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Change Up Your 2021 Diet With These 'Millennial' Foods

Yes, avocado toast is on our list. Nutrition experts break down the benefits of 9 options

young person having avocado toast

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En español | If you are ready to experiment with new healthy foods and recipes in the coming year, it may be time to eat like a millennial.

Take a few cues from the way the younger generation eats, cooks and grocery shops, and you may be inspired to change what's on your plate without compromising your diet or derailing your weight-loss plans. Don't be afraid to tap into an internet full of creative recipes to figure out new ways to cook and diversify the ingredients you work with.

What do millennials eat?

"(Millennials) want what they call ‘clean’ food. What they really mean is that they want ‘real’ food,” said Anne VanBeber, professor of nutrition at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “They are interested in how the preparation of the food, the packaging, and the storing of the food impacts the environment."

To eat clean means choosing whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of processed snacks and ready-made meals with a list of ingredients that are impossible to pronounce,

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The younger generation (late 20s and early 30s) tend to choose beverages such as sparkling water, green tea and kombucha over sugary drinks like soda. And instead of buying groceries at big box or multipurpose stores such as Walmart or Costco, they look for more specialized grocers such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, which sell options that are more ethically sourced and contain less processed ingredients, according to a study of 12.5 million millennial social media posts by CBD Marketing.

As you begin your nutritional and weight-loss journey in 2021, consider experimenting with new ingredients and cooking methods that will prevent you from getting bored with your food intake. To get you started, we asked nutrition experts about nine foods from a definitive list of 60 millennial foods by Buzzfeed, a website that reaches nearly 83 percent of millennials, according to Nielsen Holdings.

1. Avocado toast, perhaps the most obvious “millennial” food because it appears on restaurant menus and is a staple of weekend brunch, can make for a nutritious breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are heart healthy and serve as a good fat replacement for butter. The fruit (yes, avocados are a fruit) also contains 10 to 11 grams of fiber per avocado, said VanBeber.

"Pairing a third of an avocado with one slice of 100 percent whole grain bread can provide between 15 to 20 percent of daily fiber needs for adults over 50 years of age,” said Elizabeth Spencer, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Center DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois.

However, be watchful. One medium avocado packs between 250 and 300 calories, so it may be too many calories for a meal or snack, especially when combined with other food items. Older adults often need fewer calories and higher amounts of specific vitamins, minerals and protein, she added.

2. Cauliflower is a vegetable common to many household crispers that has taken on new popularity as a carb replacement in the form of cauliflower crust and rice. For those looking for a savory alternative, there are also versions of cauliflower “wings” and cauliflower “steak.” These are lower in calories and carbohydrates than their starchy meaty counterparts and, obviously, work for vegans and vegetarians.

"Replacing rice with riced cauliflower or wheat in pizza crust with cauliflower can significantly cut down on carbs while retaining fiber, leading to feelings of fullness, as well as increasing daily veggie servings,” said Spencer. “Cauliflower is also a rich source of choline, which aids in muscle movement, metabolism, and nervous system and brain health.” So, clearly, it's good for people of all ages.

However, cauliflower pizza and snack foods don't pass as healthy when combined with piles of cheese and pepperoni, which can increase calories and bring up levels of sodium.

"As with other processed foods, the best rule to follow is ‘fewest ingredients is best,'” said Maxine Smith, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic's Center for Human Nutrition in Ohio.

3. Kale has been a darling of leafy green lovers for years now. It provides nutrients that are important for healthy bones, heart, brain and the gut, says Smith.

It is versatile and can be used in salads and soups, or cooked as a side dish on its own. Most recently, millennials have transformed the ingredient into kale chips, burrito wraps, and juice — another great way to cut the carbs.

However, because it is a cruciferous vegetable (meaning that it contains a sugar called raffinose) it often is left undigested in the gut until bacteria ferments it, leading to gas and bloating, said Spencer. Cooking kale may alleviate the problem.

