DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

I have a secret to share: You eat what you buy. Okay, that’s not exactly groundbreaking. However, keeping yourself stocked with nourishing options and leaving junk on supermarket shelves is one of the most powerful ways to improve what you eat. So, this week we’re sharing our Density Diet grocery list.

The Density Diet is our version of a January “cleanse.” It’s a research-based, well-rounded way of eating that you can return to any time of year. Read more about it here and here.

In order to narrow each category down, I’ve put asterisks (*) next to items that you’ll most often find in my kitchen this time of year either because they are seasonal or I consider them staples because they are easy to cook. These items are no better than others nutritionally though so choose what you like.

DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

Vegetables

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh vegetables and frozen-vegetables with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Arugula

*Avocado

*Beet

*Broccoli

*Brussels sprouts

*Cabbage

*Carrots

*Cauliflower

*Celery

*Cucumber

*Endive

*Fennel

*Ginger

*Herbs – Cilantro, Mint, Basil, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Tarragon, etc.

*Kale

*Onions – yellow/red/white, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives, etc.

*Parsnip

*Potato

*Radicchio

*Radish

*Sweet potato

*Winter squash/Pumpkin

Artichoke

Asparagus

Bell pepper

Bok choy

Broccolini

Celeriac

Collard greens

Eggplant

Fava bean

Jerusalem artichoke

Jícama

Kohlrabi

Lettuces

Rapini (broccoli rabe)

Rutabaga

Snap peas

Snow peas

Spinach

Summer squash/zucchini

Swiss chard

Tomatillo

Tomato

Turnips

Fruit

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh fruit and dried and frozen fruit with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Apple

*Banana

*Blueberry

*Lemon

*Lime

*Orange – Blood orange, Clementine, Mandarine, Tangerine, etc.

*Pear

*Pomegranate

*Dried fruit – Currants, Raisins, Cranberries, Dates, etc.

Apricot

Blackberry

Cantaloupe

Cherry

Fig

Grape

Grapefruit

Kiwi

Mango

Melon

Nectarine

Papaya

Peach

Persimmon

Pineapple

Plum

Raspberry

Strawberry

Watermelon

Whole Grains

(This list is non-exhaustive. All whole grains are fair game. Emphasize real whole grains versus products made from them such as whole wheat pastas and bread.)

All dried grains (favor these)

  • *Corn/polenta/popcorn
  • *Farro
  • *Oats
  • *Quinoa
  • *Whole grain rice such as brown, black or wild
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Freekeh
  • Millet
  • Spelt

A few of my favorite real whole grain products (choose more sparingly to get full benefits of whole grains)

  • Food for Like 7 Sprouted Grains Bread (In freezer section of market. Most of their other options are great as well.
  • Mestemacher Breads (I like the Fitness Bread)
  • Sfoglini whole grain pasta options (I’m opting to avoid whole grain pastas while following DD, but if you feel lost without them, Sfolglni’s options are some of my favorite.)
  • If you can’t find the above products, just make sure whole grain flour (i.e. whole wheat flour, whole oat flour, etc.) is the first ingredient listed on the nutrition panel. Also look for high fiber, low sodium, and low sugar.

Beans and Legumes

(This list is non-exhaustive. All dried and canned beans and lentils are fair game. Full disclosure: I most often use canned beans for ease. Cooking from scratch produces the most delicious bean but I rarely have the forethought.)

*Lentils (Beluga, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, all Dals, Puy, etc. – most of these take 20-30 minutes to cook, so I most often buy dried)

*Black

*Borlotti/cranberry

*Cannellini

*Chickpeas (my most frequent go-to)

*Butter beans

Navy

Pinto

Kidney

Nuts and Seeds

(This list is non-exhaustive. All shelled and unshelled nuts and seeds, raw or roasted and nut butters are fair-game. Look for no added sugar, no added oils. Store opened packages of nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.)

*Almonds

*Hazelnuts

*Peanuts

*Pecans

*Pine nuts

*Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

*Sesame seeds

*Walnuts

*Almond butter

*Peanut butter

*Tahini

Seafood, Poultry, Pork, Dairy, Eggs

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and canned seafood is fair game. All lean cuts of poultry and pork are fair game. All plain dairy is fair game. I prefer 2% or whole yogurts and some research suggests choosing these over non-fat alternatives is advantageous. Read about that here.)

*Salmon

*Canned tuna (I absolutely love oil-packed tuna. Tonnino is my go-to brand. Long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Chicken – breasts (bone-in or out), legs, thighs, etc.

*Pork loin and tenderloin

*Eggs

*Milk, plain

*Plain yogurt, regular or Greek

*Edamame (I typically keep pre-shelled frozen on hand.)

