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4 Surprising Foods You Should Be Eating Now

You might want to consider adding these to your daily rotation.

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Elena Lacey
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Google “what should I eat after 50?” and you get a couple bajillion links to articles listing foods like blueberries and beans and all those dark green vegetables my husband needs to be cajoled to eat.

Those foods are great, but how about adding something new? If there’s a good side to all the recent stuck-in-the-house time we’ve been spending, it’s that lately we’re expanding our horizons, looking for other healthy foods that can add some spice and variety — to say nothing of convenience — to our daily meals. Here are four surprising foods you should consider adding to the daily rotation:


Americans have been spicing up their pantries with bold seasonings, according to the latest data from the grocery-ordering company Instacart, and that’s good news for our health. Among the biggest sellers last year was za’atar (pronounced zaah-tar), a popular Middle Eastern seasoning that’s an herby blend of dried oregano, thyme and/or marjoram, plus tangy sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.

The herbs in za’atar have a long history of medicinal uses dating back to biblical times. Thyme, in particular, is rich in natural antibacterial and anticancer compounds, and a 2010 study suggests the antioxidants in thyme may help weaken harmful bacteria’s resistance to common drugs, including penicillin.

Try this:

Spread flatbread (like pita or focaccia) with olive oil or hummus and top with za’atar. Or generously rub za’atar and olive oil on chicken or potato wedges before roasting.

Meatless “meats”

You love a juicy burger, but you also know that a diet heavy in red meat isn’t good for your heart. So how about a juicy alternative burger? Sales of plant-based meats, like Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger and other brands, skyrocketed in 2020, due at least in part to the pandemic lock-down, but also to a growing interest in a plant-based diet for both health and environmental reasons.

For red meat lovers, subbing these alternatives for some red meat servings may help improve heart health. A 2020 Harvard study of 43,000 men found that a diet heavy in red meat was linked to a higher risk of heart disease, but swapping out red meat for plant-based proteins was linked to a lower risk, especially among men age 65 and older. (A similar 2010 Harvard study of 84,000 women also found eating more vegetable protein, rather than red meat, was associated with a lower heart disease risk.)

Try this:

Check out the meatless “ground beef” version from some of the faux burger companies; use it in an Italian meat sauce for pasta or as a healthy taco filling. Or try some of “meatless meatballs” in your grocer’s refrigerated case for a healthier hoagie. 

Fish from a can

Canned fish, that high-protein pantry staple, is making a big comeback. Americans are scooping up not just canned tuna, but also salmon, anchovies and sardines, the latest industry sales data shows.

These kinds of oily fish are chock full of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids so important for protecting against heart disease, as well as vitamin D, calcium and selenium — a nutrient that protects the body from infection. The American Heart Association recommends we get at least one or two servings of fish weekly to help reduce the risk of stroke — and it doesn’t always have to be fresh fish.

Try this:

To tame smoked sardines’ assertive flavor, smear bread, toast or crackers with something fatty — garlicky mayo, butter, sliced egg, olive oil or avocado  — then top with something acidic, like fresh tomato, plus sardines and a squirt of lemon juice  For canned salmon, wild varieties are better for both your health and the environment. Jazz up your favorite salmon burger recipe with spicy mayo.

Flour power

Here’s an easy way to increase the protein and fiber in your baked goods: Add some of the growing variety of alternative flours, including oat, almond, chickpea, coconut and more.

Last year, oat flour and almond flour, two of the most versatile gluten-free flours for baking, had soaring sales, the supermarket industry reports. Oat flour, made from ground whole oats, is rich in a type of fiber that’s been linked to lower blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Both almond flour and chickpea flour are higher in protein than many other types of flour, as well as in magnesium, a mineral important in building bones and in regulating blood pressure.

Try this: 

Substitute oat flour for up to a third of all-purpose flour in quick breads and pancakes. For a helpful collection of recipes and tips for using almond flour or chickpea flour — and other types of flour — check out the websites of King Arthur Baking (kingarthurbaking.com) or Bob’s Red Mill (bobsredmill.com).

Knowledge is power, and AARP Members have the opportunity to take the AARP Staying Sharp Brain Health Assessment for FREE through June 30, 2021. The assessment can give you a view into how you’re performing today and enable you to learn about strategies to help support brain health as you age. How does it work? You’ll take a series of science-based tests and based on your assessment results, you’ll receive personalized recommendations that include suggested activities that support brain health. 

Photo credits: sardines: Zachary Zavislak/Trunk Archive; all others: Getty Images (8)

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