This post is a part of our ongoing Ask the Dietitian series where the Munchery Dietitian, Kate Schlag, MPH, RD, answers your questions about health and nutrition. To participate, simply tag Munchery on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and post your question with the hashtag #AskKate.
The Truth About Healthy Snacking
Here’s an answer that you probably won’t like—I don’t think that there’s a single food that you must eat every day for optimal health or nutritional status. Nutritional status (and health as it results from nutritional status) doesn’t really change daily, at least in a clinically significant way. It’s determined by your overall intake over a long period of time (we’re talking weeks and months) and, barring any significant diseases or huge changes in intake, won’t be impacted by a single food you do or don’t eat on a particular day*.
That being said, here are three foods that I’d recommend trying to eat every day:
Whether it’s kale or spinach, arugula or dandelion greens, there’s probably no other food that provides the same nutritional bang for your caloric buck. One cup of leafy greens carries less than 10 calories but is packed with vitamins A, C, K, and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. In addition, their consumption is correlated with a number of positive health benefits, including improved cognitive function and cardiovascular health, a healthier microbiome composition, and better skin health.
No matter where you get your protein—fish, meat, poultry, cheese, beans, eggs, lentils—it’s something that you should not only strive to eat every day, but at every meal. While you’re likely to get a little bit of protein with whatever food you eat, aim to get at least 20 grams of protein at each meal. Throughout the day, your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding protein—spreading out your protein intake means that you’re getting a constant source of protein to fuel those processes. Plus, protein is filling, helping you to eat fewer calories than if your meal was made entirely of carbohydrates.
Nuts are one of my favorite snacks. They’re packed with the hunger-fighting trifecta of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, plus, they have been found to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and regulate blood sugar (that means balanced energy and mood for you!). Walnuts might be my first choice—as they’re a good source of vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids—but almonds, pistachios, cashews, and hazelnuts are great options too.
*There is, however, emerging research showing that extreme changes to your diet can impact your microbiome in a matter of days. Lower intakes of fiber, for example, can induce changes to your microbiota that result in a pro-inflammatory state. More research is needed to determine whether changes in dietary habits can induce long-term changes in the microbiome and, if so, how those changes influence health.