Ed. note: When eating out is no longer an option and take-out and delivery are a matter of personal preference in uncertain times, that leaves many of us with the challenge of cooking more meals than ever before. Fortunately, experts like Joy Bauer find ways to keep things healthy and interesting with pantry staples and fresh ingredients that keep a long time in the fridge or that can be frozen.
What’s an easy way to sneak extra fiber and omega-3 fats into foods? Chia seeds. How can bacon lovers get their fix without the saturated fat and sodium of the real thing? A mushroom version. Learn these tricks and much more from Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, nutrition and healthy lifestyle expert for the “Today” show and author of 14 books, including her newest, “Joy Bauer’s Superfood!: 150 Recipes for Eternal Youth” (Abrams, April 2020). Read on for a revealing Q&A with the nutrition luminary.
Dina Cheney: What are your favorite recommendations for integrating more “superfoods” into people’s diets?
Joy Bauer: The simplest way? Add a produce pick to each meal. Most veggies and fruits are naturally packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, and therefore, [they] automatically fall into the “superfood” category. Enjoy a spinach omelet for breakfast, a colorful salad topped with chickpeas and chicken at lunch, and a lean protein like fish, pork tenderloin or lentils with roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms for dinner.
DC: What about for people who dislike fruits and vegetables?
JB: It’s all about finding ways to prepare them. For instance, steamed broccoli can be a bit boring, but whip up broccoli soup or roast it with garlic and extra-virgin olive oil until it’s charred and addictive, and suddenly the vegetable becomes a family favorite. I also love to make two-ingredient banana-peanut butter soft serve “ice cream” by blending frozen, ripe bananas with peanut butter. You can also mix cauliflower “rice” into white rice, blend cooked and mashed cauliflower with mashed potatoes, or add canned pumpkin puree to taco meat or marinara sauce.
DC: While writing your new book, did you come up with any health hacks?
JB: Mushroom bacon is a cool new hack I discovered when creating a wedge salad for the book. I roast shiitake mushroom slices (misted with oil spray and lightly salted) until golden brown to create a meaty, satisfying chew that resembles bacon.
Another healthy hack is using dates to sweeten things without adding sugar. I rely on this trick for my homemade BBQ sauce, which is the star ingredient in my home-style Texas baked beans. This sauce also makes its debut in my Tex-Mex BBQ chicken pizza.
I use a clever hack for gnocchi by making it out of nutrient-rich cauliflower. I usually whip up a big batch and freeze leftovers to have for future meals. (You can easily reheat it in the microwave.) Top it with marinara or pesto sauce.
Perhaps the easiest recipe—and hack—in the whole book is perfect for chocolate lovers: Simply take a semisweet or dark chocolate chip and stuff it inside a raspberry.
Q: Have you recently discovered and fallen in love with any ingredients?
JB: While I’ve always loved flavored sparkling water, I’ve recently started using my favorite LaCroix flavors as an ingredient to make sweet slushies and refreshing mocktails—without having to add sugar. For instance, for two servings of my sweet cherry slushy, I combine 2 cups frozen pitted sweet cherries, ½ cup frozen pineapple chunks, 1 cup LaCroix, 1 cup LaCroix Cerise Limón sparkling water and 1 cup crushed ice or ice cubes in a blender until thick and slushy. Add additional LaCroix or ice as needed to achieve the desired slushy consistency.
DC: What is your diet like? Do you tend to eat the same meals each day?
JB: I couldn’t start my day—or function—without coffee. (I take it black and will sometimes add a teaspoon of cocoa powder for extra antioxidants.) I like to vary my meals but often rotate between the blueberry pie oatmeal in my book and my jumbo oatmeal pancake. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll grab Greek yogurt and fruit. But I’m also crazy for eggs, so when there’s time, I’ll whip up an omelet with veggies, herbs and cheese. Lunch is often a kitchen-sink salad with chicken and beans or an open-faced turkey sandwich with veggies. Dinner is when I like to experiment, so it can range from shrimp and spinach scampi with spaghetti squash to chicken-eggplant Parmesan or vegan tacos (I mastered a lentil-walnut filling that tastes just like meat) or Italian-style sausage, peppers and onions.
DC: Should people watch their total sugar intake, including natural sugars from fruits?
JB: We really need to focus on added sugar. Naturally occurring sugars, like fructose in fresh fruit or lactose in plain yogurt (or the small amounts in sweet vegetables like carrots and beets), are not really a big concern. First—and not surprisingly—Americans aren’t overdoing it when it comes to fruits, veggies and yogurt. Natural sugars make up a small percentage of the sugar we consume. Second, the sugars in these foods come packaged with countless beneficial ingredients—like fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and they’re found in much lower quantities than in products with added sugars. Added sugar, the type added to a food or beverage during processing, is an entirely different story. The majority of our intake comes from two main sources: sweetened beverages and snacks and sweets. A study in the British Medical Journal suggests that 90 percent of the added sugar in our diet comes from ultra-processed foods. The fix: Cook at home more frequently and you’ll automatically cut back on added sugar.
DC: What are your thoughts on the healthfulness of eggs, red meat and alcohol? Do you integrate them into your own diet?
JB: Yes, I love eggs—I use them for omelets, frittatas, egg salad. I usually use one whole egg plus two or three egg whites. That way, I get loads of lean protein without excessive cholesterol and saturated fat that’s housed in the yolk. I don’t eat red meat, but for folks who love it, I think it’s fine to include lean cuts (think beef sirloin or fillet or pork tenderloin) up to two times each week. And yes, I enjoy a glass of red wine a few nights a week. I think it’s important to find ways to incorporate the foods we personally love in moderation. Life is short—there’s always room for our favorite indulgences!
Photo credit: Petr Svoboda, Getty Images