Eating healthy food is not necessarily about cutting calories and watching carbs. It’s about consuming nutritious foods to get the most value out of your daily calorie intake.
Essential macro- and micro-nutrients support every function in your body. They are nutrients which cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be provided by your diet. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water are vital for energy, growth and development, protein metabolism, and bone health. These 15 foods are among the most nutrient-dense and healthiest foods out there. Include them in your diet for optimal health.
Spirulina is most nutritious food on this planet. This blue-green alga is found in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds—and now grown in controlled and sanitized areas for human consumption. It is one of the oldest life forms on Earth. Spirulina contains over 65 essential nutrients and is made up of 60 percent protein. It contains all essential amino acids, plus ten non-essential amino acids, and is rich in chlorophyll and beta-carotene—two important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant pigments.
This superfood has been linked to many health benefits including immune system support, cardiovascular support, cognitive support, and cellular health support. It has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s packed with essential nutrients for overall health.
Spirulina is available in most health food stores in powder, capsule, or tablet form. It is a rather expensive supplement, and so, not easily accessible to many people. If you can afford to invest the extra $30.00-50.00 monthly, it’s worth the nutrition profile.
2. Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy green vegetables including kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, and swiss chard are some of the most nutritious foods you’ll find in your local supermarket. Leafy green vegetables contain many essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants including chlorophyll and carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, iron, and calcium. They are also rich in fiber and surprisingly, contain protein as well.
These vegetables have cancer-preventative and anti-inflammatory benefits that you won’t want to miss. Leafy greens are not expensive and are considered one of the most nutritious foods available. Adults are recommended to have 2-3 servings of leafy green vegetables per day, yet most are not reaching the recommended amount. Up your green intake, folks!
Broccoli is another green vegetable topping the charts in essential nutrient and antioxidant content. They are part of the cruciferous vegetable family which also includes cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Broccoli contains unique anti-inflammatory sulfur compounds, and it is a great source of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and many essential minerals.
Broccoli provides the most nutrition when eaten fresh and raw, or lightly steamed. The more vibrant the color, the more carotenoids present. Looks like mom was right, after all.
Berries are some of the most nutrient-dense fruits out there, and they’re packed with antioxidant activity and fiber. Blueberries are especially rich in powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.
Research shows that berries may improve blood sugar and insulin response, lower cholesterol levels, and improve cardiovascular health. What was that saying? Oh, right—a smoothie a day keeps the doctor away.
Avocado is a different fruit because it is high in healthy fats—monounsaturated fatty acids—which are responsible for reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol, and preventing cancer. Avocados are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium—in fact, they contain more potassium than a banana.
A 2013 study published in The Nutrition Journal found that people who regularly ate avocados had better overall diet quality, nutrition intake, and reduced metabolic syndrome when compared to people who did not eat avocados. Avocado consumers had lower weight, BMI, and waist circumference as well.
Salmon is famous because it—like other fatty types of fish—contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3s are essential for optimal function of many systems in the body. They have anti-inflammatory properties and are important to brain development and function. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can cause symptoms of memory loss, poor concentration, depression, and anxiety, as well as unhealthy-looking skin, fatigue, and poor circulation.
Aside from omega-3s, salmon contains many other important nutrients including protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium.
Eat salmon or other fatty fish at least once a week for optimum omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Garlic contains a therapeutic compound called allicin which is released and benefited from when raw garlic is crushed, finely chopped, or chewed. For centuries garlic has been used—by the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, Romans, and the Chinese—for its medicinal properties.
At the very least, garlic provides anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral benefits. It is linked to cardiovascular health, cancer treatment, and prevention, controlling hypertension, treating colds and infections, and preventing neurodegenerative diseases. This is one food that is easy to add to your daily diet. Eat a few cloves a day to benefit from its therapeutic qualities.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which offers similar benefits to those of allicin from garlic. There are over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies published on the health benefits and use of curcumin as a medicine. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and possesses antioxidant properties that have proven to be chemopreventive. Curcumin is also an active antidepressant—maybe even more effective than drugs like Zoloft or Prozac which often come with dangerous side-effects.
