Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds are more than just delicious treats. Filling your plate with unprocessed whole foods provides your body with the nutrients and fiber it needs to function at its best.
Here are 30 healthy foods you should be eating more of. Some of these foods may be healthier substitutes for things you already have at home. Start small and try to incorporate one new food into your healthy meals or snacks each week as you slowly upgrade your food choices.
Berries are packed full of health-promoting nutrients. Regular blueberry consumption has been linked with weight loss, improved brain function, and lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that eating one cup of blueberries each day can also raise levels of good HDL cholesterol in our blood (1).
Strawberries have a very high vitamin C content. One cup of cut strawberries provides over 100% of the recommended daily intake (RDI). Eating strawberries may help lower the risk of developing many chronic conditions including heart disease and cancer (2).
Eggs are nature’s perfect food. They are an affordable source of high-quality protein and rich in many vitamins and minerals that are essential for our health including the antioxidant selenium. Recent research has shown that when consumed in moderate amounts the cholesterol in egg yolks does not raise blood cholesterol levels (3).
One cup of chopped avocados provides 240 calories, 10 grams of fiber and 21% of the RDI of vitamin E. Although more than 80% of the calories in avocado come from fat, studies have shown that regular avocado consumption can help to raise levels of HDL cholesterol while not affect LDL or total cholesterol (4).
Bananas are more than just easy to eat, portable snack foods. Bananas are rich in potassium and dietary fiber. Increasing fruit intake has been shown to increase satiety and help people on a diet lose more weight (5) compared to those who do not eat more fruit. Skip the afternoon trip to the vending machine and grab a healthy banana instead.
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are low in calories, high in fiber and packed full of beneficial nutrients like vitamin C. Studies have shown that eating more high fiber foods that are low in calories like kale, spinach, and salad greens is a great strategy to help control hunger levels and lose weight (6).
Olives are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats including one known as oleic acid. This fat in olives is also present in large amounts in olive oil. Intake of oleic acid has been linked to many health benefits including reduced inflammation and may help lower the risk of developing heart disease (7).
7. Grass-Fed Butter
The diet of a cow has a significant influence on the nutritional value of its milk. Milk from grass-fed dairy cows has been shown to be more nutritious than conventional milk. Butter produced from grass-fed milk has significantly higher levels of healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids when compared with conventional milk (8).
Butter is a food that is high in calories so use it sparingly. One teaspoon of butter contains 45 calories.
Hummus is a popular food made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Dip raw vegetables such as bell peppers, cucumber, or snap peas into hummus for a healthy and filling afternoon snack.
9. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok Chou, and arugula. These vegetables are low in calories with high fiber content. They are a good source of vitamin C, folate, calcium, vitamin K, and many plant-based compounds called phytonutrients.
Laboratory studies suggest there is promising potential for the role of cruciferous vegetables in reducing cancer risk but more long term studies are needed to confirm this effect (9). What we do know is that eating more vegetables is associated with lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer (10).
10. Chicken Breast
Chicken is a very popular food choice in the United States. It can be used in a variety of ways and when consumed without the skin is very high in protein while low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
A three-ounce serving of cooked skinless chicken breast provides 24 grams of protein and just 117 total calories.
11. Fatty Fish and Seafood
Fatty fish including salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, anchovies and sardines should be consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern at least one to two times per week. Fatty fish are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids which are crucial for brain health.
Fish also provide an excellent source of vitamin B12 and iodine. Salmon is one of few food sources of vitamin D as well.
There is strong evidence to suggest that regular intake of oily fish and Omega-3 fatty acids as part of a Mediterranean diet pattern full of fresh fruits, veggies, lean meat, seafood, and whole grains may help protect against cognitive decline commonly seen in aging (11).
12. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has become a popular home remedy in recent years however there is little research to support many of the proposed health benefits.
One study did find that individuals consuming a beverage containing 1 or 2 tablespoons of vinegar daily for 12 weeks did lose more weight than those given a placebo. The effect was small, ranging from 2.5 to 4 pounds of weight loss over a three month period (12).
You can safely add apple cider vinegar to your diet by using it in place of regular vinegar in recipes or as part of a marinade for meat. Use caution when drinking it as the high acidity can be damaging to your teeth and possibly cause heartburn. Be sure to dilute it with water if you do choose to drink it and stick to one tablespoon or less per day.
13. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a popular food choice because it is an excellent source of medium-chain triglycerides. Research supporting the health benefits of coconut oil is limited at this time (13).
Coconut oil does add a delicious tropical taste to foods and can be used as a replacement for fat in recipes. Just be sure to use it in moderation as it provides 45 calories per teaspoon with most of those calories coming from saturated fat.
14. Dark Chocolate
If you crave a sweet treat after dinner, a small square of dark chocolate might be just what you are looking for. There are more nutrients in dark chocolate compared to other types of chocolate because of the higher cocoa content. However, these nutrients are present in such small amounts that there is little benefit seen in consuming large quantities of dark chocolate in your diet.
Look for dark chocolate with greater than 70% cocoa content and enjoy in it small amounts.
15. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is an excellent high protein source with 3.5 grams of protein per tablespoon. Spread peanut butter on apple slices or a slice of multigrain toasted bread for a healthy afternoon or evening snack. Be sure to measure your portions as each tablespoon contains 96 total calories.
16. Chia seeds
Chia seeds pack a nutritional punch. They provide 5 grams of plant-based protein per 2.5 tablespoon serving. They are also a good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids known as alpha-linolenic acid and packed full of plant-based antioxidants.
