If you already follow a healthful meal plan filled with whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and lean protein, congratulations! You’re on your way to a long, healthy life and are taking a major step in controlling your weight and blood glucose levels. Plus, you’re probably already eating most of the foods on this list.
For those who are taking the baby-steps approach to eating better, this list is even more helpful. Not only are these power foods high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they’re also familiar and easy to find. That means you don’t have to hunt down any exotic ingredients or shop at specialty grocery stores to find foods that will help you get on track with a healthy meal plan.
Some fruits, veggies, and grains are so good for you that they practically have superpowers. These power foods are packed with antioxidants and other disease-fighting nutrients. Plus, they’re delicious in recipes. What are they, you ask?
Asparagus is high in folate and vitamin C, which both contribute to a heart-healthy diet. It’s a non-starchy vegetable with only 5 grams of carbs per serving and nearly 2 grams of dietary fiber. It is also high in B vitamins, folate, vitamin C and an antioxidant called glutathione. The cardiovascular benefits of folate and other B vitamins have been studied in relation to lowering homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, that has been linked to a higher risk of coronary heart disease. As a result of these studies, the American Heart Association recommends including foods containing folate and other B vitamins in your diet to help lower homocysteine levels. A serving of asparagus is a 1/2 cup, or 4 ounces cooked, and provides 33 percent of the daily recommendation of folate, according to the FDA.
Blueberries and Raspberries
Enjoy the benefits of blueberries on their own or in a variety of foods, including smoothies and pancakes. Blueberries provide dietary fiber, vitamin C and flavonoids, a type of phytonutrient that offers antioxidant protection, such as boosting your immune system and fighting inflammation. A phytonutrient is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in plants.
Blueberries get their dark blue color from anthocyanins, plant pigments that are another disease-fighting antioxidant, that may benefit heart health. Blueberries have also been studied for their potential to protect and improve vision. One serving is 3/4 cup and has 15 grams of carbs. You can enjoy fresh, in-season blueberries May through October or buy the frozen varieties year-round. So next time you make pancakes, add a cup of blueberries for a healthy boost.
Raspberries are packed with fiber (partly due to their tiny, edible seeds) and are high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that the body can only get through food. Vitamin C is beneficial for bone and skin health as well as cancer and heart disease prevention. These delicate berries are also rich in anthocyanins, which give red raspberries their color and more antioxidant power.
Beans are high in fiber and protein and are a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, magnesium and potassium, which are essential for the water balance between the cells and body fluids, such as electrolyte balance. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of foods to get the necessary soluble and insoluble fiber needed daily–about 25 to 30 grams a day, which is twice the amount the average American adult normally consumes. One serving of navy beans is 1/2 cup and has 5.8 grams of fiber per serving.
There are so many delicious varieties of beans to choose from, such as black, kidney, garbanzo, white, lima or pinto. It is easy to find ways to incorporate beans in your diet. Soak and cook dry beans or use canned beans. Try substituting beans as your main protein source for lunch or dinner a couple times a week. Protein is an important part of your daily nutrition, which helps the body repair and produce cells and build muscle and bones.
The vitamin A in broccoli promotes healthy vision, teeth, bones and skin.Truly a super food, this non-starchy vegetable has more vitamin C per 100 grams than an orange and is considered a good source of fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A. Vitamin C is essential for healing wounds and is a disease-fighting antioxidant. One serving of broccoli is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked. Pick up fresh broccoli in the produce section or your local farmer’s market or try the frozen food section for cut florets.
Cooked or raw, carrots are a healthy addition to any meal plan. Have them for a snack with 2 tablespoons of light ranch dressing or include them in your main course or as a side dish.
Carrots provide vitamin A from the antioxidant beta-carotene. This powerful phytonutrient may help prevent cancer and heart disease, Carotenoids found in yellow and orange produce may also help reduce insulin resistance. Carrots are another source of fiber and heart-healthy flavonoids, which can also be enjoyed juiced with other fruits and vegetables such as apples, beets, or the spice, ginger. One serving of carrots is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
Fish is a great addition to your meal plan, especially omega-3-rich fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring. Omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat, can help lower triglycerides and can also help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots. Try preparing fish on the grill, baked, broiled, or steamed, instead of frying. Eating fish twice a week is the recommendation for a healthy meal plan.
