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Raina's Wellness

How to take advantage of your food

Often, people are searching for magic foods that will help them to be healthier or lose weight without realizing there are plenty of ways to reap more benefits from foods they are likely already eating. Why fix something if it’s not broken? Knowing how to select, store and cook your food can greatly increase the nutrient content in your diet. Here are some ways to make the most of what is already on your grocery list.

Know your blueberries: Blueberries are “one of the healthiest foods on the planet” according to Lynda Enright, a registered dietitian and certified health and wellness coach in Minneapolis. Blueberries are low in calories, high in fiber and have an extremely high antioxidant content. Antioxidants work to destroy free radicals, which are harmful toxins in your body. Blueberries spoil easy, so keep these tips from Ms. Enright in mind when shopping. That strange, white chalky bloom on the berries is actually a sign of freshness so look for it when sorting through packages. Also, try her quick trick: Shake the package of berries at the store. If they move freely, they do not contain moisture, which means they are in good shape. One last suggestion is to check if the paper on the bottom of the package is clean. Dirty paper is a sign that the berries are deteriorating and will quickly spoil.

Eat (don’t drink) oranges: Many of us know that oranges are a great fruit choice due to their vitamin C content. One small to medium fruit contains about 100% of the vitamin’s daily recommended value. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect our bodies from illness by strengthening our immune system. Ms. Enright noted that that it is best to eat whole oranges instead of juice. With the fruit, you’ll get extra vitamins and fiber that are lost to processing in juice. She also mentioned that the thinnest skinned oranges are the juiciest, which is helpful to remember when selecting the citrus fruit.

Tear your lettuce: Most people aren’t looking for a way to make lettuce healthier, but Jo Robinson discusses a unique way to do so in her book, “Eating on the Wild Side.” Ms. Robinson writes that torn lettuce yields a higher phytonutrient content because it is working hard to repair itself. Phytonutrients are chemicals in plants that help our bodies function properly and ward off disease. After washing your lettuce, tear or cut the leaves into salad size pieces. Keep them wrapped in a dry paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least one day (and up to two) before eating. For even more phytonutrients, choose darker lettuce varieties such as arugula and romaine instead of lighter ones like iceberg.

Add some fat! Sweet potatoes are extremely high in beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that helps us to produce vitamin A. According to Ms. Enright, just one sweet potato yields almost as much vitamin A as is recommended for one day. Beta-carotene promotes healthy eyesight and may prevent certain cancers. Beta-carotene is much better absorbed in the body when eaten with fat, so try drizzling your baked sweet potato with a tablespoon of olive oil if your meal does not contain another source of fat.

Keep all the layers: Onions are one of the highest flavonoid containing vegetables. Flavonoids are antioxidants that help protect the heart, prevent dangerous inflammation and prevent cancer. The outer layer of the onion contains significantly more flavonoids than the inner layers. When using onions, only peel the outer paper layer. If chopping onions makes you cry, chill them for an hour in the fridge before cutting. Ms. Enright suggests that this will slow down the onion’s metabolism so it will produce less of its natural tear-causing gas.

The (garlic) waiting game: Garlic is a powerful, natural antibacterial and antioxidant agent thanks to the chemical compound allicin. Allicin takes a few minutes to release, so after crushing or chopping, let the garlic sit for a few minutes before cooking. You’ll also get the most bang for your buck if you eat raw garlic, as allicin is easily damaged by heat. If you find raw garlic too strong, try to minimize nutrient loss by putting garlic in your dish toward the end of the cooking time instead of the beginning.

Buy whole peppercorns: Pepper is one of the most versatile and flavorful spices out there. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods website, pepper has proven antibacterial and antioxidant properties. It also improves digestion by causing the body to produce hydrochloric acid, which may help to reduce heartburn and indigestion. Purchasing whole peppercorns and grinding them before each use will help retain nutrients and keep the spice fresher and more flavorful.

Other Tips:
Eat local foods: Ms. Enright shared that she often tells clients to purchase their favorite foods at a local farmers’ market if they are in season. The items will taste better and contain more vitamins and minerals due to the shorter traveling distance. Often they’re cheaper too! Visit Minnesota Grown’s website,, for a handy chart of what’s in season each month.
Yogurt can multitask: Low-fat, plain yogurt is a wonderful substitute for many creamy desserts and savory dishes. Try it instead of oil in baked goods, sour cream in dips, or cream in quiche. My favorite untraditional use for yogurt is as a substitute for mayonnaise in tuna salad (see recipe below).

Sneak in veggies: Use your favorite produce in new ways. Veggies can add bulk and flavor to traditional meat dishes. Ms. Enright suggests using squash and sweet potatoes in dishes like chili and casseroles. This will boost the nutrient content and reduce the amount of meat needed, which saves fat, calories and money. Other sneaky ideas additions include shredded carrots in spaghetti sauce, spinach or kale in blueberry smoothies and zucchini ribbons in pasta dishes.

Try this recipe, which incorporates several of the tips above:

Raina’s Protein Packed Tuna Salad
1 can tuna (packed in water)
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 small onion (any type), diced (remember to only peel the paper layer)
1 or 2 cloves raw garlic, minced
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (low-fat or non-fat)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste (grind peppercorns if possible)

1. Let minced garlic sit for 5-10 minutes before combining ingredients.
2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
3. Serve on top of dark greens or make a sandwich with 100% whole wheat bread or pita.

If you’re looking for more information and support to achieve a healthy lifestyle and get your diet on track, you can contact Linda Elright at

Questions, comments or suggestions about the column? Email me at rainagoldstein (at)



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