Best Foods of 2011

      Registered Dietitian, Elizabeth Somer, and the author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, shared which foods of the past year earned her nod for a "Healthy Food Award."

      A healthy breakfast that boosts your mood and sparks thinking throughout the day must include a whole grain for brain energy, a protein to keep blood sugar levels even and one to two servings of a colorful fruit or vegetable. Mornings are chaotic in most households, so we need to put that criteria into action with little effort or time. Seneca Farms Oatmeal cups are perfect. They take 45 seconds to heat in the microwave and when served with a glass of milk and a bowl of berries is a great way to start the day for adults or kids, all for less than 1 minute of prep time.

      If you want a cold breakfast, KIND, known for their healthy nutrition bars has just come out with some great, low-fat granolas. Typically, granola is packed with calories and fat, but these KIND granolas are yummy and filled with ingredients you can pronounce and other words, real food. Pour another great new food over the top, Darigold's DHA-fortified milk, and add a bowl of fruit and you've got another instant healthy breakfast.

      Anything new at the grocery store that's healthy for lunch or dinner?
      It is difficult to find packaged entrees that aren't dripping with sodium. I haven't found any yet. But these frozen products are high in fiber, nutrients, whole grains, and taste. For example, Kashi's Spicy Black Bean Enchiladas have only 1 gram of bad fats (i.e., saturated/trans fats), 8 grams of fiber, and less than a teaspoon of sugar. They taste great and if you serve them with another new food, Dole Salad Kit, such as Tender Garden Salad Blend, that helps dilute the sodium in the entire meal and you have a filling, healthy option for lunch or dinner that takes less than 5 minutes to prepare.

      Or, try one of Healthy Choice's frozen Caf Steamers. Again, too high in sodium, but low in fat, only 1 gram of bad fats, and 4 grams of fiber. There is only 260 calories in this entree, which is more like a snack than a meal, so add extra frozen vegetables or a salad to round out the meal.

      Kashi also released a yummy frozen pizza this year, the Stone-Fired Thin Crust Pesto pizza with 11 grams of whole grains, 14 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber in each serving. Too high in sodium and it's pizza, so there is a bit more fat, but much less than other frozen pizzas. Top it with extra slices of tomato or add some thawed red pepper slices before popping it in the oven to add an extra serving or two of vegetables.

      For a hearty soup, Campbell has just developed a Golden Butternut Squash soup, that has less than 100 calories per serving, little fat or cholesterol and 3 grams of fiber per serving. At that low a calorie content, you can have the whole box for less than 300 calories. Too high in sodium again, but add a salad or bowl of fruit and it helps dilute the salt in the entire meal.

      What about snacks? Anything good to go here?
      Yes. I love the individual watermelons now available in most produce departments. No fat, cholesterol, sodium. Low in calories. Packed with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, with other healthy goodies like arginine and citrilline that help keep arteries clear and elastic. And it's portable!

      Most people are familiar with dried dates, which are good. But Medjool dates are Mother Nature's candy. They are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, copper, magnesium, vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, iron and vitamin K. And honestly, they are the most delicious snacks that are all natural that I've ever had!

      Greek yogurt is not new, at least not in New York where I've seen it for years. But it is becoming mainstream here in the Pacific Northwest. I've tried them all, and the best one is also the cheapest. It's Fred Meyer's All Natural Nonfat Greek. It has only 150 calories in a cup, no fat or cholesterol, much less sodium than its competition, and is rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D. But what sets this yogurt apart is the texture. It is so rich and creamy and thick!! Just add fresh berries or sliced mango and you have a delicious dessert, too.

      Anything worth trying in the beverage department?
      The beverage category is gorged with junk these days. Skip the bottled teas, coffees, energy drinks dripping in sugar, and other calorific drinks. But, a refreshing healthy alternative is Tropicana's Trop 50, which has half the calories and sugar of regular OJ, but tastes just as good and is packed with potassium,vitamin C, folic acid, and antioxidants.

      To finish off the year, any supplements that are new and exciting?
      While most of the supplement aisle you would do well to avoid, there are a few new ones that are worthy of consideration. Ovega-3 is the first all-vegetarian form of the omega-3s EPA and DHA. Before this, the only omega-3s for vegetarians were ALA from flax or walnuts and DHA from algae. The DHA is great, lowering everything from heart disease to dementia risk, but there was no combination of the two omega-3s in salmon, EPA and DHA. This is a great option for vegetarians or anyone who wants an alternative to fish oil.

      Resveratrol. The research is looking very promising for this antioxidant to lower risk for dementia, heart disease, and even lengthen lifespan. Not sure what dose is best yet, but it is worth keeping an eye out. For example, obese men who take resveratrol supplements show improvements in metabolism that mimic calorie-restriction, state researchers at Maastricht University in The Netherlands. For one month, 11 obese men took daily supplements of 150 milligrams of resveratrol (the amount otherwise obtained from two gallons of red wine a day). Results showed the supplementation was associated with reduced fat in the liver, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, altered muscle metabolism in favor of increased fat burning, and a lower metabolic rate. Cells appeared to function more efficiently, as is typically seen with calorie-restricted diets. Previous studies have shown resveratrol alters gene expression similar to that seen with calorie restriction. This equates to improved weight loss, metabolic improvements, and even increased lifespan. More studies are needed to clarify the long-term effects of resveratrol supplementation.