*Tofu (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Tempeh (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Miso (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

Tuna

Cod

Halibut

Shrimp

Lobster

Crab

Canned salmon

Smoked fish

Cottage cheese

Condiments/flavorings

(This list is non-exhaustive.)

*Extra virgin olive oil

*Flavorful nut and seed oils for salad dressings and stir-fry seasonings: toasted sesame oil, walnut oil

*Vinegars: balsamic, red-wine, white-wine, apple cider, etc.

*Olives (Kalamata, green, etc.), pickles and capers

*Asian condiments and flavorings: reduced-sodium soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, chile-garlic sauce, curry paste

*Kosher salt, Maldon salt for finishing

Black peppercorns

*Dry herbs and spices

Beverages

*Water and seltzers

*Tea

*Coffee

*Milk or non-dairy milks

Check out our Instagram and Facebook accounts for #densitydiet meal ideas. We’ll continue to provide more information here as well.

Are you following the Density Diet? How is it going and how do you feel? We’d love to hear from you!

MAKING THE DENSITY DIET WORK FOR YOU

Last week I introduced you to What We Eat’s Density Diet, a research-based, sane alternative to the unhealthy and counterproductive cleanses many embark on this time of year. While 5 Density Diet Rules serve as its framework, in order for you to be successful, you need to make them work for you. What does that mean? You need to make following the Density Diet a SMART goal.

Making the Density Diet SMART

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Read more about them here. The adjectives to zero in on in the case of the Density Diet are “attainable” and “time-bound.”

How long do you plan on following this way of eating? A few days? A week? For the month of January? Of course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you follow the DD Rules to the letter. But is that attainable (i.e. realistic) for you? If not, make a list of exceptions before you start. If you plan for these, you aren’t “cheating.” You are making the diet work for you and increasing your odds of being successful.

Below is my list of exceptions so you can see how this works for someone else.

Laura’s Exceptions (example only, make a list of your own!)

  • When dining out, I’m allowed to enjoy a bit of cheese, red meat and/or refined grains (likely in the form of pizza or pastaJ). I don’t eat out more than once or twice a week and being able to enjoy what I want is important to me.
  • I’m allowed to enjoy a sweet once weekly but only if it’s truly special and I am savoring it with others (e.g. no mindless desserts consumption in front of the TV).
  • I’m allowed to enjoy my morning coffee and one alcoholic beverage a day (maybe two on weekend nights:)).

Once you make your own list of exceptions, following the Density Diet should be an effective SMART goal for you. It’s…

  • Specific and Measurable: You’ll know at the end of every day whether you’ve been successful or not. You could keep a journal of everything you consume and compare it to your DD rules if that makes it easier. Little deviations are not the end of the world. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
  • Attainable: Your list of exceptions should allow the DD to be doable for you!
  • Relevant: This way of eating is a return to eating for health. If health is your goal, this is as solid of a first step as you can take. Don’t be surprised if you notice you have more energy, normalized digestion, improved skin and maybe even weight loss.
  • Time-bound: You set your own agenda here. Whether you follow this for a few days or the entire year, you’ll benefit.

I’d love to hear from you. Any questions or concerns about this? What are your planned exceptions? If you think it would be helpful, we could start a Density Diet hashtag (#densitydiet2018) and I can tag my meals on Instagram. Let me know. I’d love to see yours as well.

HERE’S TO 2018!

xo Laura, MS, RD

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

After a week eating my way through Italy, then an indulgent Thanksgiving holiday with family in New England, I was ready to be return to my own kitchen in Brooklyn on Sunday.

It’s funny that the same reason I crave vacation, namely to bust out of my well-worn routines, is the same reason I can’t wait to get home.

Because I cook for a living, being fed by others for a sustained period is heaven. No menu planning. No grocery shopping. No cooking. No dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but we all need a break.

Before I leave, I obsessively peruse the internet, reach out to friends and read through favorite travel guides to discover the best of what’s to eat wherever I go. Then, with every delicious bite at every carefully selected restaurant, it’s like I’m consuming a little bit of that chef’s culinary point of view.

But there comes a time when I am ready to eat my food again. To return to the meal routines that work for me. Namely, meals that revolve around vegetables.

The very first thing I made when I got home was this massaged lacinato kale, roasted wild mushroom and avocado salad. It touches on all of the elements of a crave-worthy vegetable dish: ingredients that are seasonal, both raw and cooked, and vibrantly colorful, and that provide contrasting textures, a little indulgence and a few surprises.

