25 Ridiculously Healthy Food

25 Ridiculously Healthy Foods

Pile your plate with these nutrition superstars

1. Eggs

Egg yolks are home to tons of essential but hard-to-get nutrients, including choline, which is linked to lower rates of breast cancer (one yolk supplies 25% of your daily need) and antioxidants that may help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Though many of us have shunned whole eggs because of their link to heart disease risk, there’s actually substantial evidence that for most of us, eggs are not harmful but healthy.

2. Greek Yogurt

Yogurt is a great way to get calcium, and it’s also rich in immune-boosting bacteria. But next time you hit the yogurt aisle, pick up the Greek kind—compared with regular yogurt, it has twice the protein (and 25% of women over 40 don’t get enough). Look for fat-free varieties like Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt (90 calories and 15 g of protein per 5.3-ounce serving).

3. Fat-Free Milk

Yes, it does a body good: Studies show that calcium isn’t just a bone booster but a fat fighter too. Recent research from the University of Tennessee found that obese people who went on a low-calorie, calcium-rich diet lost 70% more weight than those who ate the least.

Vitamin D not only allows your body to absorb calcium, it’s also a super nutrient in its own right. Recent research found that adequate D levels can reduce heart disease risk, ward off certain types of cancer, relieve back pain, and even help prevent depression, but most of us don’t get nearly enough of the 1,000+ IU daily that most experts recommend.

4. Salmon

Salmon is a rich source of vitamin D and one of the best sources of omega-3s you can find. These essential fatty acids have a wide range of impressive health benefits—from preventing heart disease to smoothing your skin and aiding weight loss to boosting your mood and minimizing the effects of arthritis. Unfortunately, many Americans aren’t reaping these perks because we’re deficient, which some experts believe may be at the root of many of the big health problems today, like obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

Omega-3s also slow the rate of digestion, which makes you feel fuller longer, so you eat fewer calories throughout the day.

5. Lean Beef

Lean beef is one of the best-absorbed sources of iron there is.

(Too-little iron can cause anemia.) Adding as little as 1 ounce of beef per day can make a big difference in the body’s ability to absorb iron  from other sources, says Mary J. Kretsch, PhD, a researcher at the USDA-ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, CA. Beef also packs plenty of zinc (even minor deficiencies may impair memory) and B vitamins, which help your body turn food into energy.

If you can, splurge on grass-fed. Compared with grain-fed beef, it has twice the concentration of vitamin E, a powerful brain-boosting antioxidant. It’s also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Because this type of beef tends to be lower in overall fat, it can be tough—so marinate it, and use a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking.

6. Beans

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect food than beans. One cooked cupful

can provide as much as 17 g fiber. They’re also loaded with protein and

dozens of key nutrients, including a few most women fall short

on—calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Studies tie beans to a reduced

risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast

and colon cancers.

The latest dietary guidelines recommend consuming at least 3 cups of

beans a week—3 times the measly 1 cup we usually get. Keep your

cupboards stocked with all kinds: black, white, kidney, fat-free

refried, etc. Use them in salads, stuffed baked potatoes, and veggie

chili or pureed for sandwich spreads.

7. Nuts

In a nutshell: USDA researchers say that eating 1½ ounces of tree nuts

daily can reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Walnuts are

rich in omega-3s. Hazelnuts contain arginine, an amino acid that may

lower blood pressure. An ounce of almonds has as many heart-healthy

polyphenols as a cup of green tea and 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli

combined; they may help lower LDL cholesterol as well.

The key is moderation, since nuts are high in calories. Keep a jar of

chopped nuts in your fridge, and sprinkle a tablespoon on cereal,

salads, stir-fries, or yogurt. Or have an ounce as a snack most days of

the week.

8. Edamame and Tofu

Soy’s days as a cure-all may be over—some claims, such as help for hot

flashes, don’t seem to be panning out—but edamame still has an

important place on your plate. Foods such as tofu, soy milk, and

edamame help fight heart disease when they replace fatty meats and

cheeses, slashing saturated fat intake. Soy also contains heart-healthy

polyunsaturated fats, a good amount of fiber, and some important


Soy’s isoflavones, or plant estrogens, may also help prevent breast

cancer. Some researchers believe these bind with estrogen receptors,

reducing your exposure to the more powerful effects of your own

estrogen, says Prevention advisor Andrew Weil, MD. But stick with whole

soy foods rather than processed foods, like patties or chips, made with

soy powder. Don’t take soy supplements, which contain high and possibly

dangerous amounts of isoflavones.

