Top 10 Everyday Super Foods
These easy-to-eat foods are packed with multiple nutrients to help you stay healthy.
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
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 eat?
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 diet.
"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 Lichtenstein, DSc.
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 economical."
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 snack.
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 fiber content.