The 30 Healthiest Foods
Real Simple asked the country’s top dietitians and nutritionists to tell us which superpowered ingredients we should be incorporating into our diets regularly. Here are their combined picks, plus some simple and delicious preparation suggestions. (For more of their advice, see The No-Diet Diet: Your New Healthy-Eating Plan.)
Meaty and filling, as a stand-in for beef they can slash up to 400 calories from a meal. They may also protect against breast cancer by helping to regulate a woman’s estrogen levels.
Try this: Sauté sliced mushrooms and shallots until tender. Add a splash of white wine and cook until evaporated. Serve over roasted fish or chicken. Or try Grilled Steak, Mushroom, and Green Bean Salad.
Another high-fiber cholesterol fighter. On weeknights use the pearl or quick-cooking variety. More time? Give hulled barley, with its extra layer of bran, a go.
Try this: Add sautéed mushrooms and sherry vinegar to cooked barley. Or try Creamy Barley Salad With Apples.
A surprisingly good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Those are the fats that lower the bad-for-you cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good-for-you kind (HDL).
Try this: For a healthy on-the-go snack, pack a handful of walnuts with some dried figs and a few anise seeds. (As the ingredients sit together, the anise releases flavor.) Or try Corn Salad With Feta and Walnuts.
Contains three times the amount of fiber per serving as the typical semolina variety. Skip pasta labeled “multigrain”: It may be made with a number of grains, but they aren’t necessarily whole ones.
Try this: Toss whole-grain pasta with pesto, chopped arugula, and grated lemon zest. Or try Whole-Wheat Spaghetti With Asparagus.
Peanut and Almond Butters (All-Natural)
Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats abound in these protein-rich spreads. Opt for those with just two ingredients—nuts and salt.
Try this: Mix with soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar to make a quick Asian dipping sauce for chicken skewers. Or try Cold Noodle Salad With Peanut Butter Dressing.
Oatmeal (Steel-Cut or Old-Fashioned)
Holds cholesterol in check, helps fight against heart disease, and keeps you full until lunch, thanks to its soluble fiber.
Try this: For a savory breakfast, drizzle cooked oatmeal with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.
It may cook like a grain, but quinoa is actually an herbaceous plant. It’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, and offers the same energy and satiety you would get from meat, sans the fat or cholesterol.
Try this: Stir fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh dill into cooked quinoa. Or try Spiced Cod With Broccoli-Quinoa Pilaf.
It offers nine essential nutrients: calcium, of course, but also B vitamins, which help neurological function, and vitamin D, a potential cancer fighter.
Try this: If you want a break from your regular morning coffee, warm a cup of skim milk with a dash of vanilla and ground cinnamon. Or try Low-Fat Fettuccine Alfredo.
Packed with monounsaturated fatty acids, which keep blood vessels healthy. The plant fibers help lower cholesterol.
Try this: Fold chopped almonds into cooked whole grains, along with raisins or dried currants. Or try Chickpea Pasta With Almonds and Parmesan.
A protein powerhouse, these are flush with folate, a nutrient that may prevent certain birth defects.
Try this: Toss cooked lentils with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, chopped celery, and fresh thyme. Serve over salad greens. Or try Spice-Baked Sea Bass and Red Lentils.
Packed with fiber, this superfruit was one of the top antioxidant-rich picks in a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study.
Try this: Serve over vanilla frozen yogurt with a pinch of ground cardamom. Or try Frozen Blueberry Lemonade.
Made from wheat that has been steamed, dried, and cracked, this delivers more fiber than brown rice, plus you get a boost of potassium, B vitamins, and calcium.
Try this: Cook bulgur as you would oatmeal. Top it with honey and chopped nuts for breakfast or a hearty snack. Or try Minty Bulgur Salad With Salmon and Cucumbers.
The whites offer up protein with minimal calories (and zero fat or cholesterol). Egg yolks get a bad rap, but don’t skip them—they are awash with vitamin B12 and vitamin A, and they contain choline, a nutrient that’s particularly important for pregnant women.
This protein-rich winner is an acquired taste for some, but totally worth it. Chockablock with vitamins D and B12, it is also an excellent source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Try this: Toss chopped sardines into a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and fresh parsley.
You’ll get iron (for healthy hair), plus folate and at least a dozen flavonoids—compounds that are loaded with antioxidants.