Try sprinkling chia seeds in foods such as breakfast cereal and oatmeal or add them to a cup of yogurt or your favorite smoothies.
17. Whole grains
Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. When a grain is refined most of the fiber and many of the beneficial nutrients are removed. This lack of fiber can cause refined grains to raise blood sugar levels and make it more difficult to manage type 2 diabetes.
Enriched grain foods have some of the missing nutrients added back but not the fiber. Research continually supports the benefit of choosing whole-grain foods in our diets.
Some easy and delicious whole grains to try include whole wheat breads, quinoa, couscous, and oats.
18. Brown rice
Brown rice is a less processed and healthy alternative to white rice. Though similar in total calories, brown rice provides considerably more nutritional value than white rice including more fiber, manganese, and magnesium. Brown rice is also surprisingly high in protein with one cup of cooked brown rice providing 5 grams of protein.
Beans and lentils are the edible seeds of a class of plants called legumes. Popular bean choices include chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans. Beans are full of fiber, plant-based protein, and are excellent sources of many B vitamins including vitamin B1.
Try adding unsalted and drained canned beans to soups or stews to easily help boost your intake.
Almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts make excellent healthy plant-based snacks. A large population-based study found that regular consumption of nuts leads to a reduced risk of death from cancer and heart disease (14).
Stick to a one-quarter cup serving of lightly salted or unsalted, dry roasted nuts. Nuts are a great food option to consume as a mid-afternoon snack that will keep you full until dinner.
21. Green Tea
Green tea is a very popular beverage around the world. A cup of green tea is full of antioxidants and has less caffeine than coffee. Green tea drinkers have been shown to have better focus and concentration, reduced anxiety, and more efficient brain function and memory (15).
Try a cup of freshly brewed green tea in place of your morning coffee.
22. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are both root vegetables, though these tubers are not from the same plant family. Both types of potatoes can be part of a healthy diet especially if consumed with the skin.
Sweet potatoes with orange flesh are an excellent source of beta carotene which is converted to vitamin A in our bodies. Vitamin A is important for both vision and immune health. Try sweet potato fries or make mashed sweet potatoes to incorporate them into your diet.
23. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt and has two to three times more protein. Add Greek yogurt to breakfast parfaits or mix with naturally sweet fruit like berries for a tasty cold treat.
24. Swiss Chard and Collard greens
Dark leafy green vegetables including swiss chard and collard greens are excellent off the radar food choices you should consider adding to your diet. Both of these healthy greens are packed full of nutrients including well over 100% of the RDI for vitamin A and vitamin K.
People who consume diets high in vitamin K have been shown to have lower rates of osteoporosis and improved bone density (16).
25. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers, also commonly known as sweet peppers can be eaten cooked or raw. Green peppers are actually not yet ripe and will not be as sweet as yellow, orange, or red varieties though they still provide many of the same nutrition benefits.
Beyond adding color to recipes, one medium pepper provides greater than 100% of the RDI of vitamin C. Add a handful of cut peppers to almost any recipe or dip raw peppers in hummus for a crunchy, satisfying and healthy afternoon snack.
26. Green Beans
Green beans are a low-calorie nutritious vegetable to add to your diet. One cup of green beans contains a healthy mix of vitamins and minerals and provides just 31 total calories.
If you buy canned green beans be sure to look for brands with no salt added and steam or sauté instead of boiling to retain the most nutrients.
Store-bought tomatoes are often bland and tasteless. This is because they were picked when green and ripened with ethylene gas. Cherry tomatoes have a better flavor because they are harvested when ripe. You can also try growing your own tomatoes or buying them at a local farmers market.
Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a plant-based antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure (17). Cooking tomatoes increases our bodies’ ability to absorb lycopene. Low sodium tomato sauce is a great food product to use to obtain the health benefits of tomatoes.
Honey is often marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar because it provides trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals and many different antioxidants.
One teaspoon of honey provides 15 calories, the same amount as table sugar. While not something to consume in excess, honey can be used as a healthy replacement for sugar in morning coffee or tea.
Spinach is a healthy leafy green vegetable you should consider adding to your diet. Try mixing a handful of spinach into lunch salads or use it in place of lettuce on sandwiches. Spinach is very high in vitamin K and vitamin A and also an excellent source of folate.
Mushrooms are not technically a vegetable they are a fungi. Always buy mushrooms from a reputable store or market as you cannot tell if a wild mushroom is poisonous by sight or taste.
You will see several varieties of mushrooms at the store including shitake, cremini, portobello and white button mushrooms. While each has a unique flavor and taste. Mushrooms are very nutritious and full of fiber, B vitamins, potassium and copper. Some vegetarian dishes use portobello mushrooms as a replacement for meat due to their taste and texture.
Always be sure to cook mushrooms to increase the digestibility of the nutrients.
The Final Word
Healthy eating does not have to be difficult. During your next visit to the grocery store, try adding one or two foods from this list to your cart. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Some of these choices can even be healthier replacements for foods you already have at home.
The healthiest meals and snacks will contain several of these foods combined together. Many items listed are not just good for your body they are also delicious.
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- Benbrook, Charles M., et al. “Enhancing the Fatty Acid Profile of Milk through Forage-Based Rations, with Nutrition Modeling of Diet Outcomes.” Food Science & Nutrition, vol. 6, no. 3, 2018, pp. 681–700. Crossref, doi:10.1002/fsn3.610.
- Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention.” National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet#:%7E:text=Most%20studies%20have%20reported%20little,of%20lung%20cancer%20(16). Accessed 24 June 2020.
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