Flaxseed is noted for its alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a fatty acid that can be converted into omega-3 fatty acids, which offer similar benefits as the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish. ALA omega-3s are known for helping to lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of heart disease. High in both soluble and insoluble fiber, flaxseed is also a good source of lignans, a phytoestrogen that is considered beneficial in preventing cancer and heart disease. Lignans have also been shown to alleviate other estrogen dependent conditions, such as menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
Flaxseeds are available whole, ground (milled), or as flaxseed oil. To reap the most nutritional reward from the nutty-flavored flaxseed, use ground flaxseed on salads and cereal or mixed into breads, smoothies, and dressings. So, if you do not like fish, add this omega-3 source to your meals.
Cranberries are a power fruit, packed with the disease-fighting antioxidants, that can be eaten year-round. Although best known for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, cranberries and their abundant phytonutrients, may also help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease studies suggest. Add cranberries to smoothies, salads, or chutneys. Look for cranberries packaged in bags in the produce section of your supermarket, in the freezer section, jellied, dried or juiced. One serving of dried cranberries is 2 tablespoons.
The soluble and insoluble fiber in apples can benefit people with diabetes and a diet high in fiber can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One medium-sized apple contains 3 grams of fiber–12 percent of the recommended 25 grams per day. Plus, the soluble fiber in an apple may help slow digestion, help regulate cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose. Eating apples, especially with the skin, not only increases your fiber intake but provides vitamin C and flavonoids, a disease-fighting antioxidant.
A dessert straight from nature, melons come in many varieties including watermelon, cantaloupe, muskmelon, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw and Persian. While all provide good nutrients, watermelon is high in vitamins C and B6 and is a good source of the antioxidant, lycopene, which may help protect against cancer. Lycopene is commonly associated with tomatoes and tomato juice, but watermelon is another optimal source. Watermelon is also high in beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A.
Honeydew is high in vitamin C and a good source of potassium, which can help improve or maintain blood pressure, Cantaloupe is also high in potassium and the antioxidant beta-carotene, and it’s a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate. The American Heart Association recommends getting enough folate and other B vitamins in your diet to help lower homocysteine levels, which may help decrease the risk of heart disease.
Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, flavonoids and are power-packed with monounsaturated fat. Plant sterols, known to lower cholesterol, also naturally occur in nuts. Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans and hazelnuts are just some of the nuts that can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, making them heart-healthy choices. Eat nuts in moderation and avoid salted, sugared, or chocolate-covered options that increase calories and decrease the nuts’ natural health benefits. One serving of almonds, cashews or mixed nuts is 6 nuts. One serving of pecans is 4 halves, a serving of hazelnuts is 5 nuts and a serving of pistachios is 16 nuts.
The soluble fiber in oats can help lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure and stabilize blood glucose by slowing digestion. Oats are also a source of antioxidants that provide vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, which may help lower blood pressure.There are several types of oatmeal to choose from. Steel-cut oatmeal has a dense, thick texture and can take up to 45 minutes to cook, while old-fashioned (or rolled) oats are thinner and take less time to cook. The less processed the oat, such as steel-cut oatmeal, the lower it is on the glycemic index. The glycemic index provides a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular type of food. Quick cooking oatmeal and instant oatmeal are also available. Be sure to check the labels for added salt and sugar. One serving of oatmeal is 1/2 cup.
Red onions don’t just add great color to salads, sandwiches, and stews. They also score highest in antioxidant power, with yellow onions not far behind and white a distant third. Onions are also a good source of fiber, potassium and folate-all good for heart health. The flavonoid, quercetin, found in onions may lower the risk of chronic illnesses. One serving of this non-starchy vegetable is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
This dark green leafy vegetable is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B2 and B6, folate, copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber. Studies of spinach have found it has the potential to decrease the risk of cancer, cataracts and heart disease. Spinach is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body uses to make vitamin A. Beta-carotene helps protect the body’s cells from chronic illness and aging. Plus, just 1/2 cup of cooked frozen spinach has 145 mg. of calcium and 3.5 grams of fiber. You can find fresh or frozen spinach at your local market year round. One serving of spinach is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw, which is great for salads.
The next time you pour yourself a cup of white, green or black tea, you could be doing your health a favor. Tea contains antioxidant-rich flavonoids, called catechins, which have been studied for their effectiveness in preventing chronic illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. White tea is the highest in antioxidants, with green coming in second, followed by oolong tea, then black tea. Tea can be enjoyed either hot or cold.