Try this: Blend a handful of spinach into your favorite fruit smoothie. Or try Spinach-Stuffed Steak Roulades.
Ounce for ounce, this fuzzy fruit contains twice the amount of vitamin C as an orange and almost as much potassium as a banana.
Try this: Thinly slice, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with toasted unsweetened coconut.
Its omega-3 fatty acids may improve your mood and keep your skin glowing. Why wild? It’s exposed to fewer toxins than the farmed Atlantic variety.
Try this: For breakfast, mash some avocado on whole-grain toast and top with flaked poached salmon. Or try Mustard-Broiled Salmon With New Potato Salad.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
An outstanding source of monounsaturated fats. When used in moderation, this tasty Mediterranean staple may even cut the risk of heart disease.
Try this: Gently heat olive oil with fresh herbs (such as rosemary and thyme). Drizzle on pasta, steamed vegetables, or sandwiches in place of mayo. Or try Sugar Snaps with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Shaved Parmigiano.
Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless)
A dinner staple from the leanest part of the bird: Half a breast has just 2.5 grams of fat and more than 22 grams of protein.
Try this: Shred cooked chicken and toss with olive oil, raisins, curry powder, and fresh lime juice. Or try Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Tomato Salad.
The payoff from this leafy green: loads of vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and antioxidants. Kale is also a good source of lutein, an eye-friendly nutrient that may slow macular degeneration by more than 40 percent.
Try this: Make kale chips by tearing the leaves into pieces and tossing with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300° F until crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. Or try Quinoa With Mushrooms, Kale, and Sweet Potatoes.
You’ll get nearly 20 percent of your daily dose of fiber in one ½-cup serving, plus cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats.
Try this: For a side dish, halve an avocado, drizzle with soy sauce and fresh lime juice, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Or try Spinach Salad With Avocado and Pepper.
A chili essential, these were found to be one of the most antioxidant-rich foods in a USDA study.
Try this: Make a quick salad with kidney beans, olive oil, fresh lime juice, and fresh cilantro. Or try Turkey and Bean Chili.
The darker the color, the richer these tubers are in the antioxidant beta-carotene.
Try this: For a side dish, steam cut-up sweet potatoes and apples. Puree with maple syrup and crushed red pepper. Or try Spiced Braised Beef With Sweet Potatoes.
Supercharged with nutrients—think calcium, B vitamins, and beta-carotene—this leafy green fuels your body with fiber, too.
Try this: Sauté chopped chard with sliced garlic, then toss with whole-grain pasta and raisins. Or try Swiss Chard With Chickpeas and Couscous.
These young soybeans pack more fiber per serving than shredded-wheat cereal and have the same amount of protein as roasted turkey.
Try this: Puree cooked edamame with garlic, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice for a quick hummus-like spread. Or try Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs With Edamame.
The antioxidants in this winter squash keep skin healthy; its potassium helps lower blood pressure.
Try this: Peel, cut into chunks, and roast with olive oil and sprigs of fresh thyme. Or try Pumpkin-Leek Soup.
Your go-to source for vitamin C, which, among other useful traits, can help the body burn fat. And in addition to helping prevent colds, vitamin C may stimulate collagen synthesis to keep skin looking supple.
Try this: Roast orange wedges along with salmon. Or try Seared Scallops With Snow Peas and Orange.
Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Rich in probiotics (bacteria that may improve digestion and increase your immunity), this extra-thick yogurt can contain 8 grams more protein per serving than conventional yogurt.
Try this: Mix with ground cumin, chopped cucumber, garlic, and cilantro. Serve with grilled chicken. Or try Beef Stroganoff With Yogurt and Dill.
A vitamin C gold mine—½ cup of cooked broccoli satisfies 80 percent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily dose. It’s also a key source of vitamin K, which helps blood clot properly.
Try this: Toss with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Roast at 375° F until tender. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan before serving. Or try Pork Chops With Garlicky Broccoli.
These burrito mainstays boast antioxidants and magnesium, which helps maintain nerve and muscle function.
Try this: On a baking sheet, toss canned black beans with olive oil, ground cumin, and salt. Roast at 450° F until crispy, about 10 minutes, for a tasty snack. Or try Jerk Chicken With Rice, Black Beans, and Pineapple.
For healthy recipes that incorporate a number of super foods, see Four, Delicious, Balanced Meals.