"Kale also contains a high amount of vitamin K, which helps our blood clot,” said Spencer. “Older adults on blood thinners should be mindful of their vitamin K intake and work with their doctor and registered dietitian to safely fit kale into a healthful eating pattern."

kombucha drink

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4. Kombucha is a fermented unpasteurized tea that offers healthy probiotics which can battle inflammation, improve gut health and digestion, said Smith.

It has a vinegary taste, a byproduct of the fermentation process, but has a complex flavor from the sweetness of fruits and other botanicals that often are added to it. Meanwhile, its fizz resembles that of soda, which may be why millennials are drinking these trendier cola alternatives.

But, kombucha can be high in added sugar, with some brands containing up to 4 to 7 teaspoons of sugar per bottle (which is still less than a soda). For reference, the recommended intake of sugar for an entire day is 6 teaspoons or less, said Spencer.

Because it is not pasteurized, it is important to purchase kombucha through a reputable company with quality control, Smith said.


green matcha tea latte

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5. Matcha, meaning powdered tea, is made from steamed green tea leaves that are ground into a powder that can make elegant drinks, baked goods or creamy desserts. The benefits of green tea are legend but “matcha kicks it up a notch” due to its processing techniques, said Smith.

It contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that protect cells from damage that can promote disease. Matcha may even give an extra boost for your brain. Thanks to its caffeine and a compound called L-theanine, some studies have associated matcha with improved reaction time, memory and attention span.

For those sensitive to caffeine, matcha can cause an increased heart rate. It is also a natural diuretic, which — for older adults — can advance the risk of dehydration, said Spencer.

6. Oat milk is made from whole grain oats blended with water. It has more fiber than any milk product and is dairy free. Unlike cow's milk, oat milk is more sustainable for the earth, another characteristic millennials seek in their food choices. You may find it as a “milk” option at the trendiest of coffee shops. Like cow, soy and almond milk, it is fortified with vitamin D and calcium, all important nutrients for older adults to monitor, said Spencer.

Not that oat milk has less protein than cow or soy milk. It can also have more calories and carbs, making it important to stick to the suggested serving size. Flavored or sweetened varieties also will yield higher calories and sugar, she added.

7. Overnight oats have millennial appeal for the sometimes stylish look, often appearing on foodie Instagram accounts in a mason jar, complemented with layers of colorful fruit. Still, this one-dish, no-cook breakfast provides lots of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and provide vitamins like calcium and magnesium, said Smith.

Steel cut oats are often used for overnight oats, while rolled oats (that are cooked) provide similar nutrition.

"Overnight oats don't even really have to be cooked. You can just add your liquid of choice to the oats, stir it together, and put in the refrigerator,” said VanBeber. “Overnight, the oats will absorb the liquid and soften. You can eat them cold or warm."

You can customize your oats by making them with Greek yogurt, milk or soy milk. Then add preferred additions such as fruits, nuts, seeds or spices such as cinnamon.

poke bowls with tuna and fresh vegetables

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8. Poke bowls, like sushi, contain raw marinated fish (typically tuna) with an assortment of fresh vegetables and rice. The traditional Hawaiian dish is a low-calorie, low-fat meal option that provides lots of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals (defined as plant chemicals, and noted for their relationship with lower risk of cancer), said VanBeber.

It is highly customizable to match one's personal taste. However, you may want to avoid sauces with the word “sweet,” as they may have up to 6 teaspoons of sugar in a 2 ounce serving. Choose options that include brown rice, quinoa or a salad mix, said Smith.

9. Quinoa is a whole grain superfood that supplies a plethora of nutrients such as magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber. It is gluten free and notably high in protein compared to other grains, said Smith. There are not many other grains that resemble its lightly translucent appearance and fluffy yet crunchy texture.

Quinoa is a nutritious whole grain that can be a star player of a healthy diet. It promotes digestive health and lowers the risk for diabetes and cancer, she said. “Be sure to buy prerinsed quinoa or rinse yourself in a fine mesh strainer for a minute or so to remove a naturally bitter substance, saponin."

Although it is low glycemic, it is not a low-carb food. For those following a low-carbohydrate diet or those who have diabetes, carbohydrates in quinoa still need to be accounted for to maintain blood sugar levels, Spencer added.