Guide: The 31 Healthiest Foods of All Time

Are you befuddled by what nutrition experts mean by “eating healthy”? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends loading up on fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean meats — sure, that sounds simple, butwhich fruits and veggies? What kinds of whole grains? And what constitutes a lean meat?

Fear not; eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. With the help of several nutrition experts, Healthland has taken the guesswork out of creating the perfectly healthy diet for you and your family. With the right kinds of foods, you can stave off heart disease, stay slim and boost your immune system. So what follows is a list of the 31 healthiest foods you should be eating now. Start stocking your fridge and pantry!

Black Beans

black beans

Why they’re good for you: Legumes are cheap and easy to cook, which makes them a staple in many people’s diets. They’re also high in protein, making them a popular meat substitute among vegetarians, and they’re packed with fiber, so they help you stay full and energized. Black beans even have a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which boost heart health. “Black beans are high in the powerful phytochemical anthocyanins — the same ones found in blueberries. Studies indicate the darker the bean, the higher it may be in antioxidants,” says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and the author of The Plant-Powered Diet.

How to eat them: Black beans are great in Southwestern-inspired dishes like burritos and black-bean burgers. Add them to your salad for an extra protein kick.

Serving size: ½ cup, cooked

Calories: 114



Why it’s good for you: Kale is a member of the cancer-fighting cruciferous family of vegetables and is full of fiber and antioxidants. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which aids in blood clotting and cell growth. Its textured leaves make it a tasty addition to any salad.

How to eat it: Bake your kale with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt for a tasty potato-chip alternative. Kale is also a delicious addition to a vegetable-based soup.

Serving size: 1 cup cooked or 1 cup raw 

Calories: 34-36



Why it’s good for you: Salmon, especially wild salmon, is rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which will protect your heart. Research has found that omega-3s may also be associated with protecting against premature brain aging and memory loss.

How to eat it: Grill your salmon with lemon, garlic and a little soy sauce. If you have leftovers, refrigerate to put on top of a salad later.

Serving size: 3 oz.

Calories: 155



Why they’re good for you: Nuts tend to be high in calories and fat, but the monosaturated fat in nuts is healthier than the saturated fat in meat and dairy products. And their high omega-3-fatty-acid levels make them a go-to for heart health. A recent study also found that walnuts carry some of the highest antioxidant content among all nuts.

How to eat them: Add walnuts to cereals, yogurt or breads. Remember, just a few pack plenty of calories.

Serving size: 1 oz. (14 halves)

Calories: 185



Why it’s good for you: Pumpkin is a low-calorie vegetable that’s high in fiber and vitamin A. “Its orange color is a dead giveaway of its high amount of beta carotene, which helps prevent heart disease,” says Brill. “It’s also so versatile for cooking.”

How to eat it: There’s no need to cook your jack-o-lantern; canned pumpkin is an easy and accessible grocery-store staple.

Serving size: 1 cup, from canned

Calories: 83



Why they’re good for you: Apples are high in fiber, specifically a soluble fiber called pectin, which targets and clears away LDL,  the bad cholesterol. Many of apples’ beneficial compounds are contained in the skin, including high levels of phytochemicals, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re “the perfect diet food too,” says Janet Brill, a registered dietitian and author of several books on nutrition. “They’re very portable, and my personal favorite, Fuji applies, are sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth.”

How to eat them: Raw, baked in muffins, dried or in applesauce

Serving size: 1 small apple

Calories: 77


blueberriesWhy they’re good for you: Berries’ vibrant, deep colors mean they’re high in antioxidant compounds. Blueberries are especially high in heart-protective carotenoids and flavonoids, and they encourage heart, memory and urinary-tract health. They also contain high levels of vitamins C and E.

How to eat them: Add berries to your cereal or yogurt or blend them into smoothies.

Serving size: 1 cup

Calories: 84


bananasWhy they’re good for you: Bananas are high in potassium, which aids blood pressure and is critical for the proper function of the muscular and digestive systems. They’re also high in fiber, which means they’ll keep you fuller for longer.

How to eat them: Bananas are a great to-go food. Add a dollop of peanut butter for a sweet and savory snack. Sliced bananas are a great breakfast staple for cereals, yogurts and smoothies.

Serving size: 1 small banana

Calories: 90


broccoliWhy it’s good for you:
Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family of vegetables, often referred to as cruciferous, which is associated with anticancer benefits as well as reduced inflammation and higher immunity. Broccoli is also high in fiber, and a high-fiber diet can help keep blood pressure down and reduce heart-disease risk.

How to eat it: Steam it or add it to your stir-fries, salads or omelets.

Serving size: 1 cup chopped

Calories: 31

spinachWhy it’s good for you: Spinach is chock-full of nutrients, including iron, calcium and vitamin A, which keeps the eyes and skin healthy. Spinach also packs folate, which helps the body form healthy red blood cells and prevents birth defects during pregnancy.

How to eat it: In your salads, sandwiches and omelets

Serving size: 1 cup fresh or ½ cup cooked

Calories: 7–21

Sweet Potatoes

sweetpotatoWhy they’re good for you: Not only are they tasty, but sweet potatoes also pack high levels of potassium that help lower your blood pressure and reduce stroke risk. If you eat the skin, you get a filling dose of fiber too.