9. Oatmeal

Fiber-rich oats are even healthier than the FDA thought when it first

stamped them with a heart disease–reducing seal 10 years ago. According

to new research, they can also cut your risk of type 2 diabetes. When

Finnish researchers tracked 4,316 men and women over the course of 10

years, they found that people who ate the highest percentage of cereal

fiber were 61% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

To reap the benefits, eat 1/2 cup daily—preferably unsweetened. For a

versatile breakfast, top with different combinations of fruit, yogurt,

and nuts. You can also use oats to coat fish or chicken or add texture

to meatballs.

10. Flaxseed

Flaxseed is the most potent plant source of omega-3 fats. Studies

indicate that adding flaxseed to your diet can reduce the development

of heart disease by 46%—it helps keep red blood cells from clumping

together and forming clots that can block arteries. It may also reduce

breast cancer odds. In one study, women who ate 10 g of flaxseed (about

1 rounded tablespoon) every day for 2 months had a 25% improvement in

the ratio of breast cancer–protective to breast cancer–promoting

chemicals in their blood.

Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseed a day on your cereal, salad, or

yogurt. Buy it preground, and keep it refrigerated.

11. Olive Oil

Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which

lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol. It’s rich

in antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other

chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s.

Look for extra virgin oils for the most antioxidants and flavor.

Drizzle small amounts on veggies before roasting; use it to sauté or

stir-fry, in dressings and marinades, and to flavor bread at dinner in

lieu of a layer of butter or margarine.

12. Avocado

These smooth, buttery fruits are a great source of not only MUFAs but

other key nutrients as well. One Ohio State University study found that

when avocado was added to salads and salsa, it helped increase the

absorption of specific carotenoids, plant compounds linked to lower

risk of heart disease and macular degeneration, a leading cause of

blindness. “Avocados are packed with heart-protective compounds, such

as soluble fiber, vitamin E, folate, and potassium,” says Elizabeth

Somer, RD, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet.

13. Broccoli

Pick any life-threatening disease—cancer, heart disease, you name

it—and eating more broccoli and its cruciferous cousins may help you

beat it, Johns Hopkins research suggests. Averaging just four weekly

servings of veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower slashed the

risk of dying from any disease by 26% among 6,100 people studied for 28


For maximum disease-fighting benefits, whip out your old veggie

steamer. It turns out that steaming broccoli lightly releases the

maximum amount of sulforaphane.

14. Spinach

We’ll spare you the Popeye jokes, but spinach has serious health

muscles. For one thing, it contains lots of lutein, the sunshine-yellow

pigment found in egg yolks. Aside from guarding against age-related

macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, lutein may prevent

heart attacks by keeping artery walls clear of cholesterol.

Spinach is also rich in iron, which helps deliver oxygen to your cells

for energy, and folate, a B vitamin that prevents birth defects. Cook

frozen spinach leaves (they provide more iron when cooked than raw) and

serve as a side dish with dinner a few times a week.

15. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are our most common source of lycopene, an antioxidant that

may protect against heart disease and breast cancer. The only problem

with tomatoes is that we generally eat them in the form of sugar-loaded

jarred spaghetti sauce or as a thin slice in a sandwich. For a

healthier side dish idea, quarter plum tomatoes and coat with olive

oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 400°F oven for 20

minutes, and serve with chicken.

16. Sweet Potatoes

One of the best ways to get vitamin A—an essential nutrient that

protects and maintains eyes, skin, and the linings of our respiratory,

urinary, and intestinal tracts—is from foods containing beta-carotene,

which your body converts into the vitamin. Beta carotene–rich foods

include carrots, squash, kale, and cantaloupe, but sweet potatoes have

among the most. A half-cup serving of these sweet spuds delivers only

130 calories but 80% of the DV of vitamin A. Replace tonight’s fries

with one medium baked sweet potato (1,096 mcg) and you’re good to

go—and then some.

17. Garlic

Garlic is a flavor essential and a health superstar in its own right.

The onion relative contains more than 70 active phytochemicals,

including allicin, which studies show may decrease high blood pressure

by as much as 30 points. High consumption of garlic lowered rates of

ovarian, colorectal, and other cancers, according to a research review

in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Allicin also fights

infection and bacteria. British researchers gave 146 people either a

placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; garlic takers were two-thirds

less likely to catch a cold.

The key to healthier garlic: Crush the cloves, and let them stand for

up to 30 minutes before heating them, which activates and preserves the

heart-protecting compounds, according to a 2007 study from Argentina.

18. Red Peppers

Citrus fruits get all the credit for vitamin C, but red peppers are

actually the best source. Vitamin C may be best known for skin and

immunity benefits. Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at vitamin

C intake in 4,025 women and found that those who ate more had less

wrinkling and dryness. And although getting enough vitamin C won’t

prevent you from catching a cold or flu, studies show that it could

help you recover faster.

