Salmon and kale (surprisingly) didn't make the list.

By Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
Updated: January 23, 2019

People sometimes assume that dietitians eat a “perfect” diet—or one considerably better than their own. However, the reality is that most dietitians are busy (just like you). So, while we have the knowledge to plan a pretty stellar diet, this doesn’t mean that we always have the time to make it happen. I’ve learned to keep a few healthy items on hand to help me out on busy mornings or for on-the-go snacking, and I was interested to know if others did the same.

I asked fellow nutrition colleagues to send me their “top-five foods”—not necessarily the five healthiest foods they eat in a week, but rather the ones that are staples in their daily routines due to convenience, taste, and nutrition, plus the ones they rely on to stay fueled and satisfied in the midst of busy schedules. The results? Over 20 dietitians sent me their “top-five” list, and after filtering through 100+ foods, I found six foods that were overwhelmingly consistent among responses. Here are those top foods that dietitians eat daily.

Berries

Berries of all types—from fresh to frozen—were a top food listed by almost all who responded. Something that may surprise readers, though, is that frozen berries were the predominant form most keep on hand—or at least when it’s not berry season—thanks to their convenience and retention of nutrients when frozen quickly after harvest.  

But, why berries over other fruits? “Berries are rich in antioxidants and are lower in glycemic index,” says Kelsey Stricklen, MS, RD, CLT. They’re also a good source of fiber and a key ingredient in smoothies. Kelsey Stricklen, MS, RD, CLT, says, “I often cook them into my oats in the morning and add a bit of nut butter for satiety.”

Nut Butter

As a daily peanut butter eater, I’m glad to know I’m good company. About 75 percent of dietitians who responded listed either peanut butter, almond butter, or another nut butter as a food they eat on an almost-daily basis. In fact, Jessica Gust, MS, RDN of Element Nutrition Co., said, “I usually eat a tablespoon or two of nut butter a day. It’s an easy way to spruce up meals and snacks with added protein and fat.”

And there appears to be no wrong way to eat it—including my favorite way, which is a spoonful straight from the jar. “I enjoy peanut butter with sliced banana or apple, stirred into my plain Greek yogurt, as part of my recipe for peanut butter cereal bars, in a smoothie, and sometimes, straight out of the jar!” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD.

Avocado

Whether it’s for the satiating fiber and fat, the creaminess that it lends smoothies and sauces, or just simply because they’re good, avocados were one of the most frequently included “top” foods that dietitians eat regularly. Atlanta-based integrative and culinary dietitian Marisa Moore, MBA, RD, LD, confessed she has an avocado habit. “From avocado toast and homemade dips to adding it as a topping for fish tacos or vegetable soup, I easily eat half an avocado a day,” says Moore.

Maggie Farley, MA, RDN of Meals with Maggie echoed those same sentiments, “I find a way to put avocado in my everyday routine. It is high in potassium, which makes it perfect to add-in to a post-workout smoothie.” 

Oats

I’m a big fan of oats, but the popularity of this whole-grain (in sea of answers) took me by surprise. Over half of the dietitians who responded listed oats as one of their “top” daily foods.

Turns out a hot bowl of oatmeal is a staple breakfast for many, including NYC-based Registered Dietitian, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. “I make rolled oats with milk on the stovetop in five minutes and top with whatever seasonal fruit I have on hand—berries in the summer, apples and pears in the fall and winter—as well as nuts or nut butter.”

But I also found that dietitians are using oats for other things, too. Several shared that they add uncooked oats to smoothies to add fiber and thickness. Or they process oats in a food processor or blender to make oat flour to add to other flours or batters to boost nutrition. In fact, dietitian and yoga instructor Melissa Burton, RDN says homemade waffles made with oat flour are one of her favorite breakfasts.

Eggs

The nutrition world has been trying to get out the word that eggs are back and are a key part of a healthy diet, and it seems many dietitians are following their own advice. “It can be really hard to get protein in at breakfast, but it's so important for me to feel full before I start the day. I always find a way to get at least one egg for breakfast,” says Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, LDN.

Farley also agreed and looks for ways to incorporate eggs in all her meals. “Eggs are a complete protein and are so versatile. I make them for breakfast on toast, in egg cups as a snack or hard boiled with a salad for lunch. Sometimes I will eat it on top of a stir fry bowl for dinner.”

Chocolate

Perhaps the best proof from my poll that dietitians take a realistic and balanced approach to food is that 15 out of the 22 dietitians who participated listed chocolate as one of their “top” foods, and that included both dark and milk chocolates. A few even shared how they use daily chocolate to keep their sweet tooth in check and how they like to incorporate a small bite or two daily.

  • “I buy chocolate in small single sizes and I enjoy 1-2 pieces a day, usually at night as a treat.” - Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN, LDN
  • “Cashews and dark chocolate chips make a great snack (sometimes I even add some mini pretzels, too).” - Melissa R. Burton, RDN
  • “I think I have some form of chocolate at least one time per day and maybe more depending on the day. I may keep dark chocolate or Hershey Kisses around to help satisfy my sweet tooth.” -Amy Reed, RDN

Honorable Mention Foods

Berries, peanut or almond butters, avocado, oats, eggs and chocolate were without a doubt the most popular answers, but there were a few other foods that didn’t trail too far behind. Here’s a quick look at those foods and favorite ways to use them.

  • Broccoli: The cruciferous veggie seems to be the favorite green option among dietitians. And similar to berries, both fresh and frozen are used. Stricklen shares that, “I love buying frozen broccoli in bulk from places like Costco. Microwave it and add some seasoning for a quick side dish, or throw it in with some eggs for a quick and easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. ”
  • Leafy Greens: Fresh spinach leaves were popular due to their convenience and mild, versatile flavor that allows them to be used in everything from salads to smoothies. Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD shared, “One of my favorite ways to incorporate most of my top five foods into one recipe is to make a smoothie with leafy greens, frozen cauliflower, frozen fruit, and a scoop of nut butter. It's so satisfying and helps make plant-based eating easy!"
  • Bananas: Bananas can add creaminess and natural sweetness to smoothies, or be used as a quick snack or addition to cereal or oatmeal. “I love to have milk, cereal, and banana for breakfast because I include three servings from three different foods groups in one bowl. I also make a smoothie with milk, banana, and uncooked oatmeal,” says Ward.
  • Chia seeds or flaxseeds: Using chia seeds or flaxseeds are popular (and tasty) ways to add omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein to your meals. Lindsey Janeiro, RDN, CLT shares that she adds flaxseed “to boost the fiber in things like yogurt bowls, smoothies, homemade crackers and baked goods, breading on homemade chicken tenders, turkey meatballs, and many other foods.” And nursing mom Sarah Thornton, MPH, RDN, LDN, with TheTolerantTummy.com, says she relies on chia seeds for extra fuel on busy days. “I always stir a spoonful of chia seeds and powdered peanut butter into my morning bowl of granola for extra protein."
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