10 Everyday Super Foods
These easy-to-eat foods are packed with multiple nutrients to help you
By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
If only there were some kind of potion or pill that had everything you needed
for weight loss and good health. Unfortunately, no such pill exists, but there
is a solution -- something that not only promotes wellness and weight control
but tastes good, too. These multitasking "super foods" provide multiple
disease-fighting nutrients, fill you up so you can enjoy plenty of food without
excess calories, and are easy to include in everyday meals. After all, what good
is a super food that is hard to find, difficult to prepare, and the kids won't
Eaten regularly, these foods will help you satisfy the recommendations of the
U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guideline, giving you nutrients that are
typically missing from American diets. According to the Guidelines, Americans
need to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
Of course, experts are quick to point out, this list of top 10 super foods by
no means includes all the nutritious foods that should be part of a healthy
"What is ultimately the most important to good health is a dietary pattern
that includes all these foods, along with a wide variety of other nutritious
foods and regular physical activity," says Tufts University researcher Alice
And don't forget that portion size matters, even when it comes to healthy
foods. You can take more liberties when eating simply prepared vegetables, but
you should take care to eat other super foods in sensible portions.
"Foods like nuts are nutrient rich, but if you overeat them you can pack on
the pounds, and that defeats the purpose," says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of
Feed Your Family Right!
Top 10 Multitasking Super Foods
- Low fat or fat-free plain yogurt is higher in
calcium than some other dairy products and contains a great package of other
nutrients, including protein and potassium. It can also be enhanced with other
good-for-you substances. "Yogurt is a vehicle food that can be enriched with
probiotics for a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, and beneficial,
heart-healthy plant stanols," says Zied. "And lactose sensitive people may
tolerate yogurt better than milk." Look for plain yogurt fortified with vitamin
D, and add your own fruit to control sweetness and calories. Versatile yogurt
can also be used in entree and bakery recipes, in dips for veggies, etc. Don't
like yogurt? Skim milk is another super dairy food that has only 83 calories per
cup and is easy to slip into coffee to help you get one of the recommended three
servings of dairy each day. "Dairy foods contain practically every nutrient you
need for total nutrition -- and in just the right balance," says bone health
expert, Robert Heaney, MD. "No other food group in the diet is as complete or as
- Eggs make the list because they are nutritious, versatile,
economical, and a great way to fill up on quality protein. "Studies show if you
eat eggs at breakfast, you may eat fewer calories during the day and lose weight
without significantly affecting cholesterol levels," says Elizabeth Ward, MS,
RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. Eggs also
contain 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, which is good for brain
development and memory. Enjoy them at any meal or hard-cooked as a portable
- Nuts have gotten a bad rap because of their high fat content. But their
protein, heart-healthy fats, high fiber, and antioxidant content earn them a
place on the top 10 list. The key to enjoying nuts, experts say, is portion
control. "All nuts are healthful in small doses, and studies show they can help
lower cholesterol levels and promote weight loss," says Today Show nutritionist
Joy Bauer, MS, RD. "I like pistachio nuts because they also contain plant
sterols and it takes longer to crack the shell and eat them, making it easier to
control the portion. Whether you prefer pistachios, almonds, peanuts, walnuts,
or pecans, an ounce a day of nuts help fill you up. Nuts add texture and flavor
to salads, side dishes, baked goods, cereals, and entrees. They taste great
alone, too. Zied recommends putting together your own "100-calorie packs" of
nuts for easy and portable snacks.
