Health foods: Building blocks of a healthy diet
Give your diet a healthy boost with these 10 health foods. They're among your best bets for eating well because they meet at least three of the following criteria:
- Good or excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients
- High in phytonutrients and antioxidant compounds, such as vitamins A and E and beta carotene
- May help reduce risk of heart disease and other health conditions
- Low in calorie density, meaning you get a larger portion size with a fewer number of calories
- Readily available
Find out more about these health foods and how easy it is to include them in your diet.
These tear-shaped nuts are packed with nutrients — fiber, riboflavin, magnesium, iron and calcium. In fact, one serving (about seven almonds) has more calcium than any other type of nut — 22 milligrams. One serving also provides almost 15 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin E. And they're good for your heart. Most of the fat in almonds is monounsaturated fat — a healthier type of fat that may help lower blood cholesterol levels.
Apples are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Fresh apples are also a good source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body's cells from damage. Vitamin C also helps form the connective tissue collagen, keeps your capillaries and other blood vessels healthy, and aids in the absorption of iron.
Scientists have shown that blueberries are loaded with compounds (phytonutrients) that may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Blueberries may also improve short-term memory and promote healthy aging. Blueberries are a low-calorie source of fiber and vitamin C — 3/4 cup of fresh blueberries has 2.7 grams of fiber and 10.8 milligrams of vitamin C.
Besides being a good source of folate, broccoli also contains phytonutrients. Broccoli is also an excellent source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body's cells from damage. It is also an excellent source of vitamin A and is linked to preserving eye health.
Red beans — including small red beans and dark red kidney beans — are a good source of iron, phosphorus and potassium. They're also an excellent low-fat source of protein and dietary fiber. Red beans also contain phytonutrients. Don't like red beans? Substitute another kind to enjoy beans' health benefits.
Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids — a type of fat that makes your blood less likely to form clots that may cause heart attacks. Omega-3s may also protect against irregular heartbeats that may cause sudden cardiac death, and they help decrease triglyceride levels, decrease the growth of artery-clogging plaques, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. In addition to containing omega-3s, salmon is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and is a good source of protein.
Spinach is high in vitamins A and C and folate. It's also a good source of magnesium. The plant compounds in spinach may boost your immune system. The carotenoids found in spinach — beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin — also are protective against age-related vision diseases, such as macular degeneration and night blindness, as well as heart disease and certain cancers.
The deep orange-yellow color of sweet potatoes tells you that they're high in the antioxidant beta carotene. Food sources of beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in your body, may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some cancers. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, vitamin B-6 and potassium. And like all vegetables, they're fat-free and relatively low in calories — one-half of a large sweet potato has just 81 calories.
Vegetable juice has most of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in the original vegetables (except some of the fiber) and is an easy way to include vegetables in your diet. Tomato juice and vegetable juices that include tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Some vegetable and tomato juices are very high in sodium, so be sure to select the low-sodium varieties.
Wheat germ is the part of the grain that's responsible for the development and growth of the new plant sprout. Although only a small part, the germ contains many nutrients. It's an excellent source of thiamin and a good source of folate, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. The germ also contains protein, fiber and some fat. Try sprinkling some on your hot or cold cereal.
Putting it together
It's a snap to incorporate these 10 health foods into a healthy diet. This example of a healthy dinner includes three of the 10 — broccoli, salmon and sweet potatoes.