Eat this, eat that. There's always someone telling you the healthiest (and unhealthiest) foods for your body. The worst part is that one day coffee and eggs are bad, but the next study says they're good for you. Here, we've compiled 20 healthy foods that no new study is likely to dispute. (Well, we don't think so, anyway!) Best of all, there are lots of surprising choices.
"Whether or not you are a vegetarian or vegan, beans should be your main source of protein," says Joanne Mumola Williams, Ph.D., a nutritionist and author of "Health Begins in the Kitchen: Delicious and Easy Vegan Recipes and Seasonal Food Plan." Beans provide protein without the saturated fat and cholesterol that you get with meat. Plus, they're a great source of fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and antioxidants. "Soaking beans and discarding their soak water reduces substances that cause flatulence."
This onion cousin should be part of your daily diet. Garlic contains powerful sulfur-containing compounds that give it its reputation for promoting health. Garlic is known to promote heart health and ward off illnesses caused by inflammation. Garlic also has the ability to control infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast and has properties that can lower the risk of many cancers. Crush and chop garlic and let it rest 10 minutes before cooking to get the best health benefits. "In any recipe that uses garlic, I chop or crush it first before doing anything else so that it can rest and develop its superpowers," says Williams.
Artichokes are very high in dietary fiber — more than 10 grams each. They're also a good source of vitamins C and K, folic acid and manganese. Plus, they contain the flavonoid silymarin, which is a powerful liver protectant. The antioxidants rutin, quercetin and gallic acid contained in the leaf of the artichoke have led researchers to believe that artichokes may help fight cancer.
Chia, hemp and flax (pictured above) are potent additions to the diet, especially if you don't eat fish. "They are an excellent source of ALA omega-3 which is critical for heart health, brain development, reducing inflammation and joint pain, managing depression, preventing dry eyes, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, protecting your bones and more," says Williams. Flax has the most omega-3s, hemp contains the most protein, and chia has the most fiber and calcium. Use seeds in salads, dressings, on yogurt and as a snack.
Pomegranates help fight free radicals, balance cholesterol and are heart health superstars.
6. Butternut and spaghetti squash
Butternut and spaghetti squash (pictured above) are often overlooked super veggies. The squashes are low in calories at about 80 per cup and high in vitamins K, B6, C and A.
7. Salmon and halibut
These seafood favorites are wonderful sources of vitamin D, especially when sunshine is limited. What's more, vitamin D has a huge impact on emotional health. Wild-caught or farm-raised, salmon boasts a boatload of other nutrients important for a healthy immune system.
8. Sweet potatoes
"Packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and taste, they are easy to cook and don't break the bank," says Shari Portnoy, a registered dietician and certified fitness trainer. Get a full day's worth of vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium from the sweet tuber.
Dates are easy to carry, satisfy a sweet tooth, and are loaded with fiber. In addition, dates (fresh or dried) have cardiovascular health-promoting effects and can help lower cholesterol, says Portnoy. Anti-microbial benefits are also a plus.
10. Green tea
Green tea gives you the same energized kick as caffeine, but is gradual and steady, sort of like the tortoise versus the hare, says Veronica Grey, author of "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: The 5 Most Important Wellness Secrets of All Time." "I love that all the coffee chains now have an incredibly delicious, guilty pleasure version — a matcha green tea latte. Partnered with an almond or coconut milk instead of regular dairy, you become unstoppable."
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and also have vitamin B6, magnesium and fiber. "Really ripe bananas are one of the best sources of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which helps the good bacteria in our gut to flourish," says Liz Weinandy at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Besides what they have in them, bananas are inexpensive, easy to peel and eat and are readily available. "This is important because what good is a superfood if it can't be easily consumed?"
We've long been told to limit our intake of these nutrient-packed, protein powerhouses because they're also high in cholesterol. But it turns out that science doesn't support the notion that cholesterol in our diet raises cholesterol in our bodies, so go ahead and nosh on eggs.
13. Dandelion greens
Dandelion greens are more than just a weed. They contain high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin A, B vitamins and important minerals like iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. "The bitter compounds in dandelion leaves aid in digestion and in supporting the liver and pancreas. Studies have also indicated that the nutrients in dandelion greens are protective against neuron damage, and that dandelion tea could prove to be a powerful cancer fighter," says Elizabeth Withkowski, a certified holistic nutrition consultant. These greens can be a nutritious addition to any salad.
"Everyone knows about kale and spinach, but watercress is set to gain popularity as one of the next big super foods," says Carrie Gabriel MS, RDN, in private practice at Steps 2 Nutrition. This dark leafy green grown in natural spring water is part of the cruciferous family and has a high level of dietary nitrate, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, as well as enhance athletic performance. Plus, two cups contain only 7 calories.
Like oats, barley contains beta-glucan, a fiber that acts like a sponge, sopping up cholesterol from your digestive tract and preventing it from making its way into your bloodstream, explains Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, author of "21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart and The Overworked Person's Guide to Better Nutrition."
"Barley is also good news for people with diabetes: beta-glucan also improves the action of insulin, which allows for better blood glucose control."
Avocados are powerhouses for nutrition. "They contain more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, many which Americans don't get enough of on a daily basis, and they are chocked full of healthy monounsaturated fat- the same fat found in large amounts in olive oil," says Liz Weinandy, RD at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Half of a medium avocado is only about 140 calories and can easily fit into any eating plan. Try it plain, filled with salsa, as guacamole, on a sandwich or in a smoothie.
17. Red seedless grapes
These are one of the best sources of two beta-carotene relatives. Lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration and appear to offer protection to age-related mental decline. Lutein and/or zeaxanthin are also present in egg yolks, peas, corn, bell peppers, squash, spinach, broccoli and others.
18. Red lentils
Lentils are part of the legume family, a class of high-protein, high-fiber vegetables that includes black beans, chickpeas and lima beans. Eating legumes is linked to reduced rates of heart disease and improved insulin resistance. Red lentils are especially handy because they cook in just a few minutes. Their soft texture makes them ideal for soups, stews and purees.
Apples are easy to eat on the run, sweet and juicy, and clean your teeth. Nutritionally, they provide fiber, phytonutrients to fight radicals that cause cancer, as well as some vitamins C and B. "Yes, apples are a source of carbohydrates, but it's the good kind: Complex carbohydrate that can better stabilize your blood sugar which is good for diabetics and those watching their weight," says Natalie Stephens, RD, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"Pair that apple with a handful of almonds and you've added a cholesterol-free source of protein with additional fiber, and vitamin E — good for hair, skin, nails and also fighting free radicals," says Stephens. Other health benefits include added calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, which can help build stronger bones.