Foods to start a 2017 health kick

Turmeric, sprouts, mushrooms, seaweed top list of experts’ healthy-eating trends

TORONTO — Holiday splurges on cocktails and cookies might lead to thoughts of trying a dietary cleanse in the new year, but there’s no need for a full-scale detoxification, say experts.

“People are always looking for that magic bullet to start off the year,” says registered dietitian Zannat Reza.

“Frankly, if you’re looking to detox or cleanse, we all come with that built in. That’s what our kidneys and liver do. That’s their job.”

An extreme liquid diet cuts much-needed protein and fibre from the diet and can lead to irritability. And if the cleanse is being done to lose weight, the pounds often creep back once restricted foods are reintroduced.

Instead, resolve to eat a balanced diet of healthful foods. Cover half your plate with fruits and vegetables and then add protein and whole grains, suggests Reza, whose Thrive360 company promotes health.

The new year can be a time to acquire a taste for healthy items trend-watchers see on the horizon, such as turmeric, sprouts, seaweed, mushrooms and sardines.

Experiment to see what works for you, suggests Michelle Book, holistic nutritionist with the Canadian Health Food Association.

“I think a good, easy place to start is experimenting with a cashew or a hemp milk, trying it in some overnight oats or in your smoothie,” Book says.

Here are some healthy foods and trends expected to be popular this year:


Long used in southern Asia for cooking and its therapeutic effects, the spice has been popping up lately in juices, sodas and hot drinks.

It lends a brilliant yellow hue to curries and mustard and is touted for its anti-inflammatory qualities.

There’s no consensus on how much should be taken but the University of Maryland suggests one to three grams of the powdered form a day — or 1⁄2 tsp to 11⁄2 tsp.

Start by using it sparingly in soups, salad dressings, dips, smoothies, rice, stir-fries and egg dishes. Too much can lend a pungency that might be unpleasant. Try a pinch or two with other herbs and spices, oil and salt and pepper when roasting vegetables. Some people like to add it to warm almond or cashew milk with ginger, honey and cinnamon to create a warm spiced drink.

The downside to turmeric is it can stain — don’t wear light-coloured clothing when cooking with it, cautions Reza.

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Sprouting is not only an affordable and nutritious way to add veggies to your diet, but it also appeals to do-it-yourselfers who want a touch of summer during dark winter months.

By allowing a seed to germinate, vitamins and minerals usually locked away in the dried seed are activated, which then allows the body to access and absorb these nutrients.

Mung beans are one of the more popular types. Just  one cup of the tiny green bean sprouts can provide a substantial portion of the iron intake needed by adults for healthy red blood cells and blood pressure.

When sprouting at home, be sure to buy pathogen-free seeds and use sterile containers. Rinse and drain seeds often and thoroughly to avoid harmful bacteria growing in the wet environment, says Book. Once sprouted, refrigerate and use sprouts within two to three days.

You can also buy sprouted foods such as breads and bars.


Mushrooms are coming out of the dark as consumers are introduced to more varieties. They’re an easy way to boost meatless meals.

Button and cremini mushrooms contain B complex and D vitamins and are high in copper, selenium and fibre.

Dried chaga mushrooms can be made into tea. Add mushrooms to a pot of boiling water, reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain. It will have an earthy taste, but you can add honey, says Book.

Sea Greens

Sea vegetables are high in flavour, low in fat and packed with minerals, vitamins, chlorophyll and enzymes.

Nori (commonly used in sushi), wakame (used in seaweed salad) and kombu (used often in miso soup) are also noted for iodine content, which helps keep the thyroid healthy.

The recommended intake is 150 micrograms/day with the upper limit being 1,100 mcg/day. Nori contains on average 37 mcg of iodine/gram, wakame has an average of 140 mcg/gram and kombu has about 2,524 mcg/gram.

Reza recommends limiting brown seaweed to no more than once a week because of its high iodine content.


These small oily fish are not only high in omega-3 fats, but they’re also rich in protein and iron and have vitamin B12, which helps with red blood cell production. Some even eat the bones for a great source of calcium.

They’re one of the few foods that contain vitamin D. In Canada, “we’re not getting enough vitamin D naturally through sunlight so eating it in foods is a good way to go and sardines are a great source,” says Reza.

Plant-based foods

The gluten-free trend, rise in diabetes and increasing link between refined sugar and chronic disease have more Canadians seeking “smarter” carb options. Manufacturers are creating pastas with buckwheat, legumes and lentils, says Book.

People are also spiralizing vegetables like zucchini and squash to make noodles.

Plant-based alternatives are filling the breach for people who have difficulty digesting the lactose in cow’s milk, says Book. Along with soy milk, varieties made from flax and hemp seed and nuts like almonds and cashews are commonly on store shelves.

Non-dairy cheeses and coconut yogurt are other options.


Bengali Dal

Reza has adapted her mother’s dal recipe. She uses turmeric, touted for its anti-inflammatory properties, but she’s careful not to use too much and to balance any possible pungency with coriander.

She calls the healthy dish quick and delicious. Turmeric gives it a yellowish hue that’s bright and appealing.

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1⁄2 tsp turmeric
1⁄2 tsp ground coriander
1⁄4 tsp cayenne
1⁄4 tsp black pepper
2 cups split red lentils
6 cups water (more to adjust
consistency to your liking)
11⁄2 tsp salt (or to taste)
• handful of cilantro (about 1⁄3 cup)
1 plum tomato, chopped
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 green chili (optional)
1 Tbsp lemon juice

In a large pot, heat canola oil over medium heat. Cook onion for four to five minutes until softened. Add spices and lentils. Stir to coat lentils.

Add water, cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and let lentils simmer for about 10 minutes, until mixture looks soft.

Add salt, cilantro and tomato. Cook for five minutes until tomatoes soften.

Purée with a hand blender. Add more water if needed to adjust thickness to your liking.

Add vegetables and green chili, if using. Cook for five minutes. Turn off heat and add lemon juice.

Makes: Eight cups.

Japanese-Inspired Savoury Granola  

Reza’s savoury granola recipe features nori seaweed, another food that’s on trend.

Enjoy this granola as a snack, on top of yogurt, or on an Asian-inspired salad or soba noodles.

Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice blend. If unavailable, replace with 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, 1⁄2 tsp black pepper, 1⁄4 tsp ground ginger and 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper.

1 Tbsp ground flax seed
2 Tbsp warm water
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp canola oil
1⁄4 tsp wasabi paste (optional)
2 cups large-flake rolled oats
(not instant)
1⁄2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1⁄2 cup almond slices
1 tbsp shichimi togarashi
1 tbsp fennel seeds
5 small sheets roasted nori (seaweed)

Preheat oven to 300 F.

In a small bowl, mix flax seed in warm water and let stand for five minutes. Add maple syrup, canola oil and wasabi, if using, and mix well.
In a large bowl, toss together oats, pumpkin seeds, almond slices, shichimi togarashi and fennel seeds. Add liquid ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Spread mixture on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Place in oven for 15 minutes. Stir. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Let mixture cool, then crush nori sheets on top.

Store in an airtight container.

Makes: Three cups.

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