10 great health foods

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10 great health foods

The food you eat every day can make a difference in your health. Diet affects your risk of getting some cancers, heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Diet also affects the risk of low bone density and loss of muscle strength with aging.

But a healthy diet can include a huge range of foods. How do you choose?

Some of the best foods for health combine nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fats and protein. If those foods also have limited amounts of added sugar, fat or salt added to them, they are called nutrient-dense foods.

Foods that are a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals and that are high in plant chemicals called phytonutrients are a bonus. Eating nutrient-dense foods regularly, over time, is linked to a lower risk of some chronic diseases.

Here are 10 great foods to add or increase in your diet.

Almonds

Nuts eaten whole are considered a protein, in the same category as seeds, meats and eggs. They may also be processed into an oil. But nuts have more than protein and fat going for them. They’re filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

Almonds are a good example. They are tree nuts and can be used whole or ground into butter and everything in between. Almonds add crunch to snack time, salads and dishes that range from appetizers to desserts.

Almonds are a source of magnesium, calcium and folate. Just 1 ounce of almonds meets a large amount of the daily need for vitamin E. And most of the fat in almonds is in the form of monounsaturated fatty acids. This type of fat, when it replaces saturated fat, is linked to heart health.

Nuts are a strong addition to a healthy diet. But they can pack a big calorie punch. So watch portion size and make sure the nuts you choose fit into your daily calorie plan. Choose unsalted whole nuts or nut butter without added salt or sugar.

Almonds in a bowl

Apples

Most people could use more fruit in their daily diet, according to surveys. Apples are a handy and reliable way to check that box every day.

Different apple varieties can satisfy tastebuds that lean toward tart or sweet. And apples are a good source of fiber. Apple skins have fiber that doesn’t break down in water, called insoluble fiber. The inside part of the apple has soluble fiber, which becomes a sort of gel as it travels through the intestines.

Soluble and insoluble fiber helps keep food moving in the digestive system and may lower the risk of getting some cancers. Soluble fiber also may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Like other plant foods, apples have phytonutrients. These are things like vitamin C, and in apples, flavonoids, as well as many others. Together these chemicals seem to support the body’s cells against damage from day-to-day living.

Green apples

Beans

As both a vegetable and a source of protein, beans are a good addition to every meal. Each type of bean has its own profile of nutrients, but all beans are low-fat sources of protein and fiber. Beans also bring thiamin, magnesium, iron, zinc, folate, phosphorus and potassium to the diet.

With so many options, it’s hard to find a meal where beans can’t play a starring role.

But American diets are often low in average intake of beans, peas and lentils. To boost your intake, consider replacing higher fat proteins with beans. And if you’re looking at canned beans, go for low sodium.

Jars of dried beans

Blueberries

Another great fruit to add to the daily diet are blueberries. Alone, in yogurt, or added to salad, blueberries are packed with phytonutrients. One example are anthocyanins, which give blueberries their color and are linked to memory health, among other benefits.

Blueberries also have vitamin K. This vitamin supports the body’s cells, healthy blood flow and calcium processing. Vitamin K works together with manganese, which also is found in blueberries.

And blueberries are a low-calorie source of fiber and vitamin C. About 3/4 cup of fresh blueberries has 2.7 grams of fiber and 10.8 milligrams of vitamin C.

Fresh or frozen, blueberries can add color to your plate.

But a note of caution: When it comes to blueberry treats, such as muffins or bagels, the calories may cost you more than you gain, so read the nutrition information.

Broccoli

Broccoli is called a cruciferous vegetable. That means it is in the cabbage family and has phytonutrients linked to immune health and detoxification.

One example is a phytonutrient that contains sulfur, called glucosinolates. Another is lutein, a compound similar to vitamin A that is linked to eye health. And broccoli also is a source of vitamin A, which supports healthy vision.

Broccoli boosts the nutrition of meals with grains, beans or eggs. That’s because broccoli’s vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron from those foods than it would otherwise. Broccoli also is a source of calcium.

In the fridge, broccoli stays fresh longer than many other vegetables. Roasted, shredded in slaws, or added to vegetable soup, broccoli is a bold flavor that can be enjoyed raw or cooked.

Raw broccoli crowns

Salmon

Seafood in general, and salmon in particular, is a good choice for protein in the diet. If you can use salmon in place of a higher fat meat, that’s even better.

Salmon is probably best known for its omega-3 fatty acids. Called EPA and DHA, these fats may support heart health, brain function and healthy joints.

Most Americans could add more seafood to their diets, and salmon is a good choice. Salmon can be used fresh or canned. If you buy canned salmon, get it packed in spring water instead of oil.

Salmon can be used in place of tuna in mixed dishes, such as a casserole. Or salmon can be the main protein, as in a salmon burger or taco. Salmon, along with sardines and trout, tend to be lower in mercury than other types of seafood.

Two raw salmon filets

Spinach

Spinach is a leafy green vegetable sold as a bunch. Frozen or fresh, spinach can be part of many dishes, such as those that include eggs, stews or pasta. But fresh, it is a great addition to salads or can stand alone on the dinner plate.

Spinach has vitamins A and C, potassium, carotenoids and folate. Some of the carotenoids found in spinach are beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These phytonutrients support healthy vision, and proper functioning of the body’s cells. Spinach also is a source of iron.

Add spinach to salads, use it in place of lettuce on a sandwich or gently steam it.

Sweet potatoes

Baked or mashed, sweet potatoes are a dish that brightens up any plate. Sweet potatoes have a deep orange-yellow color. That color tells you sweet potatoes are high in the antioxidants known as carotenoids. One of the most studied is beta carotene. It’s a substance the body can use to make vitamin A, and it helps cells manage day-to-day wear and tear.

Sweet potatoes are a source of potassium and vitamin A. These veggies also are a source of some B vitamins. And like many vegetables, they are a good source of fiber and relatively low in calories. One-half of a large sweet potato has just 81 calories.

Keep sweet potatoes out of the fridge but in a cool area that is dry and has good airflow.

Mashed sweet potatoes

Vegetable juice

Tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, beets and carrots are some examples of vegetables that may be juiced. The juice of vegetables often has most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients found in the original vegetable, depending on processing.

The juice will not have the beneficial fiber found in those vegetables. You could add some pulp back to your juice, or just use juicing as a diet boost. If you’re buying vegetable juice, look for 100% juice from whole vegetables. And check the amount of salt, which is called sodium on the Nutrition Facts label.

But the good news is that vegetable juice is often a low-calorie, low-sugar, convenient way to add nutrients to your diet.

Wheat germ

Whole grains are foods like oats, popcorn and brown rice, where all the edible parts of the grain are still present.

These parts are the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each part would help a new plant grow if the grain was planted. The germ is where a new plant would sprout from and it has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and some fats.

Wheat germ is an excellent source of thiamin, and a good source of folate, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

Wheat germ can boost the overall nutritional value of a meal. For example, some people sprinkle wheat germ on fruit or in hot cereals such as oatmeal or cold breakfast cereal.

Oatmeal topped with wheat germ and apple

10 foods to get you started

These are just a few of the many options that could make up a nutritious diet. Your best diet depends on your age, activity level, budget, body weight and cultural traditions.

The most important thing to remember is that every bite counts. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods and avoiding added sugar, sodium and saturated fats to lower your risk of chronic illness over time.

March 28, 2024

  1. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids. Accessed March 1, 2024.
  2. FoodData central. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov. Accessed March 1, 2024.
  3. Duyff RL. Cook for flavor and health. In: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.
  4. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov. Accessed March 1, 2024.

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