The tomato is an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium and is rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is easier for your body to absorb from cooked and processed tomatoes, such as tomato juice, than from fresh, whole tomatoes. Adding a little bit of oil while sauteing or cooking tomatoes can help aid in lycopene absorption.
Studies suggest lycopene-rich tomato products may help protect against certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer, and may offer cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory protection. Check the Nutrition Facts food labels on packaged and canned tomato products to find those with the least sodium and sugar.
Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, which helps promote the health of bones and teeth, as well as muscle and blood vessel function. Yogurt is also a good source of energy-boosting vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and protein. It also provides zinc, which can be deficient in some people, and aids in immune function and wound healing. Probiotic yogurt contains health-promoting bacteria that some research has proposed is beneficial for digestive health, including lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. There are different yogurts to choose from on the market, including Greek yogurt, which is thicker than regular yogurt because it is strained before being packaged. One serving of 2 percent fat Greek yogurt is 6 ounces.
Resource: American Heart Association
Recipes Using Super Foods
Sauteed Shrimp and Asparagus
- 1 pound fresh or frozen large shrimp
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
- 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into ½ inch thick slices
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein shrimp. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels.
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and place the shrimp in a single layer. Cook about one minute on each side and remove to a plate.
Add garlic and asparagus to skillet, and cook one minute. Add tomato, green onions and wine, cook one minute, and return shrimp to the pan.
Cook 1 minute, until the shrimp are cooked and the asparagus is still crisp. Season to taste, stir in chopped herbs and serve immediately.
Broccoli with Feta Cheese and Walnuts
- 1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup thinly slivered red onion
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
In a covered large saucepan cook broccoli in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water for 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together buttermilk, parsley, mustard, olive oil, thyme, red wine vinegar, garlic, kosher salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Add the broccoli and red onion; stir gently to coat. Top with walnuts and cheese. Serve warm.
Salmon and Spinach Salad with Flaxseed Dressing
- 12 ounces cooked salmon, cut into chunks
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumbers
- 1/2 cup quartered red onion slices
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup Flaxseed Dressing (recipe below)
In a large bowl, combine cooked salmon, spinach, cucumbers, and red onion. Pour Flaxseed Dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Makes 4 (1-1/2-cup) main-dish servings.
Cook the salmon by grilling or broiling. You’ll need a 1-pound fresh or frozen salmon fillet to give 12 ounces salmon after cooking. Thaw salmon, if frozen. Rinse salmon; pat dry with paper towels.
To grill salmon: Measure thickness of salmon. Place salmon fillet, skin side down, on a greased grill rack directly over medium coals. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning once halfway through grilling. Using a wide metal spatula, lift fillet away from the skin to a serving platter. (Scrape skin from grill rack and discard.)
To broil salmon: Preheat broiler. Skin salmon; measure thickness of salmon. Place salmon on unheated rack of broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning once halfway through broiling.
- 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
- 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or green onion
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place flaxseeds in a shallow baking pan; bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Place toasted flaxseeds in a spice grinder and pulse until ground to a fine powder. In a small bowl, whisk together ground flaxseeds, vinegar, olive oil, water, shallots, mustard, and garlic. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Tabbouleh with Cranberries
6 servings; ¾ cup serving
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup bulgur
- 1 cup chopped, seeded cucumber (1 large)
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup snipped fresh mint
- 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges (optional)
Coat a large nonstick saucepan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat over medium heat. Add shallots; cook and stir about 3 minutes or just until tender. Add broth; bring to boiling. Stir in bulgur. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a large bowl. Cover; chill about 3 hours or until cool.
Add cucumber, cranberries, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pepper; mix well. Serve with lemon wedges.
Make Ahead Tip: Prepare the tabbouleh as directed. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
Italian White Beans
Use these beans as a side dish for dinner or add to a salad for lunch.
Makes 4 servings.
- 1 tablespoon. olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, crushed, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 (14-oz.) can cannellini beans (Italian white beans), drained or 2 cups cooked dried beans
- 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, shredded
- 2 teaspoons. red wine vinegar or to taste
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sage. Sauté about 2 minutes.
Add drained beans and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes.
Uncover pan and remove from heat. Immediately add basil and vinegar and serve.
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