Buying healthy food doesn’t just mean you’ll be eating delicious dishes; when you eat healthy foods, you help to improve your overall health—whether that’s building muscle, sharpening your mind, or strengthening your heart.
The next time you drop by the market or order up a food delivery, make sure your grocery list contains as many of these foods as possible. We have crunched the nutritional numbers on every single food known to man to find you this list; each nutrient-dense food possesses special health-promoting powers to lead to your healthiest and happiest life.
Popeye’s favorite veggie is a great source of not only protein, but also vitamins A and C, antioxidants and heart-healthy folate. One cup of the green superfood has nearly as much protein as a hard-boiled egg—for half the calories. Looking to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck? Be sure to steam your spinach instead of eating it raw. This cooking method helps retain vitamins and makes it easier for the body to absorb the green’s calcium content. Add a handful to soups, protein shakes, omelets, pasta dishes, and veggie stir-fries, or simply steam it and top with pepper, garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
2. MUSTARD GREENS
Another veggie worthy of a spot in your diet is mustard greens. When steamed, they provide a whopping 922 percent of your RDI for vitamin K, 96 percent of your vitamin A, and 47 percent of your vitamin C per cup, and they have a host of disease-fighting properties thanks to their high glucosinolate content. Glucosinolates are plant chemicals that your body coniverts into isothiocyanates, which have been shown to ward off cancer. In fact, according to a review in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design, glucosinolates may protect against and may even represent a therapeutic strategy against several forms of the deadly illness.
Kale has definitely had its moment in the sun (and then some) but as far as healthy veggies go, it’s certainly worthy of praise. The cruciferous green (which is even available in McDonald’s these days) is loaded with health-boosting nutrients like vitamin A, phosphorus, and B vitamins like folate, and it boasts twice the vitamin C as spinach, another nutritional superstar. Furthermore, a study in the journal JRSM Cardiovascular Disease found that a high daily consumption of green leafy and cruciferous veggies (such as kale) significantly reduced incidence of several types of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. And since the veggie is as versatile as they come, feel free to add some kale to an array of meals ranging from egg dishes to tacos, and drinks such as juices and smoothies.
4. SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
Tomatoes are packed with the antioxidant lycopene, which studies show can decrease your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Just one cup of the sun-dried version will lend you 6 grams of satiating protein, 7 grams of fiber and 75 percent of your RDA of potassium, which is essential for heart health and tissue repair. They’re also rich in vitamins A and K. Use them as a pizza topping, a tangy addition to salads, or snack on them right out of the bag.
It’s enough to make Popeye do a spit take: Despite their wimpy reputation, a cup of green peas contains eight times the protein of a cup of spinach. And with almost 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin C in a single cup, they’ll help keep your immune system up to snuff. Layer them into a mason jar salad or add them to an omelet to boost eggs’ satiating power.Okay, okay, we admit that’s not exactly breaking news, but did you know that when it comes to rapid weight loss some veggies reign supreme while others fall fairly flat in comparison? It’s true! Thanks to their specific nutritional profiles, certain produce-aisle picks can help you trim down by revving your metabolism, turning off belly fat genes and frying flab—and that’s on top of all their other health-boosting benefits. Read on to learn which delicious picks fit the bill and discover delicious ways to incorporate them into your diet.
You may have heard that spicy hot peppers can help you scorch calories, but did you know that mild peppers can have the same effect? Thanks to a metabolism-boosting compound, dihydrocapsiate, and their high vitamin-C content, sweet red and green peppers can help you lose weight. A cup of these bell-shaped veggies serves up to three times the day’s recommended vitamin C—a nutrient that counteracts stress hormones which trigger fat storage around the midsection.
In addition to warding off prostate, breast, lung and skin cancers, this flowery vegetable can also help you whittle your middle. According to experts, broccoli contains a phytonutrient called sulforaphane that increases testosterone and fights off body fat storage. It’s also rich in vitamin C ( a mere cup of the stuff can help you hit your daily mark), a nutrient that can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations. The only downside? It can make some people with sensitive stomachs a bit gassy and bloated—which isn’t a good look if you’re planning to hit the beach or rock a tight-fitting outfit. That’s no reason to steer clear of this veggie on a day-to-day basis, though. Whip up our parmesan roasted broccoli recipe to reap the belly-flattening benefits—just maybe not the day before you need to look your leanest.
Onions are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid that increases blood flow and activates a protein in the body that helps regulate glucose levels, torches stored fat and keeps new fat cells from forming. Not to mention, onions are basically the unsung hero of cardiovascular health—an important area of wellness for everyone, but especially The best part? Onions are super low-cal and easy to throw into just about anything, from soups, homemade burgers, sandwiches and tacos to pastas, salads, veggie sides, rice and omelets.those who hit the gym hard to accelerate their weight-loss efforts. The culinary staple can help lower cholesterol, ward off hardening of the arteries and help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Fungi are considered health food all-stars because they are a great source of potassium, which is vital for muscle health and recovery and can also lower blood pressure and decrease the effects of a high-sodium meal. In addition to being low-cal and fat-free, research has shown eating fungi can lead to increased immunity and protect against cancer. One study printed in the journal 3Biotech that compared the effects of mushroom extract on mice found that those treated with the extract experienced reductions in prostate tumor size and tumor cell proliferation compared to the control group of mice that were not treated.
These ruby-red roots contain a type of antioxidant called betalains that help repair and regenerate cells in the liver, your body’s primary detox organ. Beets are also high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium, which allows for healthy nerve and muscle function, and manganese, which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. What’s more? Beets also contain nitrates which, according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition, lowers blood pressure and helps those with chronic kidney disease.
