Food is our fuel, so it’s important that we take in the best available options as often as we can. We get out what we put in, and just as a car runs poorly on inferior fuel, so does your body on junk food.
So what should you be eating?
We all know that whole foods – foods as close to nature as possible – are our best options. Anything that doesn’t look like it did when it came out of the ground or off a plant is best avoided. But still, which whole foods are the smartest options?
Here are 10 nutrient-dense food options which will deliciously fuel your body cells so you can look and feel your best, every day.
Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around, which is why it has earned a spot on most lists of superfoods.
According to Medical News Today, kale offers nutrients that are essential for bone health as well as the health of skin and hair. Studies have linked the cruciferous veggie to improved blood sugar levels making it a smart choice for the dinner table. (Ref. 1)
Vegans will appreciate the protein, but kale also offers iron, vitamins and minerals.
It can be eaten cooked or raw – either in juice or slivered into a salad – and a one-cup serving of cooked kale offers, according to the website World’s Healthiest Foods (Ref. 2) overwhelmingly high levels of vitamin K and B6 as well as high levels of vitamins A and C and the minerals manganese, copper and calcium.
Crunchy kale also offers fiber, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin E, protein, folate, a range of other B vitamins, iron, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Of course kiwifruit lands on the list. There’s a reason why we include kiwifruit in so many of our products.
This fruit is one of the most nutritionally-dense available. Not only that, a 2011 study from researchers in Taiwan found that kiwifruit have the potential to also improve sleep. (Ref. 3)
Researchers found that those who ate two kiwifruits per night four hours before bedtime not only fell asleep faster, but also stayed asleep longer.
The shamrock-green fruit is rich in nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C as well as potassium, vitamin K and vitamin E. (Ref. 4)
The lycopene alone in this savory-sweet fruit from the nightshade family makes it a must for the list.
A powerful antioxidant, lycopene levels are even higher when tomatoes are cooked, making that homemade pasta sauce a smart health investment. (Ref. 5)
Tomatoes also offer vitamins C, A and K, as well as potassium, folate, niacin and vitamin B6.
One study showed that women who ate seven to 10 servings of tomatoes per week – particularly sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil - had a 29 percent lower risk of heart disease than women who ate less than a serving and a half of tomatoes per week.
Whether you grab them on the go or slice them into a veggie-packed soup, carrots have had a reputation for being a smart choice for eye health for good reason.
The favorite of rabbits and horses everywhere is packed with beta carotene – the bright orange color is the give-away – an antioxidant that helps protect vision. (Ref. 4)
Carrots also offer fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium.
Fish, including salmon and tuna are good sources of not only omega-3 fatty acids but also protein, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin E.
And according to the American Heart Association, two servings per week can help protect your heart against cardiovascular disease, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, atherosclerotic plaque and high blood pressure. (Ref. 6)
The tiny little pepita (pumpkin seed) – an autumn staple during pumpkin carving time – should be eaten year-round to get more from the benefits the tasty seed offers.
Packed with protein, iron, vitamin K, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus (Ref. 4), pumpkin seeds can be eaten as a snack, added to homemade energy bars or tossed on salads to add crunch in place of fat-laden croutons.
While kale is considered the superfood, spinach is kale’s natural co-star.
It has almost as much vitamin K as kale, as well as loads of vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and iron. (Ref. 4)
Use it in place of lettuce on sandwiches or in salads, add it to pasta dishes or eggs, cook it like greens or mix it with other vegetables as a base for veggie lasagna.
According to Swedish researchers, Popeye didn’t eat his favorite snack for nothing.
In 2012, researchers found that the nitrates in spinach helped make muscles not only stronger, but more efficient. (Ref. 7)
Berries are packed with antioxidants, and wild ones – blueberries especially – are grown as nature intended, without pesticides.
They also tend to have higher levels of antioxidants than cultivated berries.
If you can beat the birds, a trip into the woods during the short-but-sweet berry season can be a great way to boost the nutrients in your diet.
And if you don’t live near the woods, look for wild versions of berries in your supermarket’s freezer section. (Ref. 8)
This versatile veggie – ideal in stir fries, roasted, raw, slivered into slaw or blanched – is a nutritional powerhouse.
It offers fiber, elevated levels of vitamins C and K, folate, manganese and potassium.
Plus, it’s super-low in calories, so you can eat as much of it as you want.
Nuts offer heart-healthy fats and are filling, so they’re a good snack to include either before meals or before parties, when you might be tempted to fill up on unhealthy items.
Nuts – especially tree nuts such as pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds - also offer protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. (Ref. 9)