Making the commitment to start improving your nutrition? If so, there are certain foods that you should be making sure you get in on a regular basis. While counting calories and tracking macros is an important part of succeeding with your health journey, don’t overlook the importance of eating the healthiest foods as well.
When you nourish your body with plenty of nutrient dense foods, you’ll have more energy, you’ll help prevent disease, and you’ll naturally find your hunger and food cravings are decreased as well.
So which foods are your best bets? What are the ‘golden ticket’ items to get onto your plate each day?
Let’s go over the seven healthiest foods you must be eating if you hope to see optimal health and weight loss results.
Healthiest Foods: Salmon
When choosing your protein sources, it doesn’t get much better than salmon. Salmon packs a double-whammy of benefits thanks to the fact it includes not only a high-quality source of protein, which is needed to help with tissue repair and building but also because it offers a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid that you must be taking in as the body cannot produce them on its own. They’re responsible for such things as reducing your overall level of inflammation (see Journal of the American College of Nutrition), lowering cholesterol levels (see The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), helping to stabilize blood glucose levels, and assisting with keeping the brain strong and healthy (see Brain Research).
Most people are not currently getting enough in their daily diet, so salmon can help bring your intake up.
Healthiest Foods: Spinach
Next up on the list of healthiest foods that you must be taking in if you hope to achieve optimal health is spinach. Spinach is loaded with vitamins and minerals, making it a standout superfood for anyone seeking disease prevention.
Iron is an especially good for those who aren’t eating that much red meat in their diet plan as it can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Those who suffer from this often notice higher rates of fatigue on a day-to-day basis and especially during exercise. While the iron from spinach (non-heme iron) isn’t absorbed and utilized quite as good in the body as the iron from beef is (a heme form of iron), it’s still better than missing out entirely and will help you sustain better daily energy levels.
Healthiest Foods: Berries
Next up on the list of foods you must be eating are berries. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, making them another superfood to be taking in. What’s more is that they’re relatively low in sugar content as well compared to other fruits.
One cup of raw raspberries, for instance, contains 64 calories, 14.7 grams of carbs, of which a whopping 8 grams are fiber, and only 5.4 are sugar. This is perfect to satisfy their sweet tooth while keeping their blood glucose levels in check.
It’s rare to find a fruit variety that contains more fiber than sugar, so definitely fill up on these.
Blueberries are another excellent addition to your diet plan as they are rich in antioxidants that can enhance brain health and help to improve memory in aging adults, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Regardless of which berry you choose, you can feel confident it will be a great addition to your meal plan. They’re also highly versatile – try having them as a snack on their own, adding them to a bowl of Greek yogurt, or sprinkling them over your salad to liven things up. “A great and healthy smoothie contains ingredients like greek yogurt, frozen berries, and frozen bananas; hemp and flax seeds are other favorites you can add as well.” states Laura Davidson, Chef & owner of A Beautiful Plate.
Healthiest Foods: Avocado
Another fruit that too often gets overlooked is that of the avocado. Avocados are rich in dietary fats, unlike other fruits, so stand out from the rest. Their nutritional profile is unique in that they are low in sugar, high in fiber, and high in healthy unsaturated fatty acids.
Avocado are an excellent source of vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant in the body that can help to improve cholesterol profile and heart health (see study in The New England Journal of Medicine), promote healthier looking and feeling skin, hair, and nails, along with helping to slow down the aging process.
Avocado are going to be more calorie dense compared to other fruits, however, so just be sure you take this into account when dishing them up on your plate. A quarter avocado is a great serving size and will provide around 80-100 calories depending on the size of the fruit.
Healthiest Foods: Coconut Oil/Milk
One healthy fat that’s catching on in popularity and for a good reason is coconut oil and milk. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but don’t let that scare you. This saturated fat is very healthy for the body and has been proven to help reduce heart issues (see research in the Philippine Journal of Coconut Studies).
The saturated fat in coconut milk is medium chain triglycerides, which are utilized differently in the body compared to most saturated fat varieties. Medium chain triglycerides are treated more like carbohydrates and can release their energy immediately, giving you a nice energy boost when you need it. For this reason, coconut oil is a popular choice among those who are using a lower carb diet and who are looking to get their energy levels up.
In addition to providing more energy, coconut oil has a higher thermic effect of food, meaning your body may expend more energy just breaking down the coconut oil than other forms of fats, research from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests. Furthermore, it’s also great for strengthening your immune system as well.
Both coconut oil and coconut milk are acceptable options here and can easily be worked into your daily diet plan. Swap out the olive oil you’re using when stir-frying your food and try a little coconut oil instead. Or, add a little coconut milk rather than regular cow’s milk or almond milk to your smoothie for a new twist on this delicious beverage.
If you want to get fancy, you can also make whipped coconut topping by simply placing a can of full-fat coconut milk in the fridge, opening and draining the liquid, and then beating the remaining cream until soft peaks form. It’s a healthy alternative to traditional whipped cream.
Healthiest Foods: Sweet Potatoes
As far as carbohydrates are concerned, you simply can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes. Don’t let the name ‘sweet’ fool you into thinking this isn’t a healthy food. While sweet potatoes do contain some naturally occurring sugars, they’re also rich in dietary fiber and other important nutrients that fuel a healthy body.
Taking in some unprocessed carbohydrates each day is essential for optimal health as they will provide you with the energy you need to get through each workout session as well as day-to-day activities.
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods on earth and also a rich source of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant that can help foster greater immune health, according to The FASEB Journal.
Furthermore, despite the natural sugars they contain, sweet potatoes are a blood glucose regulating food as they help to increase the level of adiponectin in the bloodstream, which is a hormone that regulates insulin management in the body. (Supplements like chromium picolinate attempt to help regulate blood glucose levels.)
Healthiest Foods: Garlic
Finally, while not considered a ‘food’ per se, garlic is something that you do want to include in your menu each day if possible. This delicious flavoring ingredient offers a wide array of health benefits including helping you reduce your cholesterol profile (see study in Atherosclerosis), strengthening your immune system and helping you ward off the common cold (see study in the Journal of Hypertension).
Best of all garlic is virtually calorie free, so there’s no reason not to add it to your diet plan. It can easily be used in such a wide variety of different dishes that you should have no trouble finding a way to use it every day.
So there you have the top seven healthiest foods you must be eating for optimum health. Are you missing out?
Shannon Clark, B.S., C.P.T., holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 12 years now, helping others lose weight, build muscle, and improve their athletic performance. She’s worked with people of all ages and helped them find the right fitness path for themselves. Shannon has been published in Oxygen Magazine, Bodybuilding.com, Lifehack.org, T-Nation.com, Leankitchenqueen.com, Sheknows.com and more.