Do you love chips and ice cream and never let anything green pass your lips? Are burgers your staple -- and you wouldn't dream of having one without fries?
It's not just you. Many people eat too many of the wrong kinds of foods simply because they've never developed a taste for healthier foods such as salmon, broccoli, or yogurt.
And yes, old habits are hard to break -- but it's certainly not impossible. We spoke to health and nutrition experts who shared some tips on how you can effortlessly "sneak" super-nutritious foods into your diet.
What's a 'Superfood'?
Just about any health professional has his or her own "top 10" list of healthy foods. They often include berries, tomatoes, nuts, salmon, whole grains, low-fat dairy, eggs, dark leafy greens, beans and legumes, and sweet potatoes. You could also argue the merits of other foods, such as green tea, carrots, chocolate, alcohol (in limited quantities), olive oil, soy products, oranges, pumpkin, and turkey.
Steven Pratt, MD, author of SuperFoods RX: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, includes these foods on his list:
- Tea (green or black)
Whatever particular foods you choose, lots of fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, beans, and omega 3- fatty acid-rich foods should be gracing your table, according to the experts and the U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines.
The challenge is working more of these super-nutritious foods into your daily diet -- especially if you are not a fan of their taste or texture.
But it doesn't have to be difficult, says Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, co-author of Stealth Health: How to Sneak Nutrition Painlessly Into Your Diet. She recommends evaluating your favorite foods to figure out where you can make smart substitutions.
For example, she says, "if you love tuna noodle casserole, crab cakes or fish patties, substitute salmon for the seafood."
One of Tribole's favorites is tofu because it's so versatile.
"You can crumble it on chili, slice it thin in lasagna, or puree it and use it to replace half the cream cheese in recipes," she says. "Tofu is an excellent example of adding good nutrition without realizing a taste change."
Overcoming Food Biases
Preconceived ideas can cause people to turn up their noses before they even taste a particular food. Our taste buds evolve over time, and some foods just get a bad reputation.
Perhaps when you were a child, some cranky babysitter made you eat mushy broccoli, and ever since that day, it has not crossed your lips.
If you want to give broccoli (or any other food) another chance, consider the impact of the visual presentation. To prevent your food biases from kicking in, make sure the food is shredded, pureed, diced, or otherwise masked.
"Broccoli-haters are going to turn up their noses before the first bite hits their mouth if they see it on their plates," says Tribole. "Improve your odds of acceptance by changing the appearance and texture of the broccoli by shredding it to make a slaw."
One Change at a Time
Making changes in your daily routine can be daunting. But you don't have to eat all superfoods, all the time. Start small and make tiny dietary tweaks, one at a time, until they become healthy habits, advises nutrition expert and author David Katz, MD.
"Pick three things you can do each day, do it consistently, and it will become a habit," says Katz, co-author of the book Stealth Health: How to Sneak Age-Defying, Disease-Fighting Habits into Your Life without Really Trying. "It is the routines and habits that integrate good health into your life style that will result in health and wellness."
Something as simple as choosing a whole grain over a refined grain is a step in the right direction.
"Start with one change that comes relatively easy, and let the positive effects encourage you to make another small change and another, and another," says Katz.
If you don't like a particular food at first, keep trying. It can take some time before new foods get added to your favorite list.
"Research on children has shown that it can take as many as eight or nine times before an eating preference is established," says Tribole.
'Stealth' Nutrition Tips
Here are 15 tips, techniques, and ideas to help you sneak nutrition into your diet.
1. Blend it. Smoothies are a great way to blend fruit and yogurt into a cold, tasty snack or breakfast.
2. Top it. Tomatoes, dark leafy greens, and nuts add wonderful flavor to sandwiches and salads; yogurt gains pizzazz when topped with crunchy whole-grain cereal and fresh fruit; pizza-lovers won't notice spinach under the cheese on their favorite pie.
3. Puree it. Changing the texture is an easy way to sneak foods into your diet. A puree of roasted vegetables makes a wonderful sauce for fish or chicken. Pureed cauliflower or potato gives thickness and depth to soups, stews, and casseroles.
4. Stir it in. Soups, stews, meatloaf, omelets, quiches, spaghetti sauce and chili are great dishes in which to hide shredded, diced, or pureed vegetables.
5. Substitute it. Use yogurt instead of oil in baked goods; spaghetti squash instead of pasta; sweet potatoes in place of white potatoes.
6. Bake it. Pumpkin, zucchini, carrot, walnut, and berries make wonderful breads and muffins.
7. Roast, grill, or broil it. Fruits and vegetables take on a whole new flavor when caramelized. Oven-dried grape tomatoes enliven any dish, from bruschetta to pasta.
8. Dip it. Fruits and vegetables come alive with a low-fat dip. Kids love to dip -- and so do adults.
9. Serve it raw. Grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, jicama, and celery are fun to nibble on while waiting for dinner or as snacks. Salsas are the perfect medium for a mixture of fruits and vegetables and make great toppings for seafood and chicken.
10. Take the easy way out. Buy prepared vegetables that make it easy to include them in meals. Or drink vegetable juice instead of eating a tomato.
11. Shred or dice it. Chop produce finely to disguise it in dips, salads, or salsas.
12. Spice it up. Make healthy food come alive with herbs, spices, vinegars, mustards and capers.
13. Fix it your favorite way. If you love Asian cuisine, for example, cook your vegetables or seafood with a teriyaki glaze to give them a familiar taste.
14. Be adventurous. Subscribe to a healthy cooking magazine or invest in a healthy cookbook and experiment with recipes that may help you change your mind about healthier foods.
15. Let your favorite chef prepare it. Seeing how a professional handles a particular superfood can open your eyes to new ways to enjoy it.