How to eat them: Bake, mash or boil them or add them to soups or casseroles.

Serving size: 1 cup cooked

Calories: 180

Kidney Beans

kidneybeansWhy they’re good for you: Loaded with potassium and magnesium, kidney beans help keep blood pressure in check, while their high fiber content helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol, fighting off heart disease. Kidney beans are also rich in iron and protein, making them a great meat substitute for vegetarians. “So named for their resemblance to the shape of our organs, the red color of this type of bean is indicative of their high concentration of disease-fighting antioxidants,” says Janet Bond Brill.

How to eat them: Kidney beans are perfect for Southwestern dishes like chili, as well as salads, sandwiches and dips.

Serving size: ½ cup cooked

Calories: 112


lentilWhy they’re good for you: Even if you’re not a bean fan, give lentils a try. They’re easy to make, require no soaking and appear in a slew of colors. They also don’t have sulfur, the gas-producing component in other legumes. Lentils may be small, but they’re full of iron, fiber and protein.

How to eat them: Great in soups, in veggie burgers or as salad toppings

Serving size: ½ cup cooked

Calories: 115

Red Beets

beetWhy they’re good for you: Beets are a go-to source for folate, which helps metabolize amino acids and is important for pregnant women. Also, their red pigments fight cancer and lower the risk of heart disease.

How to eat them: Roasted beets are a great side dish. Add a dash of goat cheese for an even richer taste.

Serving size: ½ cup cooked

Calories: 37


eggplantWhy it’s good for you: “It may be an unglamorous food, but eggplant is packed with fiber and contains the whole gamut of B vitamins, which give you all the energy you need,” says registered dietitian Gloria Tsang, founding editor of Its deep purple color is evidence that it has powerful antioxidants to protect brain cells and control lipid levels.

How to eat it: Eggplant is a very versatile vegetable. It can be baked or roasted for an entrée or mixed into a dip or side dish.

Serving size: ½ cup cooked

Calories: 17

Brussels Sprouts

brusselWhy they’re good for you: As a cruciferous veggie, this pungent vegetable contains sulfur compounds called glucosinolates that not only give them their aroma but also help lower the risks of prostate, lung, stomach and breast cancers.

How to eat them: Roasted and sautéed brussels sprouts make great side dishes. They’re hearty and great for fall recipes.

Serving size: ½ cup cooked

Calories: 28


tomatoWhy they’re good for you: This familiar fruit has a long list of nutrients, including vitamins A, C and K. Its deep red color comes courtesy of the antioxidant lycopene, which helps lower inflammation and cholesterol and is linked to better heart health.

How to eat them: You know the drill; tomatoes can be chopped up and added to just about anything. They also make a great base ingredient for several fall soup recipes.

Serving size: 1 cup fresh or cooked

Calories: 32–43

Whole-Wheat Bread

wholewheatbreadWhy it’s good for you: The government’s dietary guidelines recommend that at least half the grains you eat be whole. This means intact grains that contain the entire grain kernel: the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains (which are used in white bread and white rice), in contrast, are milled, meaning the bran and germ have been removed to give the grains a soft, finer texture; this process also strips the grains of dietary fiber, iron and several B vitamins.

The reason you want whole grains in your diet: their high dietary fiber and nutrients are linked to lower risks of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and obesity; plus, they help lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Switching from white to whole-wheat bread is one good way to up your whole-grain intake.

Word to the wise: Beware of breads that are marketed as “multigrain,” “made with whole grains” or “enriched.” While these products may contain some whole grains, they’re likely to contain refined grains too. Stick to products labeled as “100% whole grain.”

How to eat it: Simply swap white bread for whole wheat on all your sandwiches.

Serving size: 1 slice

Calories: 69


quinoaWhy it’s good for you: Not only is quinoa considered a whole grain; it’s also a complete protein, containing all the amino acids necessary for building muscle and upping metabolism.

How to eat it: Try quinoa anytime you’d ordinarily eat rice; it’s also a good ingredient for veggie burgers.

Serving size: 1 cup cooked

Calories: 222

Steel-Cut Oatmeal

steelcutoatsWhy it’s good for you: Oatmeal is high in the fiber beta-glucan, which lowers levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Nutritionists recommend steel-cut oats because they’re minimally processed, without additives. “Oatmeal is the best way to start your day,” says Brill. “It’s a whole grain and a great heart-healthy food. It has antioxidants that are unique to oats too.” Oatmeal’s an ideal postworkout food as well, since it contains energy-producing B vitamins and carbohydrates that replenish your muscles.

How to eat it: You can cook oatmeal with milk or water. Add cinnamon and walnuts for extra flavor, nutrients and crunch.

Serving size: ¾ cup cooked

Calories: 124


bulgurWhy it’s good for you: Bulgur is one of several lesser-known whole grains that pack a wealth of fiber and B vitamins. The low-glycemic-index food, which is good for your insulin levels and blood glucose, is a Middle Eastern favorite made from wheat kernels that have been boiled, dried and cracked; it’s sometimes referred to as cracked wheat. Other less familiar yet tasty whole grains include millet, buckwheat, farro, barley and amaranth.

