If I’m being honest, I hope 2022 is the year we finally retire the word “superfood.” As a dietitian, I feel like I spend way too much time sitting on a soapbox trying to explain that no single food can drastically improve your health, happiness, or quality of life. And on the other hand, no food is bad or harmful to health. Eating a wide variety of foods is the best way to support your health mentally, physically and emotionally. Becoming obsessed with including or avoiding specific foods is not productive and can be very disordered.
So when I asked other dietitians to suggest foods we should be eating more of by 2022, I encouraged them to think outside the so-called “superfood” box. The foods below are fantastic for several reasons: convenience, affordability, sustainability, kid friendliness, and yes, nutrition. You shouldn’t take this list as a mandate — what you eat in 2022 is completely up to you. But if you’re looking for foods that meet some of the criteria listed above to add to your regular repertoire, here are seven to consider.
Hummus has been trending for years, but as consumers become more aware of sustainability and climate, plant-based foods are more popular than ever. While there are a growing number of faux meat options available, legumes such as chickpeas, black beans, soybeans, lentils, and peanuts remain the most affordable plant-based proteins.
“Besides being extremely affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly, [chickpeas are] packed with nutrients and so versatile,” says Chelsea Jackle, MFN, RDN, a dietitian and food blogger. “Toss them in salads, try them as a toasted crunchy snack, or add them to soup for some extra fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.” The same goes for black beans, lentils and other legumes.
It’s also easy to turn them into a dip with a food processor, some oil, and some flavor additives like tahini or spices. “A tried and true staple in my kitchen is hummus,” says Christa Brown, MS, RDN, a New Jersey-based dietitian. “This legume-based spread can be used as a dipping sauce or as a substitute for mayonnaise-based salads such as tuna. All perfect options if you have kids who are allergic to a wide variety of items and love dipping their veggies into something tasty and creamy.
No, vitamin D will not cure or prevent COVID-19. But it’s still an important nutrient that supports bone health, muscle and immune function, and glucose metabolism. We make some vitamin D when UV rays from the sun hit our skin, but we also need it from our diet. Unless you take cod liver oil every day, you’re unlikely to get much from your diet, as there aren’t many foods that are naturally high in vitamin D.
That’s why it’s so cool that some mushroom producers have started exposing their mushrooms to UV light before packaging, which dramatically boosts their vitamin D levels — just half a cup of UV-treated mushrooms provides half your daily requirement, according to the National Institutes of Health. When you’re at the grocery store, look for packaged mushrooms that have been treated with UV light (they will be labeled as such). They taste exactly like other mushrooms and can be used interchangeably.
Plus, you can use them to cut back on your meat consumption. “Mushrooms are a budget-friendly way to add more plant-based foods to the diet and are also a great substitute for meat in some recipes because they are similar in texture,” says Brynn McDowell, RD, owner of The Domestic Dietitian. “I like to use chopped mushrooms in burgers to replace some of the ground beef, and my family can’t even tell the difference.”
Many of us have a greater appreciation for frozen and shelf-stable foods after two years of cycling through various forms of lockdowns, take-home orders and self-quarantines. Culturally, we also deviate from the (false) belief that fresh is always best.
That’s all good news, as dieticians recommend taking advantage of canned, frozen, and freeze-dried fruits by 2022. “Canned fruits are shelf-stable, packed with nutrients, and highly digestible for those with sensitive guts,” says Abby Chan, MS, RD, a dietitian and co-owner of Evolve Flagstaff.
Frozen fruit is good for more than just smoothies. “Frozen [fruits] are not only less expensive than their fresh counterparts, but they are just as nutritious and more convenient,” says Jasmine Tom, MS, RDN. You can toss them in yogurt, stir them into oatmeal as it cooks, serve them over ice cream, or even bite into it as a fun frozen snack.
And freeze-dried fruit is a great kid-friendly snack. “Freeze-dried fruits, such as strawberries, are a shelf-stable fruit option and a nutrient-dense snack option for busy kids (plus a mess-free choice for on-the-go schedules),” says Emily Schiller, RD, a plant-forward and family-focused registered dietitian nutritionist. They are often sold at convenience stores and dollar stores where fresh fruit may not be an option, which is another big plus.
In their report on food trends for 2022, the New York Times mentioned that lab-grown meat from animal cells could be federally approved in 2022, and that chicken will likely be the first lab-grown meat. While that sounds interesting, it seems people are more excited about the recent expansion of plant-based chicken options.
Chick’n nuggets are nothing new, but they are new everywhere. KFC is rolling out its meatless chicken nuggets (made by Beyond Meat) nationwide on Jan. 10. Burger King just launched vegan nuggets (made by The Vegetarian Butcher) in the UK, according to VegNews. While these meatless options are nutritionally similar to their chicken-based counterparts, they are more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Nuts are getting a lot of attention as a nutritious, filling and convenient snack or meal add-on. Try adding seeds to the mix in 2022 as well. “Seeds are a great on-the-go snack for the whole family,” says Nicole Stefanow, MS, RD, a culinary dietitian in the greater New York City area.
They are packed with protein, unsaturated fats, fiber and several important vitamins and minerals. And they are a good alternative to nuts for allergy sufferers. “Seeds are a great allergy-friendly alternative to nuts, making them perfect for packing school lunches or as a salad topping for your next big gathering,” says Stefanow. Try snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds, adding sunflower seeds to yogurt or salads, and buying sunflower seed butter instead of your usual nut butter.
The wellness area is full of stories about gut health, the microbiome, and probiotics. In reality, researchers have only been exploring these topics for about 10 years, and it’s too early to draw many definitive conclusions about how the bacteria in your digestive system affect your health. But experts agree that fermented foods, not supplements, are the best way to consume probiotics and potentially improve the diversity of bacteria in your gut microbiome.
And it just got easier to make your own sauerkraut and kimchi. The OOCO is a temperature-controlled pressure cooker designed to ferment food at home in less time. It’s a fun addition to your kitchen, as well as a creative way to add more flavors to your cooking.