Can’t spell or pronounce quinoa? You’re not alone. Surrounded by an ever-growing array of new food products these days, you may find a trip to the supermarket confusing, to say the least. The good news is that a wealth of fantastic foods is out there—and they’re delicious, healthful and versatile.
We’ve rounded up the best, most nutritionally packed foods—including new products and tried-and-true essentials. Eat these regularly, and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring a lifetime of good health.
Grains: Oats and whole grains
Besides being fibrous and helping to lower cholesterol levels, tests have shown that oats may also lower blood pressure. Adding to their appeal, oats are one of the few grains containing tocotrienols, antioxidant compounds similar to vitamin E. Steel-cut or Irish oats are your best bet, as they can help you feel full longer than instant oats do.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a superb, easily prepared grain that has plenty of magnesium, zinc, copper and iron. First used by the ancient Incas, it’s been enjoying something of a renaissance in this country. Buckwheat groats, or kasha, are roasted buckwheat kernels that come whole or crushed. They offer a good dose of magnesium, copper and fiber and can be crafted into all kinds of pilafs. Bulgur provides plenty of iron, fiber and magnesium. You can serve it just like wild rice or brown rice (also excellent choices).
Vegetables: Spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoli
Spinach is packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron and folate—a B vitamin considered crucial in the prevention of neural-tube defects in fetuses, which also lowers levels of homocysteine, a blood amino acid linked to heart disease. Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, substances that appear to fight off macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Also terrific: kale and collard greens.
The sweet potato is a better bet nutritionally than its more popular cousin, the white potato. Packed with beta-carotene, which supplies vitamin A, sweet potatoes and yams are a great source of antioxidants. Pumpkin and winter squash will do the trick, too.
Want a real powerhouse of a vegetable? Go for broccoli. Loaded with cancer-fighting substances, a cup of this magical green boasts more vitamin C than an orange. It’s also a good source of potassium and fiber. Try it lightly steamed with a ginger dipping sauce if you don’t care for it raw.
Fruits: Watermelon, kiwi and papaya
Besides being delectably juicy, watermelon is a great source of vitamin C and carotenoids, antioxidants that add color to fruits and vegetables, like the orange in a carrot. Two cups contain just 90 calories—so it’s a guilt-free splurge. Grapefruit is also a great choice if watermelon isn’t to your liking.
Those fuzzy little kiwis may not look like much on the outside, but inside they’re brimming with healthful goodies. Two kiwis provide a generous shot of potassium and fiber and a wallop of vitamin C. Slice them up and let their gorgeous green color brighten any dessert or fruit plate.
Why not taste something more exotic? Papaya is jam-packed with vitamin C and carotenoids, as well as folate, potassium and fiber. Guava, another fruit you might consider exotic, is also bursting with nutrients.
Nuts and seeds
Long shunned by dieters because of their relatively high calorie and fat content, nuts are staging a huge comeback. Researchers now know that besides packing plenty of protein power, nuts can lower triglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Walnuts and pecans in particular contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical that appears to cause cancer cells to kill themselves. And all nuts contain vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Your best bet? Raw or plain roasted nuts. Stay away from anything honey roasted, roasted in oil or excessively salted.
Sorry, Charlie, but when it comes to fish, salmon is king. Why the royal treatment? Because of the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon that offer enormous health benefits, particularly for your heart. Omega-3s keep platelets from sticking together and clogging arteries, decrease triglyceride and LDL levels and possibly block harmful inflammatory substances linked to autoimmune disorders, such as lupus. Researchers also believe that omega-3s protect the brain from diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, the omega-3s in salmon actually come from algae eaten by tiny fish, which the salmon then consumes.
If you’re not fond of fish, another great source of omega-3s is flaxseed or products containing flaxseed (usually found in health food stores). Certain foods, such as eggs and waffles, are also being fortified with these vital fatty acids.
It’s all in the planning
The next time you’re ready to hit the food aisles, why not make a list of superfoods to try? Maybe you can look up a few recipes ahead of time for some guidance and motivation. Experiment with new, healthy dishes based on the foods we suggested. You just might discover some you enjoy!