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Manuel's Top Five: What Every Guy Should Have in the Fridge

By L.K. Regan

For the new year, we'd like to help our members get onto a healthy nutritional path. But this shouldn't be complicated—we're thinking simple, concrete suggestions that help you eat, shop and live healthier in 2010. Enter RealJock's favorite nutritiionist, Manuel Villacorta of MV Nutrition, MS, RD, CSSD, one of the leading nutritionists in the San Francisco Bay Area, creator of the RealJock Healthy Weight-Loss Programs, and founder of the interactive weight-management web site Nutrition for You. Each week Manuel will give us his top five suggestions for tackling some area of healthy eating. From the fridge to the pantry to the grocery store, here are some simple things you can eat and buy that will make a difference in your nutrition.

This week, Villacorta is starting us off with the top five things you should keep in the fridge. "Nutritionists so often talk in terms of what you should not eat," Villacorta says, "but it's at least as important, and maybe more so, to talk about what you should eat." Too frequently, he says, poor food choices result from time crunches. You get home late, you're tired, there's nothing in the fridge... pizza! But it doesn't have to be that way. "I'm thinking of these five things as emergency foods," Villacorta says, "to help you stay on track when you're in a hurry or haven't been to the store in a while."

So, here are five tasty and affordable things (in no particular order) that you might want to have on hand at all times.

  1. Frozen vegetables: A lot of people don't eat frozen veggies because they think of them as "processed"—and while, Villacorta says, they are processed, they are still good, and far better than no veggies at all. "A lot of people," he says, "don't eat veggies because the fresh ones spoil in the fridge, or because they don't know what to do with them." But, he points out, if the choice is between broccoli that's been in your fridge for seven days and broccoli from the freezer, the frozen broccoli has more of its nutrients (so long as you recyle your frozen veggies every six months). Fresh is best, but you always want frozen as a back-up. As to preparation, frozen veggies are delicious with just a brief trip to the stovetop or microwave; add a squeeze of lemon and pair them with suggestion number two, below.

  2. Chicken breast (pre-cooked and frozen): A little preparation on the weekend goes a long way. You need protein as part of your evening meal, but sometimes it just seems like too much of a pain to cook. So, for those days when you are harried and exhausted, keep a cooked (grilled, broiled, poached or pan-roasted) chicken breast in your freezer. You can cook a couple some Sunday afternoon and eat one for dinner while refrigerating the second. In the freezer it can last over a month, and it will give you an emergency buffer for protein without hitting the fast food. Put it over your frozen veggies (or over Villacorta's third suggestion, below) and you will be good to go.

  3. Healthy grain (pre-cooked and frozen): What's good for the protein is great for the carb. "Grains take the longest to cook," Villacorta says, "and, so, often people just skip them." But grains are key to energy regulation and cell maintenance—they are the basis of a healthy diet. And if you don't eat healthy grains—that is, things like brown rice, quinoa, or pasta—you are likely to eat unhealthy carbs (think: fast or processed foods, white breads, etc.). So, on that Sunday when you are making your chicken breasts, make a couple of batches of rice, quinoa or even pasta. "Keep it refrigerated, not frozen" Villacorta says, "and it will last for several days in an airtight container. That way, it's cooked and ready so you don't have to think about preparing a healthy grain when you get home." And, he points out, in a pinch you can put this together with your frozen vegetables and frozen chicken breast for a complete meal. Or, cook a loin chop or chicken breast in the evening and just reheat the grain to go with them. You will cut your preparation time in half.

  4. Flax seed meal: This is a great source of Omega-3s and anti-inflammatory fiber, Villacorta tells us. And he says, "It's important you refrigerate it because the Omega-3s oxidize fairly quickly." The best thing about flax seed meal is its ability to give a nutrition boost of heart-healthy fiber and anti-oxidants to just about any meal. "Sprinkle it on a salad," Villacorta says, "or on oatmeal or cold cereal. It's also great on brown rice." From breakfast to dinner, this versatile substance can give a health punch to a wide variety of meals.

  5. Kefir: This is one that, if you're not familiar with it, Villacorta really wants you to check out. Kefir is a middle eastern yogurt-like liquid made of fermented milk. That sounds dubious but it tastes delicious. It comes in multiple flavors, but Villacorta says to try the plain version, "to avoid the excess sugars," he says. Here's what you'll get: "Eight ounces of kefir," Villacorta says, "has 12 to 14 grams of protein. That's more than milk or yogurt." Moreover, it contains probiotics, beneficial gut bacteria that promote a healthy gastro-intestinal and immune system. Ultimately, Villacorta says, "Kefir is a good source of a complete protein." No more need for those processed energy bars and sugary protein drinks: with a little careful shopping, your fridge can provide all the protein you need, along with digestive and overall health benefits.
So there you go—five things to keep cold for better health. No more saying, "There's nothing to eat here!" when you open the refrigerator.