We all know that a leafy salad is healthier than a cheeseburger and that blueberries are better for your brain than a chocolate bar. But how can you stock your diet with the best options?
Registered dietitians share their top picks. These superfoods are high in nutrients like antioxidants, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce your risk of disease.
One of the best-known superfoods, berries are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that protect against disease and help control aging. They are also a great source of fiber and can lower cholesterol, promote eye health, boost the immune system, and even help prevent diabetes and heart disease. The phenolic compounds found in berries can help reduce the oxidative stress that has been linked to chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Berries, which include blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and more, are a top choice for people looking to add more superfoods to their diet. They are packed with a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals that protect against disease and may even slow down the aging process, says functional nutritionist Jesse Haas, CNS, LN.
In the nutrition world, the term “superfood” can be a bit misleading. While many foods that receive this designation have well-established health benefits and the support of nutritionists, a few are often given this moniker due to temporary fads or because celebrities promote them. The best way to eat healthy is to incorporate a variety of nutrient-dense foods into your diet regularly, says the team at State Urgent Care.
This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Beans and legumes are rich in protein, fiber, and iron. They can also help reduce blood sugar levels, improve heart health, reduce gastrointestinal issues, and promote weight loss. Whole grains, including quinoa and brown rice, are high in fiber, magnesium and vitamin B9. Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, fiber, and a host of other nutrients. They can be a good addition to any meal, but should not be a staple in your diet because they are high in calories.
Nuts are packed with protein, good fats and vitamins and minerals. They have long been a staple in the diets of many cultures. They can be eaten whole (dry roasted, salted or honey roasted), used in spreads, in nut bowls of milk or as an ingredient in sauces, salads and other dishes. Nuts are also a good source of dietary fibre, calcium and iron. The healthy unsaturated fats in nuts help lower cholesterol and triglycerides. They also help improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Epidemiologic studies have shown that regular nut consumption is associated with a decreased incidence of heart disease, gallstones and diabetes. Nuts are a rich source of tocopherols and phytosterols, which are important antioxidants.
It is important to choose your nuts wisely – avoid the salty, sugary ones and opt for dry roasted or raw versions of them instead. They can be enjoyed on their own or added to salads, vegetable and grain-based soups and stews.
A 1-ounce serving of nuts provides a satisfying amount of energy (approximately 170 calories) and a variety of nutrients, including protein, fibre, vitamin E, folate, potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium and plant iron. All nuts are low in sodium and provide a source of “good” monounsaturated fats as well as polyunsaturated fats, with walnuts providing the most omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of the amino acid arginine and contain plant sterols which can help lower cholesterol levels. They are also high in the soluble fibre, folic acid and vitamin B6. Pistachios are the lowest calorie nuts and also have a low fat content, while being rich in dietary potassium, vitamin A and the plant protein lysine.
Eggs are a great source of protein, and are also rich in vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent choice for people who want to lose weight, as they are relatively low in calories and help to keep blood sugar stable. They are also a good choice for people who have a family history of heart disease, as they contain nutrients that help to prevent heart disease, such as choline and vitamin D.
In addition, eggs provide a source of the amino acid leucine, which is important for muscle growth. Two large eggs provide an average of 5 grams of leucine. Eggs are also a good source of the mineral choline, which is important for heart health, cell development and the function of several hormones. They also provide a good source of the antioxidant selenium.
While eggs have become a controversial food due to their cholesterol content, when eaten in moderation, they are part of a healthy diet. Eggs are high on the satiety index, meaning that they make people feel full after eating them. This can reduce hunger and cravings, as well as calorie intake later in the day.
When purchasing eggs, look for ones that are organic, free-range, pasture-raised or cage-free. These are higher quality eggs that are raised by hens in conditions that replicate their natural environment and diet. They may be more expensive, but they will provide you with a healthier egg that is better for the environment and for you! Pasture-raised eggs are especially healthy, as they provide a more nutritious alternative to industrialized farm eggs. They are also more likely to be organically grown, so you can be sure that the hens aren’t being fed pesticides or other chemicals.
A nutrient-packed fish, salmon is a good source of protein, heart-healthy fats and essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also a top source of the omega-3 fatty acid known as astaxanthin, which has been linked to cardiovascular and eye health.
The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish a week, including salmon. The key is choosing low-mercury fish, such as wild-caught or farm-raised. The USDA warns that people should avoid fish high in mercury and methylmercury, especially during pregnancy or while nursing.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, a type of polyunsaturated fat. DHA plays a role in brain development and function, and is an important nutrient for pregnant women and infants.
Eating salmon can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes by lowering inflammation in the body, says Chaudhry. It may also protect against cognitive decline, help manage weight and boost bone health.
Aside from being an excellent source of protein, salmon is also rich in choline, another important nutrient for fetal and adult brain health. Choline contributes to the production of acetylcholine, which helps control nerve transmission and memory.
The EPA and FDA recommend consuming two servings of fish a week, which is about 8 ounces of cooked seafood. Aside from salmon, other good choices include sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel and trout. All these fish contain omega-3 fatty acids and are a great source of protein.
5. Dark Chocolate
We know chocolate makes us feel good, but it is also jam-packed with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Cocoa beans are a rich source of antioxidants and minerals, particularly magnesium, iron and zinc. And dark chocolate, if eaten in moderation, can provide a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth while boosting your intake of beneficial plant compounds such as polyphenols and flavanols.
When selecting a dark chocolate, look for one with a high cocoa content. Higher-cocoa options are typically less processed and have a lower sugar content than those with a lower cocoa content. Additionally, avoid processed chocolate that has been treated with alkali as this reduces the cocoa’s natural bitterness and decreases its antioxidant content.
Adding dark chocolate to your diet may help improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, according to several studies. This is because it contains nitric oxide-boosting flavonoids and polyphenols that relax the arteries. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day may increase “good” HDL cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels.
Dark chocolate can also be a healthy snack choice because it provides a small amount of fiber and soluble cocoa protein. In addition, it can boost your energy and improve mood. Additionally, the antioxidants in dark chocolate can help protect against sun damage to the skin, thanks to its flavanols.
Eating a wide variety of foods can give you the best possible foundation for a healthy lifestyle, but it is important to remember that all foods contain calories and fat. So if you are going to have a chocolate bar or other dessert, make sure it is dark and has a high cocoa content, and avoid those with added sugar, fats and calories.