With so many popular diets out there promising to provide you the healthiest mix of foods, it can be hard to know what foods are truly good for you. Some of these special diets may cut out high carbohydrate foods like pasta, bread, rice, and beans. Meanwhile, others may cut out dairy products or fruit. Then, some may choose to avoid animal products and focus on plant-based foods. However, the foods that may benefit you most can differ from person to person based on dietary needs, food allergies or intolerances, and health goals.
But regardless of what eating plan you’re following, on your health status, some foods make just about every approved foods list. These foods are nutrient-dense, rich in antioxidants and healthy fats, and fit just about any healthy lifestyle. Let’s look at the top ten foods that should be a staple food in just about everyone’s kitchen to feel their best inside and out.
Leafy Green Vegetables
This one’s a no-brainer. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and lettuce are the poster child for healthy eating. This is because not only do these vegetables contain filling fiber in a low-calorie form, but they also provide a ton of nutrients.
For example, leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and salad greens contain vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as the nutrients iron, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. In leafy vegetables, antioxidants that come from carotenoids that are converted to vitamin A in the body. Because of all these health benefits, be sure to add leafy greens to your meals and snacks. Consume these greens raw in your salad, steamed at dinner time, or throw some spinach in your morning omelet.
Besides leafy green vegetables, there are a variety of non-starchy plants that are low in calories and full of fiber and other nutrients. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include green beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and cabbage, to name a few.
Take the instance you have a digestive condition like irritable bowel syndrome and follow a low FODMAP diet. Then certain non-starchy vegetables like onions, asparagus, and cauliflower should be avoided to prevent triggering symptoms like abdominal pain or bloating. However, most people can enjoy most non-starchy vegetables, raw, steamed, or roasted to reap their many health benefits.
This vibrant starchy vegetable may be a little higher in carbs than leafy greens, but the nutrients found in this tuber make up for it. Sweet potatoes are so healthy in fact that even restrictive diets like the paleolithic allow this starchy vegetable.
One medium sweet potato (about 2 inches wide and 5 inches long) contains nutrients such as 4 grams fiber, 16% recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin B6, 37% RDA of vitamin C, 15% RDA of potassium, not to mention 438% of vitamin A in the form of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
So, whether it’s baked, roasted, or steamed, sweet potatoes are a delicious and nutritious part of just about any healthy lifestyle. And at just 20 grams net carbs per medium potato (total grams of carbohydrates minus the grams of fiber), sweet potatoes may still be enjoyed. You can do this in a smaller portion, as part of a lower carbohydrate lifestyle so you can reap their many health benefits.
When you think of fruit, due to the bad reputation of carbohydrates in the media, you may not believe it can be part of a healthy diet. However, berries are a sweet exception. Berries like strawberries are safe on many diet plans such as low carbohydrate, ketogenic, paleolithic, low FODMAP, and heart-healthy, to name a few.
Strawberries are low in carbohydrate at just 8.7 grams net carbs per cup of strawberry halves. This same serving size of strawberries contains 149% of the RDA for the antioxidant vitamin C. Other berries that may fit into such eating plans include raspberries and blueberries. These berries taste great alone or on top of oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, or salads to provide you with sweet and satisfying health benefits.
This fleshy pink citrus fruit is well-known for its title role in the diet named after it. However, there is more to this fruit than helping those trying to lose weight. Research shows that grapefruit may benefit heart health through the nutrients it contains. These nutrients are potassium, the antioxidant lycopene, and flavonoids of which the latter has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke.
At around just 104 calories per fruit, this serving of grapefruit also contains 56% RDA of vitamin A, 128% vitamin C, and 4 grams fiber. Grapefruit contains around 22 grams of net carbs per fruit. Anyone trying to consume a carbohydrate-controlled diet can enjoy the health benefits of this fruit without straying from their healthy lifestyle.
Grapefruit is not the only citrus fruit that makes this top ten list. Other citrus fruits like clementines, oranges, lemons, and limes are low in carbohydrate and rich in nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, folate, and fiber. One large orange (about 3 inches in diameter) contains only 86.5 calories while providing 163% of the RDA for the antioxidant vitamin C, 14% RDA for folate, 10% RDA of potassium, and about 4.5 grams fiber.
Research shows that both folate and potassium is beneficial to heart health. Therefore, use these tart fruits as a portable breakfast or snack option, or slice such fruits and infuse your water to help enhance your daily hydration.
If you’re on social media for even a second about any health, wellness, or food-related site, then I’m sure you’ve seen many avocado creations. This is popular among such sites because this fruit, which is often mistaken for a vegetable, is versatile in recipes such as avocado toast, guacamole, or as an alternative for mayo in your sandwich salads.
Not to mention that it’s a source of healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, as well as vitamins C, E, K, and B6 along with the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene. And at only 3.6 grams net carbs per medium fruit, avocado is diabetes-, ket0-, and low carb-friendly.
Probiotics have taken center stage in the health and wellness arena over the past few years. These microorganisms, like bacteria, work to boost immunity and gut health, are often unbalanced in the body. However, by taking a probiotic supplement with prebiotic foods like bananas, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, or onion, to name a few can help these bacteria flourish. Your gut can become more balanced, and you can reduce inflammation in your body. If you don’t feel like taking a probiotic pill, you can find healthy bacteria in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir, to name a few.
Outside of its past popular status as an herb-growing seed used for gardening and entertainment value, chia seeds are now known for their nutritional status. This tiny seed can be used in a variety of ways to inject fiber and protein in any meal or snack. One tablespoon of chia seeds contains about 69 calories as well as only 0.8 grams net carbs, 5.3 grams fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Research shows that consuming high-fiber foods like chia seeds can help improve gut health as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
You can sprinkle Chia seeds on salads, sandwiches, and soups, combined with oats and milk for a nutrient-dense overnight breakfast meal. As for dessert, these seeds can be mixed with almond milk and set overnight for a healthy pudding alternative. You can also bake into your favorite muffin or cake recipes to add extra fiber.
Last but not least, on this top ten list is olive oil. This is perhaps one of the essential healthy staples nearly everyone should have in their kitchen. The exception being those that have trouble digesting fats, like those with irritable bowel syndrome. However, even some people with IBS can benefit from enjoying this healthy fat in small doses.
Olive oil is high in healthy fats like monounsaturated fats as well as antioxidants. Research shows that olive oil has more antioxidant value than vitamin E when not heated. The anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil have shown to reduce heart health risk. Olive oil is excellent for sautéing or roasting vegetables, as a base for salad dressing, or drizzled on meats or seafood for marinating.
Final Thoughts On Essential Healthy Foods
No matter what diet you follow each day, you may find yourself focusing more on the foods you can’t have versus those you can. This can make any eating plan feel like work and put you into the mentality that starting a healthy lifestyle is restrictive and depriving. However, when it comes to a healthy diet, regardless of which popular diet you follow, there are many healthy foods you can enjoy.
The foods mentioned above are just some foods that are not only delicious but nutritious and fitting into just about any popular diet’s approved foods list. Unsurprisingly this list is full of whole foods that are nutrient-dense and rich in essential nutrients like healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants that are beneficial for optimal health. So, the next time you’re writing your grocery list or meal planning for the week, make sure to include these nutritious staples on your list.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.