The 20 Healthiest Foods, According to Nutritionists

Updated 09/11/19
I Am a Food Blog

From energy healers to thyroid doctors, we're surrounded by a wealth of experts who provide relevant information that can improve our health and well-being. But sometimes, despite all our best intentions, sifting through it all is just too time-consuming, especially in a society where the clock is always ticking. Take our best intentions to eat healthy, for example. How do we get to the heart of this valuable advice to find the recommendations that pertain to us as individuals and are relatively easy habits to adopt?

To find out, we turned to our informed network of nutritionists to reveal the foods they recommend folding into your everyday diet for optimum health. Ahead, read on to discover the 20 most nutrient-packed foods to eat every day, according to nutrition experts.

Legumes

Bowl of soup featuring legumes
Half Baked Harvest

From your summer salad to a wintry crockpot, legumes are a healthy staple we should eat all year round, and registered dietitian Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD, and author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain, makes it a point to eat legumes every day.

"They're a great plant-based source of protein and provide a wide array of B vitamins that help with energy," she said. "They're a fantastic source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut and keep our microbiomes nice and healthy."

Not only that, but Babb assures us that beans are also a staple food in all the Blue Zone regions—aka places with the highest concentration of people who live to be 100 or older—around the world. "I eat bean soups, snack on hummus, munch on crispy chickpeas, or throw lentils into a salad," she said. Mix them with rice and you have the ultimate protein.

Lauren Kelly, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Kelly Wellness, also keeps legumes on regular rotation. "I eat beans practically every day, whether that's chickpeas and kidney beans in my salad, a vegetarian bean-based chili with sliced avocado for dinner, or black beans are great in an egg or tofu scramble with lots of veggies (e.g., tomato, spinach, onion, broccoli) in the a.m.," she said.

Eggs

Poached egg over white asparagus
Heidi's Bridge

When we think of the perfect Sunday brunch, eggs immediately come to mind. From scrambled to omelet or sunny side up, these protein-rich delights are a MyDomaine breakfast favorite (also see how to boil them once and for all.) But Kelly doesn't save them for the weekend; she eats one almost every morning for breakfast.

"If I don't have it at breakfast I'll often have one with my dinner," she said. "For breakfast, I may just have it over a piece of whole grain bread if I'm on the go or with a few pieces of lox and a side of spinach, peppers, mushrooms and a few pieces of baked potato. For dinner, I love an egg served over easy over sautéed cauliflower rice with veggies (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, onion, mushrooms) with low-sodium teriyaki sauce and a little sriracha. It's so good!"

Citrus

Citrus medley on a cutting board
Nicole Franzen

It's the one ritual healthy people swear by (it also takes less than 30 seconds), and Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, and Daily Harvest nutritionist drinks warm or hot lemon water every single day.

"It is a non-negotiable no matter where I am," she said. "I love to hydrate right after I wake up, I find it is an easy way to get in 24 ounces of water toward your goal early on. It helps me to feel awake (yes, even before coffee), it gives me energy, and while research is still out, it has been said to aid in weight loss, digestion, and immunity. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can also prevent wrinkles, so I even think of it as a beauty elixir. But above all else, it's also very comforting to me, helps to flush bloat after a night out or a salty meal, and helps to start my day off on a healthy foot to keep me focused and motivated as the day goes on."

If you love lemon water too, then try these delicious mocktail recipes.

Garlic

Vegetarian rice bowl with garlic
Half Baked Harvest

While we traditionally think of garlic as the ultimate flavor enhancer, it's also one of nature's finest medicinal foods and packs a health and wellness punch. Celebrity wellness maven, birth doula, and Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas (she's helped everyone from Alicia Keys to Serena Williams) is a big fan.

"I eat garlic every damn day," she said. "No matter what, I temper my greens with garlic, I add it to my salad dressings that I whip up from scratch; all the soups I am eating have a base of onions, garlic, and celery."

Thomas's mom put garlic in a lot of their family meals growing up, and she attributes her good health not only to healthy lifestyle practices but to the antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral foods she eats—garlic being the main one.

"Garlic is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese," she said. "It boosts the immune system and is a must-have pantry ingredient to combat the common cold. It lowers blood cholesterol, which can lower the risk of heart disease. The high doses of sulfur compounds in garlic can protect against toxic heavy metals, decreasing the risk of organ damage. It combats candida and other fungal infections that can colonize the gut or vaginal canal. When you chop up garlic cloves and leave them exposed to the air for an hour, it helps to release the medicinal power of the allium, the active ingredient in the garlic."