- Kiwis are among the most nutritionally dense
fruits, full of antioxidants, says Ward. "One large kiwi supplies your daily
requirement for vitamin C," says Ward. "It is also a good source of potassium,
fiber, and a decent source of vitamin A and vitamin E, which is one of the
missing nutrients, and kiwi is one of the only fruits that provides it." The
sweet taste and colorful appearance of kiwis makes it easy to slice in half,
scoop out with a spoon and enjoy alone, or slice it into desserts, salads, or
side dishes. Kiwifruit can also have a mild laxative effect due to their high
- Quinoa is now readily available in many supermarkets and is one
of the best whole grains you can eat, according to Zied. "It is an ancient
grain, easy to make, interesting, high in protein (8 grams in 1 cup cooked),
fiber (5 grams per cup) and a naturally good source of iron," she says. Quinoa
(pronounced keen-wa) also has plenty of zinc, vitamin E, and selenium to help
control your weight and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes, she
says. Quinoa is as easy to prepare as rice and can be eaten alone or mixed with
vegetables, nuts, or lean protein for a whole-grain medley. Try to make at least
half your daily grain servings whole grains. In addition to quinoa, try barley,
oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, wild rice, and millet.
- Beans, beans, good for your
heart -- really! Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps lower
cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your
body of waste. They're also a good, low-fat source of protein, carbohydrates,
magnesium, and potassium. Bauer favors edamame (whole soybeans) because they
also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Beans can easily substitute for
meat or poultry as the centerpiece of a meal, says Bauer, but they also work as
a side dish, or tossed into soups, stews, or egg dishes. The U.S. Dietary
Guidelines recommend 3 cups weekly.
- Salmon is a super food because of its
omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids help protect
heart health. That's why the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty
fish like salmon twice weekly. Salmon is low in calories (200 for 3 ounces) has
lots of protein, is a good source of iron, and is very low in saturated fat. You
can simply grill or bake it, top it with salsas or other low-fat sauces, or
serve it on top of salad greens. If you don't like salmon, Lichtenstein
recommends eating other kinds of fish, like canned tuna. And what about the
mercury content? (Mercury is known to accumulate in fish.) "The benefits of
eating salmon or other fatty fish twice weekly far outweigh any risks, but if
you are concerned, check with your doctor," says Zied.
- Broccoli is one of
America's favorite vegetables because it tastes good and is available all year
long. It's a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and bone-building vitamin K,
and has plenty of fiber to fill you up and help control your weight. "Some
people think beta-carotene (vitamin A) is only found in orange and yellow
vegetables, but broccoli is an excellent source," says Ward. You can eat
broccoli raw, lightly steamed, stir-fried, roasted, or grilled. Eat it as a side
dish, or toss into grains, egg dishes, soups, and salads.
- Sweet potatoes are a
delicious member of the dark orange vegetable family, which lead the pack in
vitamin A content. Substitute a baked sweet potato (also loaded with vitamin C,
calcium, and potassium) for a baked white potato. And before you add butter or
sugar, taste the sweetness that develops when a sweet potato is cooked -- and
think of all the calories you can save over that loaded baked potato. "If we eat
more foods like sweet potatoes that are rich sources of potassium, and fewer
high-sodium foods, we can blunt the effect of sodium on blood pressure and
reduce bone loss," says Zied. Other dark orange vegetable standouts include
pumpkin, carrots, butternut squash, and orange bell peppers.
- Berries pack an
incredible amount of nutritional goodness into a small package. They're loaded
with antioxidants, phytonutrients, low in calories, and high in water and fiber
to help control blood sugar and keep you full longer. And their flavors satisfy
sweets cravings for a fraction of the calories in baked goods. Blueberries lead
the pack because they are among the best source of antioxidants and are widely
available. Cranberries are also widely available fresh, frozen, or dried. All
can add flavor and nutrition to numerous dishes, from salads and cereals to
baked goods and yogurt.
SOURCES:Last Editorial Review: 12/4/2008 7:44:46 PM
Robert P. Heaney, MD, John A. Creighton University Professor, Creighton University.
Joy Bauer, MS, RD, author, Joy Bauer's Food Cures; nutritionist, the Today Show.
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author, The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramid.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Feed Your Family Right!
U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science, Tufts University.
Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2002; vol 11, issue 2: pp164-168.
Reviewed on December 04, 2008
© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.