What better way to kick off a new year than with a good dose of nutrition? Each January brings a whole slew of stories on how to live better, but wouldn’t it be neat to learn about some nutritious ingredients you can find in your own backyard? It’s not all green juice and supplements; you can have burgers, guacamole, fruit jam, ice cream, smoothies and more, all packed with vital nutrients. That’s where these eight tasty, healthy foods from the American West come in — each come from a specific area in the western states and offer a wholesome punch of goodness.
Bison, or buffalo as it’s commonly called, has long been touted as one of the healthier meats on the market. Colorado is known for its bison ranches, and not only is it easy to find the meat at restaurants and grocery stores, but you can visit the historic living herd near Golden if you want to see them in action.
According to Dr. M. Marchello at North Dakota State University, bison is a highly nutrient-dense food due to the calorie count in relation to its protein, fat, mineral and fatty acid content. In one 3.5-ounce serving, you’ll get almost 29 grams of protein, 3.42 milligrams of iron and a scant 2.5 grams of fat. To compare, the same portion of beef has almost 19 grams of fat, less protein and 140 more calories than bison.
But it gets even better: Bison aren’t factory-farmed like cows and pigs, and for the most part, they aren’t injected with hormones or antibiotics. Those majestic creatures roam free, gorge on fresh grass and live a happy life until the end. The only trick is to make sure you don’t overcook it — this is one meat that can dry out fast. Use ground bison in burgers or a tomato sauce and cook steaks to medium or medium-rare.
Yes, you can find avocados outside of California. In fact, if you live on the East Coast, chances are your fruits come from Mexico or the Dominican Republic. But as any Californian will tell you, the tastiest avocados are grown in the Golden State. Avocados boast about five grams of dietary fiber per half cup — more than blackberries, prunes or apples. The avocado is also naturally sodium- and cholesterol-free, helps to absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, K and E and is the only fruit to contain monounsaturated fat. That’s the good fat that makes your skin and hair strong and shiny.
In April, these wonderful fruits are ready to harvest. By July, the season is in full swing, and come December, it’s all over. But hey, that’s about nine months of nutritious, green, buttery goodness right from California.
New Mexican green chile
Not only are the large, meaty green chiles grown in New Mexico delicious, but these spicy, smoky and flavorful capsicums are packed with tons of nutrients. For starters, a half-cup serving provides about 30 percent of your recommended dose of vitamin A, which aids eye health, supports your immune system and helps create red blood cells. The same amount of green chiles gives you all the vitamin C you need and about 10 percent of your daily bone-strengthening vitamin K. They’re a great, fat-free addition to your morning eggs and are killer on a burger.
Arizona prickly pear
Though this dramatic-looking plant is very tasty, you won’t be grabbing a handful anytime soon. First, you’ll have to remove the “prickly” part, along with the skin, to get at the sweet, tender flesh inside these bright pink fruits. In Arizona, the prickly pear is used in all sorts of edible treats from jam and ice cream to trail mix. A serving of 3.5 ounces contains protein, dietary fiber, carbohydrates and a healthy dose of of magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and potassium.
Some nutritionists tout the fruit as a superfood since it’s used to treat a variety of ailments, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and hangovers; it also has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Either way, you’ll enjoy prickly pear’s fun color and mild, sweet flavor.
One of the best places to find this coveted mushroom is Oregon. Its cool, damp woods filled with big conifers are perfect for mushroom growth. As a result, this fungus is plentiful in the fall, from September to November. In fact, Oregonians like chanterelles so much that in 1990, the Pacific Golden Chanterelle became the official state mushroom. Adding this fungus to a dish provides an instant umami boost and adds nutrients to your meal as well. Chanterelles contain hefty doses of vitamin D, iron, magnesium and dietary fiber. As a bonus, when you serve chanterelles with anything, your guests are sure to be wowed. Heck, even saying the word makes one sound fancy in a good, culinary sort of way.
Washington sockeye salmon
Wild sockeye salmon (also called red salmon, Kokanee salmon, or blueback salmon) is a Pacific Ocean fish found along the coast of Washington state and along the Columbia River system. The fish spawn in fresh river water, where they live for about a year, then move on to the salty depths of the ocean.
It shouldn’t surprise you that salmon is healthy. Like most fish, this breed has a low calorie count, a lot of protein, half of your daily intake of vitamin B6, hardly any saturated fat and, of course, the beloved omega-3 fatty acids that everyone craves. Buy the salmon fresh, smoked, frozen or canned and get a hearty, healthy taste of the Evergreen State.
Have you ever been to Montana? It’s likely that you came across the state’s favorite fruit: huckleberries. Montanans add these purple-blue orbs to everything — pie, jam, even beer. It’s a good thing these blueberry-like fruits are delicious while also providing a superb dose of antioxidants and vitamins A, B and C. The two main types of huckleberry are “globe” and “big,” but they look and taste nearly the same. The short growing season runs through August, so if you find yourself in this northwestern state, make sure to find a place to pick some. Just keep a watch for bears, since the huckleberry is also their favorite food.
It’s no secret: Idaho is well known for its potato cultivation. But what most people don’t realize is that spuds are actually very good for you. One medium-sized potato provides nearly half of your daily vitamin C requirement, more potassium than a banana and a hearty dose of vitamin B6. What’s more, a potato by itself only contains around 110 calories and is naturally fat- and cholesterol-free. Instead of frying it or loading it up with fats like butter and cream, spike your spud with nonfat Greek yogurt, a pinch of salt, a dash of hot sauce and some ground pepper for a zesty side dish or light lunch.
As for the varieties, 94 percent of the potatoes grown in Idaho are Burbank, Norkotah, Ranger or Western — all classic russet types that taste great roasted, mashed and baked. You can also find the antioxidant-rich, grape-hued Ama Rosa and Purple Passion, the pink-skinned Ida Rose and buttery Russian Banana fingerlings.