Interestingly enough, the effects of curcumin seem to outweigh those of prescription drugs and pharmaceutical medications including antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, anticoagulants (Aspirin), cholesterol-lowering drugs, and diabetic drugs (Metformin). The best part is, there are seemingly no dangerous side-effects to consuming curcumin supplements daily.
Legumes include beans, lentils, peas and peanuts—and they’re among the healthiest and most affordable foods. Like all beans, legumes are an excellent source of protein and fiber as well as essential nutrients B-complex vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
Legumes are a heart-healthy food—they have been shown to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Garbanzo beans contain the most folate (folic acid) per serving, with over 100% of your recommended daily intake in just half a cup. This makes it an ideal food for pregnant women who require higher folate, iron, and fiber intake than the average adult.
Seeds tend to pack a lot of nutrition for such a tiny food. Among the healthiest seeds: hemp, pumpkin, sesame, flax, and chia.
Hemp seeds contain all 20 amino acids, making them a complete protein. They are rich in essential fatty acids with a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid to Omega-3 Linolenic Acid. They are also rich in phytonutrients for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
Flax seeds and chia seeds are both excellent sources of dietary fiber, and they both contain essential fatty acids. Chia seeds are rich in protein, iron, calcium, vitamin C, omega-3s, fiber, and magnesium. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein, B-complex vitamins, and folate. Adding seeds to your diet is easy. Add some to the blender if you’re making a smoothie, top your yogurt with some seeds, sprinkle them over a salad, or add them to your cereal. This unobtrusive food is highly nutritious and versatile—so take advantage!
Almonds are packed with healthy fats, protein, fiber, and antioxidant vitamin E. They have many proven health benefits due to their varied nutrition profile including preventing cardiovascular disease; supporting cognitive functions; controlling blood sugar levels; maintaining healthy skin; increasing nutrient absorption; preventing cancer, and reducing inflammation.
Just because almonds are incredibly nutritious does not mean they are a low-calorie food. A one-ounce serving, or 23 almonds, contains 165 calories, so eat one serving of almonds together with some dried fruit as a mid-morning snack. You may be surprised by how satisfied you feel from just an ounce of almonds.
12. Whole Grains
If you’re looking for nutritious alternatives over empty calories, opt for whole grains over white, processed, and refined grains. Brown rice, whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, whole grain barley, and buckwheat are all great options when adding whole grains to your diet.
Whole grains contain fiber, protein, B vitamins, and plenty of essential minerals whereas the refined version of these foods have mostly been stripped of all nutritional value. Always choose whole grains over refined and processed grains for the most nutritional benefit.
13. Greek Yogurt
Greek Yogurt has quite a few important nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. Yogurt is a great source of probiotics—the good bacteria that live in your gut, increasing nutrient absorption and fighting off bad bacteria. Since your gut is where most of your immune function happens, proper good-to-bad bacteria balance is important to overall health.
Research has shown that an imbalance of good bacteria in the gut can lead to inflammatory bowel disease; diarrhea; skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or acne; stress, anxiety, and depression; allergies and asthma; poor immunity; and yeast infections. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to get enough probiotics—especially those who are on antibiotics. Greek yogurt is also an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and potassium.
Eggs are one of the best superfoods out there. They contain vitamin A, B vitamins, folate, phosphorus, selenium, and many other nutrients. One of the most important nutrients they provide, however, is choline. Choline is a compound necessary for many processes in the body including liver function, brain function, nerve function, muscle movement, and metabolism. Eggs have been shown to raise good HDL cholesterol levels, they contain many important antioxidants, and they are an affordable quality protein.
15. Dark Chocolate
Finally, we’ve reached dessert. Dark chocolate—70-85% cocoa—is loaded with essential nutrients and happens to be one of the best sources of antioxidants. Dark chocolate is rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium. There is also a fair helping of your friendly neighborhood fatty acids as well. Studies show that moderate amounts of dark chocolate consumed daily can improve blood circulation and lower blood pressure, raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol, protect the skin from free radical damage, and improve cognitive functions.
To get the full benefits of cocoa, stay away from milk chocolate, or anything under 70% for that matter. The less sugar and the higher the percentage, the healthier.