Bone Broth

Array of healthy dishes
Nicole Franzen

While it might not sound appetizing at first read, bone broth is brimming with nutritional value and actually tastes delicious too. Just ask Carly Brawner, holistic nutritionist, health coach, and founder of Frolic and Flow. While there are a handful of foods (green veggies, coconut oil, sauerkraut, etc.) she consumes daily, the primary one is bone broth.

"Bone broth is nutrient-dense as well as protein- and glycine-rich," she said. "Glycine, in particular, helps protect and heal the gut as well as support the body's detoxification process. As someone who has had gut problems in the past, foods that help me support and maintain a healthy microbiome are an important part of my diet."

If you're unsure how to incorporate this into your diet, Brawner suggests adding it as a base to soup, cooking your veggies in it, or sipping a little from a mug (about 1/2 cup). "Always choose broth made from pasture-raised animals, not those from conventional farms," she advised.

Greens

Bowl of greens and noodles
I Am a Food Blog

While we know how important it is to eat our greens, only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruit and vegetables every day. Kelly makes sure to do so and recommends we all do too.

"Whether it's arugula in my salad, spinach, and kale in my smoothie, sautéed green vegetables (e.g., broccoli, swiss chard, bok choy) with my dinner, or collard greens around my burger, I always fit in my greens," she said.

If you need some recipe ideas, here are seven crazy-good salads you'll actually want to eat.

For more recommendations of nutrient-packed foods to incorporate in your daily diet, consider these additional nutritionist-backed recommendations:

Ancient Grains

Farro risotto by Domesticate Me
Domesticate Me 

Ancient Grains like farro, bulgur, amaranth, and freekeh are full of fiber, plant-based iron, and protein, says Hannah Koschak, RD, CD of Wholesome Endeavors. They're easy to prepare too; just boil and add to your favorite recipe.

Avocado

Roasted tomatillo avocado hummus by Hola Jalapeño
Hola Jalapeño

As a great source of healthy fat to keep you full, Koschak says avocados are best consumed fresh. Look for avocados with greenish/purple skin and feel slightly tender to the touch, Koschak advises. Try these stuffed avocado recipes.

Bell Peppers

Stuffed bell peppers
Joe Lingeman

Bell peppers provide high amounts of vitamin C, along with phytonutrients and carotenoids for immunity and anti-inflammatory benefits, says nutritionist Lisa Richards, and author of The Candida Diet. "Prepare bell peppers fresh or frozen as they'll have the same nutrient density," Richards says.

Berries

Bowl of strawberries, blueberries, banana slices
Simply Recipes

From strawberries to blueberries and blackberries, berries not only contain cholesterol-helping fiber, but powerful antioxidants that help ward of risk of disease, says Amy Gorin, MS, RD and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. And don't discount frozen berries either, says Gorin. "Frozen berries are picked at their peak so contain a maximum amount of nutrition." Gorin suggests using berries to make a sauce for French toast, pancakes, or crepes "because they already have a juice," or in smoothies, in lieu of ice.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

A drizzle of olive oil on a bowl of roasted vegetables
 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is mostly comprised of monounsaturated fats, which have the ability to reduce inflammation in the body, explains nutritional therapy practitioner Gabrielle Desmarais, NTP. "Where olive oil really stands out, however, is in its polyphenol content. Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants that help counteract inflammation and free radical damage in the body. These polyphenols can also be helpful in the realm of anti-aging, heart disease, and high blood pressure," says Desmarais. Unfortunately, there are a lot of olive oils out there that are adulterated or rancid, so Desmarais advises seeking bottles that state the "variety of olive used, harvest date, package date, and location... [which are] much less likely to be of poor quality," she adds.

Dates

Dates and a wooden spoon
Westend61 / Getty Images 

Dates are packed with flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids which Sowmya Binu, senior nutritionist with Netmeds.com says aids in preventing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. "Eat a fistful as a healthy snack, add them to cereals, salads, or bake them in cake or cookies," says Binu. Date alternatives include dried figs, raisins, cranberries, prunes, or apricots.

Fermented Foods

Fermented vegetables in glass jars on a wooden cutting board
Westend61 / Getty Images

To keep and restore balance to your gut, try recipes that include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut. "Doing so can help restore balance in the microbiome, which is made up of trillions of gut bacteria that influence every aspect of human health including immune function, inflammation, even mood," says psychonutritionist Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D.