Vitamin C has other important credentials too. Finnish researchers

found that men with low levels were 2.4 times likelier to have a

stroke, and Australian scientists recently discovered that the

antioxidant reduces knee pain by protecting your knees against


19. Figs

When you think of potassium-rich produce, figs probably don’t come to

mind, but you may be surprised to learn that six fresh figs have 891 mg

of the blood pressure-lowering mineral, nearly 20% of your daily

need—and about double what you’d find in one large banana. In a recent

5-year study from the Netherlands, high-potassium diets were linked

with lower rates of death from all causes in healthy adults age 55 and

older. Figs are one of the best fruit sources of calcium, with nearly

as much per serving (six figs) as 1/2 cup of fat-free milk.

Serve by chopping and adding to yogurt, cottage cheese, oatmeal, or

green salads. Or enjoy them as a savory snack: Cut a slit in the side

and stuff with 1/2 teaspoon of a low-fat version of a soft cheese such

as chèvre or Brie.

20. Blueberries

Blueberries may very well be the most potent age-defying food—they’re

jam-packed with antioxidants. When researchers at Cornell University

tested 25 fruits for these potent compounds, they found that

tangy-sweet wild blueberries (which are smaller than their cultivated

cousins) packed the most absorbable antioxidants. Research shows a diet

rich in blueberries can help with memory loss, prevent urinary tract

infections, and relieve eyestrain.

Add up to 1/2 cup of blueberries to your diet a day for maximum health

benefits, recommends Ronald Prior, PhD, adjunct professor of food

science at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. This alone

provides just about double the amount of antioxidants most Americans

get in 1 day.

21. Asian Pears

One large Asian pear has a whopping 10 g of cholesterol-lowering fiber,

about 40% of your daily need. People who ate the most fiber had the

lowest total and LDL cholesterol levels, according to a recent study of

Baltimore adults. The same researchers found that people who ate the

most fiber also weighed the least and had the lowest body mass index

and waist circumference.

Serve by dicing it into a salad of Boston lettuce, crumbled goat

cheese, walnuts, and mandarin oranges. Or make it a dessert: Add peeled

and cored pears to a saucepan with 1 cup white wine, 1 teaspoon honey,

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, and enough water to cover the pears.

Cover and simmer 40 minutes or until pears are soft.

22. Lychee

A French study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that lychee

has the second-highest level of heart-healthy polyphenols of all fruits

tested—nearly 15% more than the amount found in grapes (cited by many

as polyphenol powerhouses). The compounds may also play an important

role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer.

Serve by peeling or breaking the outer covering just below the stem;

use a knife to remove the black pit. Add to stir-fries or skewer onto

chicken kebabs to add a sweet, grapelike flavor.

23. Apples

One of the healthiest fruits you should be eating is one you probably

already are: the apple. The Iowa Women’s Health Study, which has been

investigating the health habits of 34,000 women for nearly 20 years,

named apples as one of only three foods (along with pears and red wine)

that are most effective at reducing the risk of death from heart

disease among postmenopausal women. Other massive studies have found

the fruit to lower risk of lung cancer and type 2 diabetes—and even

help women lose weight.

In fact, one of the only things that could make an apple unhealthy is

mixing it with sugar, flour, and butter and stuffing it into a

mile-high pie. Instead, have one as an afternoon snack with a

tablespoon of peanut butter, or add slices to sandwiches or salads.

24. Guava

Native to South America, this tropical fruit is an excellent source of

skin-healing vitamin C, with 250% of your RDA per serving. One cup of

guava has nearly 5 times as much C as a medium orange (377 mg versus 83

mg)—that’s more than 5 times your daily need. It’s also loaded with

lycopene (26% more than a tomato), which may help lower your risk of

heart disease. And according to research by microbiologists in

Bangladesh, guava can even protect against foodborne pathogens such as

Listeria and staph.

You can buy guava juice, or simmer chunks in water as you would to make

applesauce. Guava also makes a super smoothie: Blend 1/2 banana, 1/2

ripe guava, a handful of strawberries, 1/2 cup soy milk, and a few ice


25. Dark Chocolate

Thank you, dark chocolate, for making us feel good—not guilty—about

dessert. Dark chocolate is filled with flavonoid antioxidants (more

than 3 times the amount in milk chocolate) that keep blood platelets

from sticking together and may even unclog your arteries.It may also

help with weight loss by keeping you feeling full, according to a study

from Denmark. Researchers gave 16 participants 100 g of either dark or

milk chocolate and 2 hours later offered them pizza. Those who consumed

the dark chocolate ate 15% fewer calories than those who had milk

chocolate, and they were less interested in fatty, salty, and sugary


Try a chocolate with 70% or more cocoa. Two tablespoons of dark

chocolate chips with fresh berries as a midafternoon snack or

after-dinner dessert should give you some of the heart-healthy benefits

without busting your calorie budget.

–Prevention website, October 2011

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