I always say that there’s no single food that will cure you…or kill you. Yes, there are groups of foods that when eaten regularly are known to help keep you healthy…think colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish. Other foods, when eaten regularly are known to contribute to heart disease and obesity…think fatty meats, sugary soda, deep-fried fast food. That said, here’s a short list of ‘must have’ foods, foods that not only taste good, but also are good enough for you to eat just about every day!
: Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachio nuts all pack a huge amount of nutrients into tiny packages. All contain 0 grams of cholesterol, and ‘healthy’ mono-and polyunsaturated fats. Almonds are the best whole food source of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), which may help prevent cancer. The National Peanut Board references epidemiological studies that show a 25-50% reduction in the risk of heart disease when 1 to 2 ounces of peanuts or nuts are consumed 5 or more times a week.
: Portion size counts! Go to CalorieCount.com (a free food database) to search individual foods and portions and fit a serving of nuts into your daily diet. One ounce of dry-roasted almonds or peanuts contains 160 calories. Best: Dry roasted, in the shell. Worst: Oiled or coated with candy.
: Classified as a vegetable or an herb, they are actually fungi but don’t let that deter you! Extremely low in calories while rich in potassium, selenium, iron, zinc, fiber, some studies point to powerful anti-tumor properties. Best: Shiitake, Portobello (perfect meat-y entrée, great grilled!).
: That poor potato is often buried under gobs of fat (butter, sour cream) or soaked with oil in a deep fryer. But potatoes have more potassium than a banana, more vitamin C than an orange; plus fiber, vitamin B6, iron and copper. Low in calories with zero cholesterol, naturally--it’s all in the preparation, darlings. Best: Baked, grilled; also sweet potatoes, for their beta-carotene.
: Can one single food be more like heaven? Creamy yet firm, smooth yet sensuous. Nutritionally, avocados are at the top of their class. They’re rich in healthy monounsaturated fat, iron, potassium, fiber and a natural substance called beta-sitosterol shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. Best: ripe avocado salsa: chopped tomatoes, onion, clove of garlic mixed with mashed avocado.
5. Quinoa (KEEN-wah)
: This grain-like food (prepared like you would cous cous) has everything that animal protein has in the way of protein, without cholesterol or saturated fat: naturally low in calories; rich in calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. Gluten-free; cooks in about 15 minutes.
: Full of antioxidants, potassium and fiber. Strawberries contain 60% more vitamin C than grapefruit, and 8% more than whole oranges. Cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain ellagic acid, which researchers have shown to prevent some cancers. Only 50-70 calories per cup.
7. Super fruits
: Guava, papaya, and mango: supply carotenoids, antioxidants and fiber. Tip:
Whole fruit, not juice, is still the best source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium for less than 100 calories per serving. Worst: Pretend “super-fruit” drinks, claiming “weight loss” or “energy”: they contain no known health benefit that’s any different than that of other similar fruits.
8. Fatty fish
: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids: may help lower triglycerides. Wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are some of the best, cooked grilled, baked, broiled, steamed or poached. Worst: transformed by frying into a fat sponge!
: Recent research shows that dietary cholesterol in eggs and shellfish does not raise “bad” cholesterol in the majority of people. Other factors influence high levels of cholesterol, including your genes, but also the amount of saturated fat in the diet (also refined carbohydrate intake). Naturally low in saturated fat and high in important nutrients including protein, B vitamins and vitamins A, D and E. Each whole egg has about 80-100 calories: reduce calories by substituting for one whole egg two egg whites.
: In moderation, coffee may help boost your immunity because it contains healthy antioxidants called flavonoids. Coffee drinkers are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, have lower risk for Parkinson’s, asthma, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones. That cup of java in the morning helps get you going but don’t overdo the brew: too much caffeine can cause insomnia and the jitters. Worst: Calorie-laden frothy drinks with whipped cream, syrup.
Registered and Licensed Dietitian Susan Burke March is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Susan consults with individuals and companies to create personalized and practical weight management solutions. She may be reached online at www.SusanBurkeMarch.com