Spirulina is a high-protein seaweed supplement that’s typically dried and sold in powdered form. The dried stuff is about 60 percent protein, and, like quinoa, it’s a complete protein, meaning it can be converted directly into muscle in the body and is thus a great weight loss tool. A tablespoon of the blue-green algae delivers 8 grams of metabolism-boosting protein for just 43 calories, plus half a day’s allotment of vitamin B12, which in and of itself can give you more energy and boost your metabolism. Try tossing some spirulina into a smoothie and watching the pounds melt off.
Berries—raspberries, strawberries, blueberries—are packed with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that can help you lose weight–and even stop fat from forming! In a recent Texas Woman’s University study, researchers found that feeding mice three daily servings of berries decreased the formation of fat cells by up to 73 percent!
Backed up and bloated? Snack on kiwi. The green fruit can help you get in tip-top shape thanks to its ability to aid digestion. Though small, kiwifruit contains a hefty amount of actinidin, a natural enzyme that helps facilitate digestion by breaking down protein in the body. The tropical fruit also contains prebiotic fiber, which primes the gut for healthy digestion. In fact, according to a 2015 study published in Nutrition Research, a daily serving of green kiwifruit helps increase bowel movements.
Not only are pomegranates packed with protein and belly-filling fiber (which is found in the fruit’s edible seeds) but they also contain anthocyanins, tannins, and high levels of antioxidants, which research published in the International Journal of Obesity says can help fight weight gain. Toss some pomegranate seeds onto a salad for a burst of flavor, or mix them into a smoothie to boost the beverage’s nutrient content.
15. OSTRICH MEAT
Lower that eyebrow you’re raising. Ostrich meat is the rising star of the grill. While it’s technically red and has the rich taste of beef, it has less fat than turkey or chicken. A four-ounce patty contains nearly 30 grams of the muscle building nutrient and just six grams of fat. Plus, one serving has 200% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin B-12. This exotic meat can also help whittle your middle: Ostrich contains 55 milligrams of choline, one of these essential nutrients for fat loss. And it’s not as hard to find as it sounds—ostrich is increasingly available in supermarkets around the country.
Speaking of weight loss oysters have also been shown to contribute to help you shed pounds thanks to their impressive zinc content. One study found that obese people who consumed 30 milligrams of zinc per day—the equivalent of just six raw oysters—had lower BMIs, weighed less, and showed improvements in blood cholesterol levels. What’s more? That same six-oyster helping will give you 28 g of protein and 2,064 mg of omega-3s.
Eggs might just be the easiest, cheapest and most versatile way to up your protein intake. Beyond easily upping your daily protein count, each 85-calorie eggs packs a solid 7 grams of the muscle-builder! Eggs also boost your health: They’re loaded with amino acids, antioxidants and iron. Don’t just reach for the whites, though; the yolks boast a fat-fighting nutrient called choline, so opting for whole eggs can actually help you trim down. When you’re shopping for eggs, pay attention to the labels. You should be buying organic, when possible. These are certified by the USDA and are free from antibiotics, vaccines and hormones. As for color, that’s your call. The difference in color just varies based on the type of chicken—they both have the same nutritional value, says Molly Morgan, RD, CDN a board-certified sports specialist dietician based in upstate New York.
18. SESAME SEEDS
Sesame seeds likely aren’t one of those foods you pay any mind to, but the crunchy little buggers have been shown to play a crucial role in weight maintenance and deserve to be tossed into a salad or whole wheat noodle dish. Researchers suspect its the lignans—plant compounds—found in sesame seeds (and flax seeds) that makes them so special. In a 2015 study, women who consumed high levels of lignans tended to weigh less and gain less weight over time when compared to women who didn’t consume these compounds in high amounts. Not a fan of that seedy texture? Try slathering some sesame-based tahini on a piece of bread instead.
19. MUSTARD SEED
Researchers at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that by eating 1 teaspoon of prepared mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating. Not only that, a study published in the Asian Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that visceral adipose tissue of rats fed a diet of pure lard was lowered when the diet was supplemented with mustard oil. Scientists attribute mustard’s belly-blasting abilities to allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the popular condiment its characteristic flavor.
You know those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids you keep hearing so much about? Walnuts have more of those nutritious compounds than any other nut, which is reason alone to toss a handful of ’em onto a salad or eat them as part of a protein-packed snack, and they’re not lacking in other nutrients either. In fact, research has shown they might be especially beneficial to consume as you age. According to the Walnuts and Healthy Aging (WAHA) study, which is currently being conducted by researchers from the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and Loma Linda University, preliminary findings suggest daily walnut consumption positively impacts blood cholesterol levels without adverse effects on body weight among older adults.
Researchers instructed 707 healthy older adults to add daily doses of walnuts ( approximately 15 percent of caloric intake) to their typical diet or to consume their usual diet without nuts. After one year, the study found that both diets had minimal effect on body weight, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol, however, the walnut-diet resulted in significant LDL cholesterol reductions compared to the control, nut-free diet.
21. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar, or ACV for short, is a type of vinegar made from fermented apples that has a distinct amber hue and a multitude of health benefits. For starters, it has been shown to quiet hunger hormones. According to a Bioscience, Biotechnology, & Biochemistry study, consuming apple cider vinegar each day can lead to weight loss, reduced belly fat, waist circumference, and lower blood triglycerides. More specifically, the study of obese Japanese participants found that those who consumed 1 tablespoon of ACV over a three month period lost 2.6 pounds, and those who consumed 2 tablespoons lost 3.7 pounds in the same time frame.