Did you spend much of November and December lolling in a greasy puddle of nutritionally questionable party snacks and rum? Us too.
Well, it's time for your January redemption, but without the faddish lemon cleanses and juice fasts. We're talking macronutrients—energy composed of the most fundamental building blocks essential for bodily functions: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals.
It's not hard to get those if you take the time to cook beans and make spelt bread, but what if you're too busy for all that? We talked to a licensed dietitian, a certified health coach, and a grocery steward at a local health-food store to find out which grab-and-go edibles offer the most bang for your buck in terms of nourishment.
1. NUT-HEAVY TRAIL MIX FROM THE BULK BINS
A simple, widely available snack heartily endorsed by Danielle Toepfer, a clinical dietitian, most of the trail mixes available at New Seasons, Whole Foods and the health section at your neighborhood Fred Meyer have whole, minimally processed ingredients and are packed with healthy fats, protein and fiber. They're also filling, and some even have added superfoods like coconut shreds or goji berries.
Get it: Most Portland groceries.
Whole grains, a long-established nutritional powerhouse, include the entire grain seed—bran, germ and endosperm, as opposed to just the endosperm, as in items made with white flour. Whole-grain products have a high concentration of B vitamins, magnesium and other nutrients. Some, like quinoa, long a staple in South America, contain all essential amino acids, making them an easily digestible analog to animal protein. For a quick, protein- and vitamin-packed lunch, try Cucina & Amore's ready-to-eat quinoa meal ($3.50), which comes in a
variety of flavors and includes a nifty little foldable spoon.
Get it: Green Zebra, 3011 N Lombard St., greenzebragrocery.com.
3. PRECOOKED INDIAN MEALS
According to the principles of Ayurveda, an ancient, Hindu-based system of alternative medicine that Toepfer indicated is starting to gain traction among Western medicine practitioners, many Indian spices feature antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Of the ubiquitous yellow pouches of precooked, legume-based vegetarian Indian meals lining the shelves at natural-foods stores, "I always try to keep those in the house because I can eat them as a meal with a piece of fruit," Toepfer says. "They get my stamp of approval." Plus, they're
precooked and can be eaten right out of the package in a pinch.
Get it: Tasty Bite vegetarian meals ($3.99), available at most New Seasons Markets.
4. FERMENTED FOODS
One need only look as far as Portland's annual Fermentation Festival for a clue as to locals' reverence for all things bubbly, tangy and stinky. Kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchee—most world cultures have their own anaerobically cultured delicacy, and they all contain beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, fatty
acids and probiotics. According to Toepfer, some research is even showing a positive association between probiotic bacteria and the way DNA molecules regulate gene expression. One fermented food especially recommended by certified health coach Dana Golden is protein-packed tempeh—fermented soybeans in cake form.
Don't confuse it with tofu, which is perfectly acceptable in moderation, but doesn't come close to tempeh in terms of nutritional benefits. "Tofu is like a plastic to our body, it's gone through so many processes," Golden says. "In Japan, they don't eat an entire tofu scramble. They rip off a piece of nori and take a tiny piece of tofu in it. It's almost like a side for them. I had a friend visiting from Japan, and she was horrified by [the amount of tofu] we eat." A good grab-and-go option for tempeh newbies is the tempeh banh mi from Grand Central Bakery ($7.50), which matches a zingy turnip-and-carrot slaw with avocado and cilantro on a demi-baguette.
Get it: Grand Central Bakery, multiple locations, grandcentralbakery.com.
5. FRESH GREEN SMOOTHIES
Smoothies have long been hailed as a way to compress a variety of nutrient-dense foods into a fast-food format—especially dark, fibrous greens that would be unpleasant to consume raw. But be sure to opt for libations that have been blended, not just juiced, to retain fiber. As Golden points out, smoothies should be made fresh: "You want to drink them quickly because that's when the enzymes are alive; the longer it sits, the more the enzymes break down. When you buy an Odwalla or something at the store, it's just sugar at that point because it's been sitting so long."
For those looking to pack in the greens, the chlorophyll-stuffed "Diehard" smoothies at Sip ($5-$6.50) fits the bill, pulverizing a daunting amount of kale,
spinach, parsley, cilantro, cucumber, celery, lemon and sea salt into a vibrantly green, tangy, vegetal elixir. Add almond butter ($1) for satiety and protein, and you've got a complete meal.
Get it: Sip, 3029 SE 21st Ave., 2210 NE Alberta St., sipjuicecart.com.
6. BONE BROTH
There's a reason Grandma pushed chicken soup when you were sick—loaded with nutrient-dense bone marrow and collagen, real bone broth (cooked for 24 hours or longer, as opposed to regular broth, which is on the heat for only a few hours) is known for its high amino acid and mineral content. It's also endorsed by both Toepfer and Golden. For a hearty, nutrient-dense take on coffee, try a to-go cup of bone broth from Cultured Caveman ($4 small, $6 large). Made with slow-simmered bones from grass-fed beef, it's slightly sweet and makes a nourishing and surprisingly filling midday snack.
Get it: Four locations in Portland, culturedcavemanpdx.com.
7. POUCHED BABY FOOD AND NUT BUTTERS
Tonya Enger, grocery steward at Green Zebra in Kenton, vouches for a one-two punch of pouched pureed baby food (Earth's Best makes a range of organic, vegetable-based versions that cost about $1.29 each) and individual packets of nut butters. "I like to take them hiking," she says. "They're low sugar, they're minimally processed." Plus, they're available to purchase almost everywhere, are inexpensive, and require no spoon, perfect for eating plain or squeezing on portable fruit like an apple or a banana. Local company Wild Friends makes
individual, 1.15-ounce servings of a range of nut butters ($1.29, widely available) packed with protein, calcium and iron. Golden recommends almond butter instead of the peanut variety: "[Almonds] have so many more vitamins and minerals [than peanuts] and are actually a nut; peanuts are a legume. Which is still nutritive, but not as much as almonds."
Get it: wildfriendsfoods.com.
8. KALE CHIPS
"There are certain things I try to keep in my house at all times, and kale is definitely one of those things," Toepfer says. Indeed, it's no secret kale has a veritable cornucopia of vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids—it also has more protein than spinach and is a hefty source of iron. There are myriad versions of kale chips on the shelves at nearly every store, but chewy, satisfyingly meaty Alive & Radiant Kale Krunch ($5.99) adds cashews and chia seeds for a boost of fat and protein, making them nutritionally dense and filling.
Get it: Green Zebra.
Yep, bugs. In fact, insects, especially the humble but fecund cricket, are slowly becoming a more widely acceptable source of high-quality, sustainable protein in the U.S. They've got a per-gram protein content and digestibility similar to beef's, and while other cultures have been eating them whole for centuries, Utah cricket-protein champion Chapul makes energy bars with "cricket flour": basically, a more palatable, ground-up version of the little critters. They come in three flavors (we recommended the "Aztec," with dark chocolate, coffee and cayenne), and the taste is comparable to other energy bars'.
Get it: Alberta Cooperative Grocery, 1500 NE Alberta St., albertagrocery.coop.
10. MEAT BARS
Sure, you like protein bars. You know what has a lot of protein? Meat. That's the principle behind Omnibar, savory protein bars (think mango curry and chipotle barbecue) made with pasture-raised beef from the owner's Montana ranch blended with ingredients such as sweet potatoes, almond butter and flax seed.
Get it: Most Portland Fred Meyer stores.