Nutrition

5 Nutritious Foods You’ve Probably Never Tried (But Should!)

If your diet has become as predictable as your running route, it might be time to think beyond oatmeal and chicken and shake up your shopping cart with these nutritious foods.

Mixing up your diet will relieve bored taste buds and help you load up on a greater diversity of nutrients to support your training efforts. And there are some other perks worth noting that comes with broadening your culinary horizons. An investigation in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who presented tendencies for food neophobia—a reluctance to try unfamiliar foods—had overall lower-quality diets and were at a greater risk for certain health conditions like diabetes. And research in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that people who include a greater variety of healthy foods (read: not pumpkin spice ice cream) in their daily menu had an easier time maintaining healthy body weight. So it’s time to take your menu off repeat. These just might be the best nutritious foods you aren’t eating.

1. Freekeh

Nutritious Foods

Middle Eastern cuisine is trending which means this traditional staple grain of countries like Syria and Lebanon is easier to find. Freekeh (pronounced FREAK-eh) is a version of wheat that is harvested while still immature (“green”), then sun-dried and finally roasted which impregnates the kernels with a smoky flavor and chewy bite. So you could think of it as the bacon of the whole grain world. Nutritionally, freekeh is a whole grain on steroids. For instance, it has more protein and twice as much fiber (8 grams in 1/4 cup dry serving) as vaunted quinoa. That makes the grain useful in not only helping repair and build lean body mass but also for promoting longevity as research shows that higher intakes of fiber are associated with a lower risk for many of today’s biggest killers including diabetes and heart disease. As a bonus, freekeh delivers the same vision-protecting antioxidant duo lutein and zeaxanthin found in leafy greens. You can find freekeh in most Middle Eastern grocers or at bobsredmill.com.

Eat more of this nutritious food:

Cook freekeh like you would other grains (about 2 1/2 cups water for each cup grain) and then use it in soups, stir-fries, pilafs, tabouleh, green salads, and even veggie burgers.

2. Kefir

Nutritious Foods

Long popular in Eastern Europe, kefir is now gaining a foothold in more American dairy aisles—and you should take notice. This tangy dairy product is made when milk is fermented by lactic acid bacteria and yeasts encased in what is known as “kefir grains.” The end result is a great white with some mighty nutritional teeth. For starters, kefir contains a greater overall population of the beneficial microorganisms, otherwise known as probiotics, than what you’d typically get in yogurt. So by consuming kefir you are essentially fertilizing your digestive tract with a bounty of good-for-you critters that can support digestive and immune health. Since these bugs feast on and reduce levels of lactose—a naturally occurring sugar in dairy that can cause digestive woes in some people—kefir is often better tolerated in those with dairy sensitivities. As with milk, kefir contains a trifecta of items that can help you fortify your skeleton. That would be protein (10 to 15 grams in a cup), calcium, and vitamin D. Plus, it delivers potassium which athletes need for proper muscle contraction and fluid balance. Flavored versions typically have a fair amount of added sugary calories that can negate some of the health benefits, so it is optimal to select plain.

Eat more of this nutritious food:

Kefir is most often sold as a thick drink with a similar consistency to buttermilk. You can pour it into a glass and drink straight up, pour it over a bowl of granola (a near perfect recovery snack) or use it as a base in your post-workout smoothies. It’s also a great replacement for buttermilk in recipes like pancakes and waffles. Or use it to create a creamy salad dressing with some sour power.

3. Tempeh

Nutritious Foods

Keeping with the fermented food theme and to help you embrace the plant-based eating trend, let us introduce you to the culinary and nutrition virtues of tempeh. Made from nutrient-dense whole soybeans that are soaked, cooked, slightly fermented and then formed into a firm meaty patty, tempeh doubles up on the protein compared to humbled tofu–about 30 grams in a cup serving. A recent review of 41 studies in the Journal of Hypertension that included seven plant-based diets found a greater consumption of plant-based proteins like tempeh, even along with some animal products, could lead to reductions in blood pressure that may lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and overall mortality. The nutritional goldmine of tempeh also includes a big range of essential vitamins and minerals including iron, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, and immune-boosting zinc. And don’t overlook that it’s also a source of gut-friendly probiotics like cultured dairy foods. Data hailing from the American Gut Project discovered that people who consumed at least 30 different types of plant foods each week had more diverse microbiomes than those who consumed only 10 or fewer types of plants weekly. So working tempeh into your weekly menu can help drive you towards this gut-benefiting plant-based food diversity. Look for tempeh in the refrigerated section of supermarkets and health food stores, near where tofu and other meat alternatives are found.

Eat more of this nutritious food:

Try this umami bomb grilled like steak, cubed, and added to stir-fry or crumble tempeh up and use it like you would ground beef in chili recipes or pasta tomato sauces.

4. Sunflower Butter

Yes, peanut butter and almond butter will always be awesome, but perhaps it’s time to spread the love even if you’re not a school kid with a peanut allergy. Made by grinding up the seeds of the sun-worshiping plant into a creamy paste, sunflower butter has an earthy-nutty flavor and a few nutritional highlights worth noting. Namely, it delivers 7 grams of protein in a 2 tablespoon serving, which is on par with peanut butter, and is a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E as well as magnesium–an often under-consumed mineral linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Oh, and it also tends to be a more budget-friendly choice than a few other spreads like cashew or almond butter.

Eat more of this nutritious food:

It goes without saying that you can slather sunflower butter on your morning toast, but also try it blended into smoothies, savory sauces, and homemade energy grub like bars and power balls.

5. Celery Root

It’s time to think beyond the carrots and spinach for your veggie fix. Also called celeriac, frumpy celery root is exactly what its moniker claims it to be: the bulbous root of a type of celery plant. What this ugly duckling of the vegetable world lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for with a creamy white flesh that tastes like a love child of parsley and celery. Beyond being low in calories, celery root is especially rich in vitamin K, a nutrient tied to greater longevity when levels are higher in the body. Choose small-to-medium roots that are firm, heavy for their size, and free of soft spots, especially on the bottom.

Eat more of this nutritious food:

Celery root must be peeled generously with a sharp knife before eating. Grated or thinly sliced it can be added raw to salads, sandwiches, or slaws. It’s also commonly used in pureed soups, as part of a roasted vegetable medley, or as a less starchy alternative to mashed potatoes.