Ginger

Overhead shot of a piece of ginger on a plate
Magdalena Niemczyk / Getty Images

"Ginger has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat morning sickness, ease muscle cramps, lower your risk of heart disease, and control diabetes," says Binu. To pick ginger that's fresh. Binu recommends using your senses. "Pick ginger with a shiny, thin and firm skin." Ginger is also quite versatile; incorporate into teas, salads, roasted chicken, smoothies, cookies, and more. No ginger on hand? "Some of the best alternatives for ginger are ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ground mace," says Binu.

Mushrooms

Seared halibut fillet topped on sauteed asparagus and morels
 Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Binu says other than being loaded with A and B vitamins, selenium, and folate, mushrooms offer vegan diets an excellent source of protein. "Select mushroom which are firm with smooth texture. The outer surface should be dry and look plump," advises Binu. Toss them into soups, salads, and stir-fries. As a substitute, you can turn to tofu, tempeh, zucchini and eggplant.

Nuts

Bowl of nuts and seeds, including almonds and walnuts
 Winslow Productions / Getty Images

"Nuts are a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, as well as several minerals including calcium and magnesium which support bone and heart health," says Susan Bowerman, a registered dietitian at Herbalife Nutrition. Try to avoid pre-salted nuts or those with sugar added to them, Bowerman advises, who also recommends storing them in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Another tip: "Buy only as much as you will use in a few months, as the oil can go rancid and give the nuts an off taste," she says. Try them in salads, hot or cold cereal, and sprinkled on cooked vegetables for added crunch. 

Oats

Bowl of oats topped with blueberries and apple slices and a side of hot tea
 

For optimal gut health, weight management and to keep cholesterol levels in check, consider adding oats to your meal rotation. They come steel cut, rolled, or in instant varieties, says Binu and are chockfull of fiber, protein, and low in calories.

Seaweed

15 Minute Miso Ramen Recipe with seaweed by Steamy Kitchen
Steamy Kitchen 

"Seaweed is a great source of iodine, which is most credible for vegans who are not getting it from dairy," says Koschak. Try them in these Japanese-inspired recipes.

Sweet Potato

Baked sweet potatoes, dip, salt and rosemary. White wooden rustic picnic table scenery from above.
 Cleardesign1 / Getty Images

"The sweet potato, a tuberous root vegetable, is packed with calcium, potassium, and Vitamins A and C, and they are also one of nature's richest sources of beta-carotene," says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH  and author of The One One One Diet. Beta-carotene helps our bodies to produce vitamin A—an important vitamin for healthy skin, good eye health and vision, and a healthy immune system, Batayneh adds. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, so pairing foods rich in fat helps the body better absorb this vitamin. For example, a fun way to use sweet potatoes is to incorporate it into a salsa, such as a roasted sweet potato salsa with avocado, cilantro, and lime, Batayneh adds.

Tea

Tea with jasmine flowers, view from above, vertical orientation
fortyforks / Getty Images

"Tea contains antioxidants which can fight free radicals in the body and help ward off diseases, wrinkles, dementia and even depression," says Shapiro, who prefers to purchase loose teas from the farmers market or specialty tea stores, although she notes that teas are widely available in grocery stores. Tea comes from the leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and come in types like black, green, white. There are also herbal teas, "which come from roots, fruits, and plants and tend to be caffeine free," says Shapiro. For example, common herbal teas include ginger and peppermint, which can assist with digestion.

And at the bare minimum, tea can be a great way to stay hydrated. It's more flavorful than water, "and it can be consumed all year long hot or cold!" adds Shapiro. To retain its freshness, Shapiro advises keeping tea in a cool, dark place.

Tofu

Braised tofu with ground pork by Steamy Kitchen
Steamy Kitchen

When consumed in moderation, tofu (made from soy) can be a healthy addition to any diet, "especially for those who are vegan or vegetarian as it is a great source of protein and fairly low in calories," says Shapiro. One serving of tofu (approximately 70 calories), offers 8 grams of protein ("more than an egg," explains Shapiro), only 2 grams of carbohydrates and 20 percent of the daily Calcium requirement, in addition to Iron, Zinc, and Magnesium.

Find a range of tofu types in the refrigerated section of your grocery store; from silken ("great for smoothies or baking," says Shapiro) to firm, which is ideal for stir-fries. "Since soy is typically a GMO food I like to recommend purchasing organic and non-GMO specific varieties," says Shapiro. Tofu can also be purchased online.

To prepare tofu, drain and pat dry excess liquid. Then, "you can simply bake it, cube it, fry it, deep fry it, stir-fry it, or eat it raw," Shapiro suggests. Tofu usually absorbs the flavors of the foods or sauces it is served within so it is an easy addition to most meals, says Shapiro. If cooking isn't your thing, Shapiro recommends buying an already seasoned version and simply slicing it and topping your salad with it. 

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