From dried tart cherries to anchovies, here are 15 items that dietitians can't live without — beyond the basic olive oil and kale.
Olive oil? Check. Chicken breast filets? Check. Kale and quinoa? Check and check. We know the healthy food staples we're "supposed" to buy and keep stocked in our kitchens. But beyond these basics, what else should we add to our grocery carts? We rounded up 15 items that dietitians can't live without. From miso paste to cocoa powder, these foods prove that eating well and losing weight don't have to be boring.
Yeah, you read that right: Potatoes top our list. "Remember, white potatoes are naturally white, not processed to be white like pasta or rice," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "The Superfood Swap." "Smart carbs like white potatoes are the primary fuel for your brain and a key source of energy for muscles." Blatner enjoys them cut into wedges and baked and then dipped into organic ketchup spiked with turmeric, an anti-inflammatory spice.
2. Beef Jerky
Beef jerky is an easy and convenient snack that's also packed with protein, which can keep you feeling fuller longer. "As a dietitian who specializes in weight loss, people are often surprised to learn that I eat beef jerky. The truth is I don't just eat jerky, I'm one of beef jerky's biggest fans â€” and for good reason," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City and the founder of the popular F-Factor Diet. "Many jerkies do contain added sugars, which can shoot the carb count up, so check out the ingredient list and nutrition panel before you settle on a flavor. The carbohydrate content should contain three grams or less per ounce," recommends Zuckerbrot.
Listen now: Why America's Obsession with 'Happiness' Is Totally Stressing Us Out
3. Banza Chickpea Pasta
Pasta gets a bad rap because most are high in refined carbs. But new innovations in the pasta department â€” such as beans and legumes in place of wheat â€” have some dietitians singing its praises. "Compared to regular pasta, chickpea pasta contains double the protein and four times the fiber in just two ounces," says Hayley Kurtz and Erica Penney, registered dietitians and founders of Ma Vie Nutrition. The texture is almost identical to regular pasta, yet Banza cooks quicker and keeps you fuller longer due to its high fiber and protein content. Speed and satiety? Talk about a win-win.
4. Dried Tart Cherries
"When I want something sweet, I always have dried tart cherries on hand," says Patricia Bannan, M.S., RDN, author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight." "These ruby-red superfruits have a unique, sweet-tart taste and are available year-round in dried, frozen and juice forms. I go for the Montmorency tart cherry variety, the main variety you can find in the U.S., because that's the one that has the most health benefits." One of these benefits includes promoting better sleep. "Montmorency tart cherry juice can help improve the quality and duration of sleep, reduce the severity of insomnia and increase overall sleep efficiency," says Bannan.
Read more: 5 Promising Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice
5. Cocoa Powder
"I love chocolate, but I don't want the calories it provides. Cocoa powder is virtually calorie-free," says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., RD, author (betteristhenewperfect.com). It's also versatile, so you can incorporate it into almost anything. "I add a heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder to smoothies, to cartons of coffee yogurt to make it mocha-flavored and to my favorite chili recipe to amp up the flavor and the nutrition. Cocoa powder, the primary component of chocolate, is packed with flavanols. These plant compounds help tame inflammation, reduce heart disease risk and keep your brain healthier for longer," adds Ward. Avoid cocoa powder that has been treated with alkaline, or Dutch processed.
Most of us are falling short in the omega-3 department, so what's an easy way to up our intake while boosting flavor? Anchovies. "They're the secret weapon in my healthy culinary endeavors. They add a depth of flavor without being overly fishy, says Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN, author of "The MIND Diet" and owner at MindDietMeals.com. "They replace the need for table salt. I will secretly mash up a fillet in my sauces, dressings, pasta sauces, hummus and guacamole. While tiny, they still count toward the eight ounces of seafood a week recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015 to 2020). Scientific evidence also suggests that their omega-3 fats are heart-healthy and good for the developing infant, as well as the older, brain," adds Moon.
