Eating well is a skill cultivated throughout life. Want to live to be 100? Want to look great? Want to feel alive? Then you must consume a nutrient-rich, fresh and fortifying diet. With this in mind, we went on a mission to find the 10 healthiest foods on the planet. Goodbye trendy tastes; move over, health crazes—these foods have stood the test of time and possess the necessary attributes to be deemed the healthiest.
How did we narrow it down to 10? We consulted with local nutritionists and dietitians and then married their advice and expertise with scientific research and nutritional information. Of course, there are many foods we could have included (where are the chia seeds?!), but these 10 simple, whole and unprocessed foods—presented in no particular order—will help jump-start your healthy eating routine.
ale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. “Kale is king,” says Dr. Teresa Sievers, owner of Restorative Health & Healing Center in Naples. “It’s definitely great for vitamin K, which is important not only for your bones, but also for heart health.”
How to incorporate
Kale isn’t just for salads—and it’s surprisingly simple to add to your daily diet. Toss it into a morning smoothie, a soup or try making your own kale chips.
“First, rub a bit of olive oil into the leaves,” says Sievers, whose personal preference is Lacinato kale with smoother, long green leaves. “Then add some sea salt, chili pepper or garlic or onion powder and bake them on a cookie sheet at about 250 degrees for maybe 15 minutes until it gets a little crispy.” Delicious!
Nutrition experts agree that avocados are the complete package, containing fiber and more than 20 essential nutrients. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, this fruit has potassium, vitamins K, A, C, E—and it’s a great source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat also found in olive and almond oils.
Eat this because
You need this type of fat, says Sievers, noting that in years past when the country was obsessed with low-fat diets, we only gained more weight. It’s important to remember that fat does not make you fat. “The good fat in avocados is really key in maintaining brain health and it helps maintain many essential functions of the body,” she says.
Get the Recipe: Broccoli and Avocado Soup
As a member of the healthful cruciferous family, broccoli boasts a number of minerals and antioxidants.
Eat this because
The phytonutrients in broccoli have anti-inflammatory properties. Seivers also suggests adding broccoli seed sprouts to your diet, since they have more concentrated levels of sulforaphane. “Sulforaphane helps balance hormones in the body,” she says.
Though all berries have health benefits, blueberries are at the top of the pack. “Blueberries are in a different class because of that deep blue color,” says Dr. Fatma Huffman, head of Florida International University’s dietetics and nutrition department.
Eat it because
The abundance of antioxidants makes this fruit beneficial to combat illnesses like heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration.
Though quinoa has a fluffy texture like a grain, it’s technically a seed. This gluten-free alternative is an overachiever of functional foods with more fiber, antioxidants and protein than rice and other starches.
Eat this because
Every vegetarian has been asked, “But where do you get your protein?” Quinoa has a protein content of 15 percent and also contains fiber and iron, making it ideal for vegetarian diets.
If you’re going to go nuts over one nut, make it the walnut, which is packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. “The fats found in walnuts are a rich plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-3s are really good for delivery of oxygen in your body and help with recovery time after exercise,” says Jacob Schoenknecht, dietician at Whole Foods in Naples. “Some studies have shown they prevent inflammation as well.”
Eat it Because
Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health, and a 2012 study published in the journal Neurology found a diet rich in omega-3s may also protect against premature aging of the brain and memory loss.
Like walnuts, wild salmon is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a significant source of protein (about 22 grams per 3-ounce filet), vitamin D and minerals including calcium and iron.
What to watch for
Our nutrition experts agree that to reap these benefits, you must consume wild salmon. The amount and type of omega-3s found in wild salmon are based on the algae and plankton they eat. In farm-raised salmon, the amount of omega-3s is often lower, as the levels depend on the type of diet the fish are given, which in a farm-raised environment could include grains and fishmeal mixed in with the plant matter.
Green tea is hailed worldwide for its health benefits. Like many of our powerhouse foods, it is rich in antioxidants, but what sets it apart is its concentration of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.
Drink it because
Green tea is believed to help prevent cancers including breast, stomach and skin, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you have a genetic predisposition for these cancers, consider adding green tea to your daily diet.
Though once discouraged for its relatively high calorie count and saturated fats, coconut oil has recently garnered positive attention as some studies now indicate it might increase good cholesterol. However, always opt for virgin or refined coconut oil—never hydrogenated coconut oil, which contains dreaded trans fats.
How to incorporate
Coconut oil can be used as a vegan-friendly substitute for butter. And, given its high smoke point, it works well for sautéing and cooking.
Get the Recipe: Coconut Oil and Peanut Butter Bites
The Asian spice turmeric has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, with uses including the treatment of heartburn and stomach ulcers. Recent studies have indicated turmeric possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
How to incorporate
Turmeric can be enjoyed beyond traditional Indian recipes. Try steeping turmeric root in hot water with lemon, ginger, honey and a dash of cinnamon to make a calming tea.
Want more healthy foods? Check out some healthful treats, as well as a few foods that just missed the list on page two.
Studies show the antioxidant resveratrol, found in red wine, reduces LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, thereby preventing blood clots and reducing the risk of heart disease. Portion is important: a serving size is one four-once glass for women and two four-ounce glasses for men.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which have positive impacts on vascular health. When choosing a chocolate, make sure to select one with a high cocoa content, as the benefits lie in the cocoa.
Healthiest Foods Honorable Mentions
Greek yogurt is high in protein and calcium, is fortified with vitamins A and D, and contains probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that help regulate the digestive system. When choosing a greek yogurt, opt for plain or honey, as the fruit-flavored varieties often have artificial sweeteners.
Garlic is anti everything—it’s antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. Studies indicate that it has a beneficial impact on cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, heart disease and risk of stroke. It just won’t do your breath any favors.
In addition to being high in protein, eggs also contain nutrients that bolster eye health. They are also a good source of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and contain fat-soluble vitamins and beta keratin.
Beets are high in iron, fiber, potassium, manganese, vitamins A and C and calcium. In addition, they are packed with antioxidants. And, because they contain folic acid, are beneficial for expectant mothers.
Try out some beet recipes here!