additions may bump up the calorie count, your smoothie will be more nutrient-dense and will keep you fuller longer, she says.
Make It Healthier: First and foremost, don’t necessarily consider bread Public Enemy No. 1. Eat bread that tastes good and that won’t leave you starving in 20 minutes, suggests Jarrard. Your best bet? Whole-wheat bread—Fine suggests Ezekiel bread in particular. “You want to have visible nuts and seeds, and it shouldn’t just be oats sprinkled on top of the loaf,” she says. Containing six grains (and all nine essential amino acids), Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread totally fits the bill.
Another trick of the trade: Ditch the mayo and spread hummus or slices of avocado on your sammies, suggests Jarrard. And if you’re dead-set on using the creamy white stuff, Fine recommends swapping it out for good ol’ 2% Greek yogurt—doing so will add protein and healthy fat to your meal and boost its overall nutritional profile. If this is something you’re nervous about, try going halfsies: dial back your dollop of mayo by half and mix that together with Greek yogurt to whip up your tuna or chicken salads. You’ll get that same creamy taste, but with more nutritional benefits.
Make It Healthier: Apart from topping them with eggs, there are a few other ways you can turn your greens into an even healthier habit. First of all, you might want to ditch the fat-free dressings. Much like eating eggs, dressings rich in monounsaturated fat (think olive or canola oil) amp up carotenoid absorption when you’re filling up on salads, according to a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. To go the extra mile, Fine suggests adding a scoop of quinoa to your salad for an extra dose of protein, fiber and essential amino acids. Top it off with slices of avocado for some healthy, inflammation-fighting fats.
Make It Healthier: If you’re whipping up a pasta sauce, try throwing some flax seeds in the mix, suggests Fine. “They’re a great source of healthy unsaturated fats, which are powerhouses for the body’s immune system,” she says. See, because our bodies are exposed to pollutants in the environment, they’re in a constant state of low-severity inflammation. Thanks to their unsaturated fat content, flax seeds help the body battle that inflammation, according to Fine.
Protein and Steamed Veggies
Make It Healthier: How can the leanest meal on a menu get even healthier, you ask? Simple: with some added fat. While you definitely get kudos for shying away from cheesy and saucy eats, steamed veggies just won’t give you the most nutrients, says Jarrard. To increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients (like lycopene!), she suggests drizzling a little olive oil on top.