How to eat it: Bulgur is great in breads, salads and side dishes. It’s the main ingredient in the Middle Eastern salad tabbouleh.

Serving size: ½ cup cooked 

Calories: 151

Lean Meat

leanmeatWhy it’s good for you: Meat is high in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. But it’s important to differentiate between lean meats and those high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are your leanest poultry choices; as for beef, round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder and arm roasts are the leanest cuts. If you’re craving a burger, make your patties with the leanest ground beef available, labeled at least “90% lean.” For lunch meats, check labels to make sure they’re low in fat and sodium.

How to eat it: To keep meats healthy during preparation, trim away all visible fat before cooking and drain any fat that emerges during cooking. Skip the breading and frying; opt for broiling, grilling or roasting instead.

Serving size: About 3 oz., cooked


flaxseedWhy they’re good for you: Seeds are good sources of plant protein; flaxseeds are also high in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid called ALA and are very heart-healthy. Just be sure to grind them up before eating.

How to eat them: Sprinkle ground seeds into cereals, oatmeal, salads, breads and smoothies. Flaxseeds can also be an excellent source of healthy fat in your baked goods.

Serving size: 1 tablespoon

Calories: 37

Chia Seeds

chiaseedsWhy they’re good for you: Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are a good source of the plant omega-3 fatty acid ALA and protect against inflammation, arthritis and heart disease. Unlike flax, chia seeds don’t need to be ground or refrigerated.

How to eat them: Sprinkle seeds into cereals, oatmeal, salads, breads and smoothies.

Serving size: 1 oz.

Calories: 138


almondWhy they’re good for you: Like other tree nuts, almonds are a rich source of protein. They’re also high in calcium and monounsaturated fat (the heart-healthy kind found in olive oil). A daily handful could help lower your bad LDL cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

How to eat them: If you’re eating almonds plain, go for the dry-roasted, unsalted variety. Buy sliced almonds and sprinkle them on salads or into baked goods. They also make scrumptious nut butters. For people who avoid dairy, almond milk is a tasty alternative.

Serving size: 1 oz. (about 23 nuts)

Calories: 163


tunaWhy it’s good for you: Tuna is high in protein, vitamin B, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant women and small children should limit their intake of it, however, because tuna is also high in the neurotoxin methylmercury. For everyone else, tuna — including canned — is a good sandwich and salad staple.

How to eat it: A tuna sandwich is an easy on-the-go lunch. You can also top whole-grain crackers with tuna for a delicious snack.

Serving size: 3 oz.

Calories: 99


milkWhy it’s good for you: Dairy products are a primary source of calcium for Americans, and they also contain vitamin D, both of which contribute to bone health. Eating low-fat or nonfat dairy has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and with lower blood pressure in adults. And chocolate milk is a great way to replenish after a workout.

How to eat it: Drink a glass by itself or add it to oatmeal or cereal.

Serving size: 1 cup

Calories: 86

Greek Yogurt

yogurtWhy it’s good for you: Greek yogurt counts toward your daily dairy intake, and it packs plenty of protein to keep you full for longer.

How to eat it: Add walnuts and banana for a supernutritious breakfast

Serving size: 6 oz.

Dark Chocolate

darkchocolateWhy it’s good for you: If you want to treat yourself, dark chocolate is the way to go. It’s better than milk chocolate because of its high concentration of cocoa, which is packed with disease-fighting antioxidant plant chemicals called flavonol; milk chocolate contains only modest amounts. Those antioxidants can help reduce the risk of blood clots and lower blood pressure and inflammation as well as improve insulin resistance. A recent study even found that those who indulged in a little bit of chocolate five times a week were slimmer than those who didn’t. “I tell all my patients that a little can go a long way,” says Janet Bond Brill. “Eat chocolate by the piece and not by the pound.”

How to eat it: Keep a dark-chocolate bar around and have a little piece when you crave a treat.

Serving size: 1 oz.

Calories: 170

Red Wine

redwineWhy it’s good for you: If you can drink responsibly and moderately — up to two glasses a day for men, one for women — red wine is another good-for-you treat. A compound in red wine called resveratrol has been linked to longevity and lower risk of diabetes and heart disease. According to Janet Bond Brill, wines made from grapes grown in cooler regions, like pinot noir from Oregon, contain the highest concentration of resveratrol.

How to drink it: Is there a wrong way to drink red wine?

Serving size: 3.5 oz.

Calories: 87

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

oliveoilWhy it’s good for you: Olive oil is a staple in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. It’s high in monounsaturated fats that can help lower cholesterol. Health experts recommend cutting the amount of saturated fats in your diet and incorporating more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in order to decrease your risk of heart disease.

Extra-virgin olive oils are a better option than other olive oils, since they’re less refined. Extra-virgin olive oil contains antioxidant compounds as well as vitamin E and oleocanthal, which can reduce inflammation.

How to eat it: A little olive oil goes a long way, so just use a small amount in cooking or for roasting vegetables.

Serving size: 1 tablespoon

Calories: 119


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