Both kale and mushrooms are at their peak during fall and winter. In fact, kale gets better as the weather gets colder. For this salad, I roast the mushrooms to concentrate flavor, essentially transforming them into little crunchy umami bombs. I top the salad with deep red, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes for color. (I added them after taking the salad shots this time because they were still hot from the oven and I was too hungry to wait…typical.) The additions of avocado, toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan lend both contrasting texture and enough indulgence to keep me coming back for more. And finally, I finish the dish with lemon zest, thinly sliced scallions and a tiny bit of fresh mint and basil for a touch of freshness to balance the earthy mushrooms.

I’ve made this kale salad about a gazillion times since I first threw it together on a whim and realized I was onto something. While I see the kale, mushrooms and avocado as mandatory, all other ingredients are flex. Don’t have time to slow-roast tomatoes? Leave them out! Prefer shallots to scallions? Swap’em! #Putaneggonit and/or serve it over a cooked grain like farro to make it more of a complete meal. You get the picture.

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 lbs mixed mushrooms (oyster, king oyster, hen of the woods and maitake are great wild varietals but the more widely available shitake is equally delicious – this will seem like a lot but they shrink up when roasted)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Few shakes of granulated garlic (1/2-1 tsp)
  • 2 bunches lacinato kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn into bite size pieces
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup slow-roasted tomatoes (optional)
  • ½-1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (hazelnuts are equally delicious)
  • ½-1 cup shaved parmesan (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Small handful of fresh torn basil
  • Small handful of fresh torn mint
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method

Roast the mushrooms:

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Prep mushrooms and break them into bite-size pieces. For shitake, this means removing their stems and tearing them into halves or fourths. For king oyster, this means slicing off a tiny bit of the root end and thinly slicing them lengthwise. Prep varies by varietal so purchase shrooms you’re comfortable with or Google proper prep technique.
  • Place shrooms on a sheet pan (lined with parchment for easy clean-up) and drizzle generously with olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper, a few shakes of granulated garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  • Roast in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes, turning the mushrooms halfway through, until they shrink down by nearly half and are very crisp around their edges. Cool on sheet tray.

Make the vinaigrette:

  • Zest lemon and reserve for salad. Juice zested lemon into small bowl, add in a large pinch of salt, then drizzle in an equal amount of olive oil by volume or a little more. Add in the two crushed garlic cloves and allow to steep while finishing the rest of the salad.

Assemble the salad

  • Combine the prepped kale (watch Char’s video tutorial!), cooled mushrooms, sliced avo, slow-roasted tomatoes (if using), toasted walnuts, shaved parm, sliced scallions, torn basil and mint and lemon zest in a large salad bowl. Remove garlic cloves from vinaigrette and drizzle over vegetables. Using clean hands or salad tongs, gently toss salad until every nook and cranny of every vegetable is dressed.
  • Enjoy!

Serves 4 hungry peeps.

What’s the Deal with Full Fat Dairy?

When I worked as a primary care dietitian, not a day passed without me recommending the substitution of low-fat or nonfat dairy products for their full-fat counterparts. Whether I was seeing someone with heart disease or high cholesterol, obesity or diabetes, choosing low-fat/nonfat dairy was a no-brainer. However, a growing body of evidence suggests this recommendation may be at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.

There were two main reasons the medical field touted the superiority of low-fat dairy for so long:

  • Saturated fat has long been associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. Full fat dairy is higher in saturated fat than low-fat/nonfat dairy.
  • Low calorie diets are associated with healthy weight management. Full fat dairy is higher in calories than low-fat/nonfat dairy.

What’s changed? The short answer is nutrition science itself. Until recently, nutrition science has focused on isolated nutrients instead of actual foods.

In the case of saturated fat and heart disease, science looked at the effect of saturated fat overall. It did not distinguish whether it came from animal fat (think the fatty gristle on a t-bone steak), dairy fat (think whole milk) or vegetable fat (think coconut oil). All foods have unique fatty acid profiles, each of which may have different metabolic effects. Even a food group’s subsets, like milk, yogurt, cheese and butter, which all fall under the dairy umbrella, have different profiles and different effects. When the full fat dairy group is teased out from the other saturated fat sources, it does not appear to be significantly related to risk of heart disease.

In the case of calories and weight control, science has long held that a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie. Fat has more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), so therefore reducing calories by choosing lower fat alternatives was thought to aid in weight management. However, new research indicates that full fat dairy is associated with improved weight control. While the reason isn’t fully understood, one hypothesis is that full fat dairy is more filling than low-fat/non fat dairy alternatives, so those who consume the latter compensate by eating more calories (most often from refined carbohydrates) later on.

