Eat Right For Life Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
You’re getting older. It’s time to accept the fact that you can’t stay out for last call, then make it up for a 6:30 A.M. mountain-bike ride. And enough already with your daily routine of coffee-and-bagel breakfasts, takeout lunches, and pizza-and-beer recovery meals. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that the highest rate of adult weight gain happens between ages 25 and 35—roughly one pound per year.
And on top of your slowing metabolism, you’re producing fewer digestive enzymes, meaning you can’t absorb nutrients as easily. Here’s the good news: you can still run and bike like a 25-year-old—as long as you’re smart about what you put in your body. What’s more, quality food needn’t be expensive, and prepared right, it’s much faster than waiting for the delivery dude.
The key is simplifying your meal plan. Instead of spendy, ad hoc grocery runs, develop a set of go-to recipes and stock your pantry with all the ingredients you’ll need. More importantly, anchor those recipes with high-quality, nutrient-rich staples—these five. —Jen Schwartz
1. Salmon Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
For a day-to-day routine, there’s no better source of animal protein than salmon—just four ounces packs roughly 30 grams. That same fillet has more than 250 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, which is necessary for the absorption of calcium and protects against a range of cancers. It's also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to boost brain function. Plus, this iconic fish is notable for what it lacks: mercury. Its levels are significantly lower than nearly every other popular species, including tuna, sea bass, cod, and halibut, which means it can be consumed regularly.
BUY IT: Look for wild-caught salmon. And because mislabeling is rampant in the seafood industry, seek out a trusted fishmonger or a self-regulated store like Whole Foods.
MAKE IT: Grilled: Remove any stray pin bones with tweezers, then rub the fillet with maple syrup and black pepper, place skin side down on a piece of aluminum foil, and throw it on the grill. Cook for roughly ten minutes. Use any leftovers as a lunchtime salad topping.
Broiled: Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, head chef at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, recommends broiling the fish in a really hot oven. The only rule, regardless of method: don’t overcook it. “The center should be deep pink and retain some of that fleshy texture,” says Mackinnon-Patterson. “So pay close attention, as it only takes four to ten minutes.”
2. Eggs Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
No food is as misunderstood as the mighty egg. Eggs are rich in 13 essential vitamins and minerals, everything from A and E to B complex and D. They also contain high-quality protein, antioxidants, and the brain-boosting nutrient choline. “But the cholesterol!” critics shout, pointing to research on heart disease, including a 2012 study that claimed eggs were as bad for your arteries as smoking. But that study looked at correlation, not cause and effect—in other words, plaque buildup was observed to occur more frequently in people who regularly consumed eggs, but those people were just as likely eating their eggs with bacon, too.
Most agree that the human body absorbs protein from eggs better than from almost any other food. So embrace moderation. Six large eggs per week will give you roughly 36 grams of protein and as much as 1,500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids—and still limit the fat that contributes to plaque buildup in arteries.
BUY IT: Hormone-free, cage-free, barn-raised—they all mean next to nothing. Here’s what to look for: local and organic. Find a farmer near you at LocalHarvest.org. Unlike meat, eggs keep well in the fridge for two weeks or more.
MAKE IT: Scrambled: If you’re watching your cholesterol, whisk together one whole egg with two egg whites and pan-fry for just a few minutes, stirring frequently. Cutting out the yolks means losing the majority of vitamins and minerals.
Spicy Eggs and Kale: Fry two eggs and spike with a few drops of hot sauce, like sriracha, then pair with a mountain of warm, wilted kale. The fiber in kale lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. Quinoa Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
The United Nations declared 2013 International Year of Quinoa—and for good reason. The gluten-free seed contains sky-high concentrations of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which tackle tissue-damaging free radicals. And unlike wheat, barley, and oats, quinoa is a complete source of protein. Compared with processed pastas, quinoa has roughly four times the amount of iron and twice the calcium, yet takes the same amount of time to cook.
BUY IT: If there’s a sprouted variety, go with that—the nutrients are more readily absorbed. Black and red quinoa are crunchier and have slightly higher levels of antioxidant-rich phytonutrients.
MAKE IT: Boiled: Using a fine mesh sieve, rinse the seeds to remove the bitter coating. Then combine one cup of quinoa with two cups of water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, stir, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes, then fluff with a fork. Use cooked quinoa as a warm base for sautéed vegetables or mix with chopped veggies for a lunch salad.
Burgers: Form boiled quinoa into patties, then pan-fry until crisp and slather with a zesty tomato sauce.
Porridge: On chilly days, cook it in milk instead of water, swirling in cinnamon and blueberries for a filling porridge.
4. Kale Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
No green compares with the nutrient-to-calorie ratio of this dark leafy vegetable. It has off-the-charts levels of vitamins K, A, and C and is a good source of fiber—one cup has nearly 25 percent of the daily recommended amount. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef and more calcium than milk, and it trumps broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage for its broad range of flavonoids, compounds that help prevent muscle inflammation and cancer. All of which are compelling reasons to stock up on it, but here’s the best: as a cooking staple, kale is endlessly flexible. Throw a shredded handful into soups, casseroles, or frittatas. You can even use it in smoothies and juices.
BUY IT: Kale’s only downside is that it’s on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of pesticide-laden produce, so be sure to buy organic.
MAKE IT: Sautéed: Fry with minced garlic and chopped onion in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Chips: Rub with olive oil, salt, and chili powder, then bake at 300 degrees for ten minutes.
Salad: Prep your lunch the night before by mixing it with miso-ginger-carrot dressing (blend grated carrot, onion, ginger, miso paste, lemon juice, and olive oil with a splash of water). Unlike traditional salad greens, which wilt, kale stands up well to marinating.
5. Chickpeas Hannah McCaughey and Dustin Samm
For the money, these little nuggets, also called garbanzo beans, are unbeatable. They’re rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber (the former makes you feel full and helps regulate blood sugar, the latter keeps you regular); you need both for a healthy diet, and two cups of these legumes pack 100 percent of the daily recommended amount. And just half a cup contains five grams of protein and ten different vitamins. Chickpeas are also wildly versatile. Just ask the guys behind the blog (and forthcoming book) Thug Kitchen, which offers profanity-laced recipes and kitchen tips that dispel the notion that healthy cooking is a realm of rarefied luxury. “Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, whatever you want to call them, they do all the heavy lifting in my kitchen,” says the site’s anonymous founder.
BUY IT: Unlike many canned vegetables, chickpeas don’t lose their nutritional value during processing. The dried beans are usually much cheaper and yield superior texture, but you’ll need to soak them overnight, then simmer for 90 minutes.
MAKE IT: Baked: This grab-and-go snack has more calcium and protein than carrots. Toss them in grapeseed oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon and throw them in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
Socca: For this flatbread dough, first grind the dried beans in a blender to make one cup of flour, then add a cup of water, two tablespoons of olive oil, and half a teaspoon each of salt and cumin. Roll out the dough evenly and broil in a pan for five to ten minutes, until the edges char.
Burrito: Bake at 400 degrees for half an hour, then mash and season to taste. Transfer to a wheat tortilla with your choice of fixings. This is Thug Kitchen’s number-one use for chickpeas: “You have to try really hard to screw this up, so make bold moves.”