7. GG Scandinavian Bran Crispbreads
"GG crackers are my secret weapon to staying thin," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City and the founder of the popular F-Factor Diet. These low-calorie, high-fiber cracker bombs are perfect for keeping you feeling full on the go. "Low-calorie (80 calories for four crackers) and high in fiber (16 grams in that same four crackers), GGs are a great alternative to bread and grains for people trying to lose or maintain their weight. They're a source of carbohydrates, which are needed for energy. And because they're high in fiber yet low in net carbs, they work to fill you up without filling you out," says Zuckerbrot.
8. Heavenly Organics Mint Chocolate Honey Patties
Keep this sweet tooth slayer stashed in your desk drawer or purse. "They're made with just three ingredients: dark chocolate, raw honey and peppermint oil. And at just 50 calories per patty, they help me to control my sweet tooth without blowing my calorie budget," says Katherine Brooking M.S., RD, co-founder of AppforHealth.com. "I have two after dinner and it satisfies my need for something sweet. And when consumed in moderation, dark chocolate provides heart health benefits," adds Brooking.
9. Miso Paste
Miso paste has been all the rage as of late, and these nutritionists keep it stocked on the regular for good reason. "It's commonly used in Japanese soups and Asian dishes. As a probiotic food, it's been shown to support digestion by adding beneficial microorganisms to your digestive tract," says Hayley Kurtz and Erica Penney, registered dietitians and founders of Ma Vie Nutrition. So how do you use it? "The paste can be dissolved in boiling water to make a savory broth or used to season sauces and other dishes. Although you can make miso from a variety of different beans, most common types of miso are made from soybeans. And because miso is high in sodium, it should be used in moderation."
Prunes, also coined "dried plums," have a trifecta of benefits, making them a mainstay in this nutritionist's kitchen. "They have no added sugar, are lower in natural sugar than other dried fruits and are good for bone, heart and digestive health," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "The Superfood Swap." "I like to add them to smoothies for natural sweetness or just eat a few with a handful of almonds to help energize my afternoon."
11. Psyllium Fiber
Sometimes it can be hard to meet your fiber quota for the day. That's where a fiber supplement comes into play. "I use plain psyllium fiber to increase the satiety of my protein smoothies and oatmeal," says Julie Upton, M.S., RD, co-founder of AppforHealth.com. "I add about one teaspoon to a smoothie; the soluble fiber in psyllium increases the satisfaction of the smoothie. I will also stir a teaspoon into foods like oatmeal or even Greek yogurt to enhance satiety."
Read more: 7 Sneaky Ways to Get the Fiber You Need
12. Farmhouse Culture
From kraut to fermented veggies and even "gut shots," Farmhouse Culture makes incorporating probiotics into your kitchen easy. "Don't think you're a sauerkraut fan? Neither did we, until we tried this brand's line of five bold flavors, like Smoked Jalapeno, Kimchi and Garlic Dill Pickle," says The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, co-owners of NutritionTwins.com and authors of "The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure." The line of Farmhouse Culture products is "rich in naturally occurring probiotics, which can improve digestive health as well as immune, brain and mood function; athletic performance and recovery; and even skin and dental health."
Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods
13. Trader Joeâ€™s Mini Brie Bites
A nutritionist who keeps full-fat cheese at the ready? Yep, you read that right. "Trader Joe's Mini Brie Bites are a staple in my fridge. Full-fat cheese is making a comeback. Research is finding that substances found in cheese may help reduce inflammation, protect against colon cancer and even help us stay slim," says Karen Ansel, M.S., RDN, the author of "Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer." Need more good news? They come perfectly portioned. "These little bites are just the right size to enjoy guilt-free. They're perfect for snacking with a piece of fresh fruit and are also fantastic diced in scrambled eggs or slathered on a warm piece of whole-wheat toast."
Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber. "I add whole chickpeas to omelets, salads and stir-frys. I also puree them with seasonings to whip up creamy, dairy-free dips and sauces or oven-roast them for a crunchy snack. And I even save the liquid from canned chickpeas to make low-cal aquafaba to use as a plant-based alternative to whipped cream," says Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., RD, author of "Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses â€” The New Superfood."
What Do YOU Think?
Do you regularly buy and stock up on these foods? Are there foods you think should have made this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section!