So, what’s a dairy eater to do? Here are my recommendations:

  • Enjoy full fat versions of the dairy you currently consume if you’d like. Be moderate. Three servings of dairy a day is plenty. That could be one cup whole Greek yogurt for breakfast, a small whole milk cappuccino midmorning and an ounce or two of cheese crumbled atop a salad for dinner. At home, I’ve stuck with 1% milk because, after years of nonfat, anything more than that tastes too creamy. Similarly, 2% Greek yogurt is rich enough for me so that’s what I stick with for now. This is what I mean with “if you’d like.” The research isn’t strong enough yet to necessitate a complete overhaul.
  • Fermented plain full fat dairy like yogurt and kefir seems to be the most beneficial of all full fat dairy products, so extra points for regularly including these foods in your diet.
  • Avoid low-fat/nonfat and full fat dairy with added sugars or sugar substitutes. I know fruited yogurt is a go-to kids snack. Parents should think of these as dessert for their kids just as they would ice cream.
  • Unfortunately, research still doesn’t favor butter. Use it sparingly and substitute olive oil whenever possible.
  • The bulk of your diet should be vegetables and fruit (at least half), whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and other lean proteins like fish and eggs. These foods are indisputably good for you.

One final note. Nutrition science is so young. The direction of research today indicates that full fat dairy isn’t the no-no we once thought it was but that doesn’t mean we should accept this as indisputable fact for life. Nutrition science will continue to evolve so it’s important to be open to new developments but at the same time be skeptical about where your information is coming from. As Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, says:

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

xo Laura

 

Eggplant Braised with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic

For those who love to cook, there is possibly no outing quite as enjoyable as a trip to the farmers’ market. Getting to see what’s at its peak and speak with the people who grew it feels like a privilege in comparison to shopping at the grocery store.

I like to go without a plan, grab whatever looks best and then spend my walk home daydreaming about what I can make. While I have a terrible memory when it comes to things like names, my brain has a crystal clear index of every recipe I’ve ever read, most of the ingredients within it and where I can find it. It also catalogs all food images from places like Instagram and food magazines.

This week, when I scored the most beautiful, deeply purple eggplants with taut, shiny skin and cherry tomatoes so sweet I could have popped an entire pint as if they were berries, I was reminded of a picture I’d seen on Canal House’s Instagram feed.

These days, I prefer to cook from pictures rather than recipes. The former allows for creativity and spontaneity, while the latter is time consuming (re-referring to the written word) and/or disappointing (I usually know how to produce the flavors I prefer). As the famous Italian chef Lidia Bastianich said in a recent interview, “Release yourself from the recipe!”

So, with that in mind, I hit my kitchen to make a braised eggplant dish sweet with cherry tomatoes, rich with olive oil, and spicy with garlic and red pepper flakes. Chris and I sat down to dinner with the dutch oven between us, a fresh ball of burrata cheese, sliced crosswise and drizzled with our best Italian extra virgin olive oil, and pan-fried and garlic-rubbed peasant bread to serve as a bed for it all. I also made a shaved fennel and arugula salad showered with plenty of lemon juice and more olive oil because I always like to have something bright to cut through something so rich.

This is the rustic fair that dreams are made of.

EGGPLANT BRAISED WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND GARLIC

Ingredients
2 small to medium eggplant
4 cloved garlic, thinly sliced
¼ tsp red chile flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes, left whole
Several handfuls of basil, torn
1 ball burrata or a couple of balls of fresh mozzarella (optional)
Grilled or pan-fried and bread rubbed with garlic (peasant loaf, ciabatta, or any other bread you like)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Prep the eggplant: Peel long strips down the eggplant from stem to end, leaving them with a zebra print. Next, make a partial slit lengthwise down the center of the eggplant but try not to cut all the way through. This is just so the flavorful broth has an easier time penetrating the eggplant. Season them lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper, massaging them into the eggplant a bit.

Preheat a braising pot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, pan fry the eggplants, turning them every two minutes until they are well-browned on all sides. Remove them to a plate.

Add remaining two tablespoons olive oil and add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Once garlic is very lightly golden, add in the 2 pint whole cherry tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and stir to combine. Place top on braising pot and let it do its thing over medium-low heat.

After about 20 minutes, most of the cherry tomatoes will have popped open, producing a juicy liquid. Taste it and correct seasoning with more salt if necessary. Carefully add the eggplant into the juicy tomatoes, slit side up and ladle a little of the braising liquid inside the eggplant. Add a sprig of basil, pushing it into the liquid, cover and continue to braise for 20 minutes. At this point, the eggplant will be meltingly tender and flavorful.

To serve, remove the sprig of basil and add a fresh shower of leaves over the braise. Present the whole pot on the table with several spoons to dig in, grilled garlic-rubbed bread and burrata or sliced fresh mozzarella. Enjoy!

Serves 4 (Any leftovers can be smashed into a delicious pasta sauce for later in the week!)