When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe for ordering Chinese food rather than using the wok gathering dust in the kitchen cabinet.
And on the rare occasion you do feel like cooking, you’re set in your ways. Throw a few things into an anything-goes dish such as stir-fry or fried rice or a no-brainer salad or smoothie, and you’re on the couch just in time for “The Vampire Diaries.”
But what you put into those dishes can make all the difference. A University of Texas study that tested 43 fruits and vegetables found declines in several key nutrients between 1950 and 1999. The researchers blamed intensive modern farming methods that overtax the soil for this effect.
“Ideally, you’d get everything from your diet,” says Mustafa Hashimi of the Vitamin Shoppe. “But even though we make our best efforts to eat a balanced diet — organic, whole food-based — you’re still gonna come across some sort of nutrient deficiency.”
So what if you could make the things you’re already cooking better for you? To be a successful adult — not to mention a properly nourished one — you’ve got to make the time to cook. We talked to chef Phoebe Lapine about four easy ingredients to work into your next dish for a flavorful, more nutritious meal, all available at the Vitamin Shoppe.
Aloe vera juice
Packed with vitamins A, C and E, the juice of the plant’s inner leaves has many beneficial properties — once you get past the taste.
Benefits: Great for a healthy digestive tract, and you don’t need much: about an ounce daily.
Swap: Try it in water instead of cucumber for a mineral kick. “It might even be an interesting background flavor for a cold soup like cucumber vichyssoiseor a white gazpacho,” says Lapine. If you absolutely can’t get over the taste, blend a spoonful into your smoothie.
Derived from soybeans, it tastes like soy sauce although it’s lighter in color and more subtle in flavor.
Benefits: Of 20 amino acids, which combine to form the building blocks of muscles and organs, the body can make 10. Liquid aminos contain 16.
Swap: Skip thesoy sauce or tamariin any recipefor liquid aminos, a gluten-free alternative that’s lower in sodium and doesn’t require any special handling. “It’s a great, nutritious substitute for regular table salt,” Lapine says.
Bragg Liquid Aminos, $8.19
These magnesium-packed seeds have the ideal 1-to-1 ratio of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, with anti-inflammatory properties and sterols, which reduce cholesterol.
Benefit: They’re rich in protein, essential fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants and don’t need to be ground to get their benefits.
Swap: Use them instead of pricey pine nuts in pesto. The mild flavor makes them an easy way to boost the protein content of a dish. “I love them sprinkled on top of salads, mixed into my smoothies or finishing a cooked dish with some as garnish,” Lapine says.
Apple cider vinegar
Bragg’s version is made with organic apples; the finished product is unfiltered and unpasteurized.
Benefits: It can help level out your blood sugar and protect your gut. Stir some into your tea with honey, lemon and cayenne for an immunity boost.
Swap: Any vinegar, especially lighter varieties. “It also adds a nice punch to rich savory stews that need a little acidity — just add a tablespoon in while simmering.”
Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, $2.79