What are healthy foods?
Healthy foods provide the nutrients you need to stay well and energised. However, since there’s no single food that can provide all the nutrients you need, the best way to ensure you’re eating healthily is to eat a wide variety of different foods. This includes fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and pulses, and protein foods including fish, dairy and lean meats.
What are the top 20 healthiest foods?
Nutrient-dense and with just half a fruit counting as one portion of your five-a-day, avocado is a useful addition to the diet. It’s an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, vitamin E and a good source of folate – all of which benefit the heart. Avocado also supplies more soluble fibre than most other fruit and contains a number of useful minerals including iron, copper and potassium.
Discover the health benefits of avocado.
Use avocado to make our burrito bowl with avocado and chipotle black beans, and quick chicken hummus bowl.
These tart little fruits are one of the richest for their health-promoting phytonutrient content. With 30 times more vitamin C and 40% more protective polyphenols than blueberries, they’re the undeclared stars of the fruit garden. Numerous studies suggest they benefit high blood pressure and other cardiovascular illnesses.
3. Brussels sprouts
As well as supplying more essential nutrients per calorie than most other veggies, brussels sprouts are especially rich in the plant compound kaempferol. This antioxidant has been studied for its many health-promoting properties.
Ideally microwave or steam, rather than boil sprouts to retain as much as twice the nutritional goodness.
Discover the health benefits of brussels sprouts.
Buckwheat has an enviable antioxidant profile, better than that of many cereal grains including oats and wheat. As well as containing plant compounds like rutin, it’s one of the richest food sources of d-chiro inositol, which may help manage blood sugar levels. Being a seed rather than grain and despite its name, buckwheat is naturally gluten free. Discover our how to cook buckwheat guide.
Discover the health benefits of buckwheat.
5. Chia seeds
These tiny black seeds are a rich source of minerals, including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, which are known to be beneficial for bone health. A 25g portion of chia seeds contains approximately 158mg of calcium which makes a significant contribution when compared to the equivalent amount of milk.
Discover the health benefits of chia seeds.
Whole eggs are nutritionally rich, supplying almost every nutrient you need. They’re also useful sources of some of the hard-to-get nutrients like vitamins D and B12 as well as the mineral iodine. Eggs are a ‘complete’ protein – they contain all nine of the essential amino acids we need.
If you opt for a brand that’s enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, you’ll benefit from a higher intake of these essential fats as well as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E, thanks to the diet the chickens are fed.
Discover the health benefits of eggs.
Most of garlic’s health accolades are down to an active compound called allicin. This sulphur-containing compound gives garlic its characteristic smell and distinctive taste. Luckily for the keen cooks among us, the act of chopping or crushing stimulates the production of allicin but, sadly, the application of heat inhibits it – in order to optimise effects add garlic late in the cooking process.
Numerous studies have focused on garlic’s potential for reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to manage cholesterol levels. Garlic may also lower blood pressure through its ability to widen blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely.
Discover the health benefits of garlic.
As it's a semi-hard cheese, gouda is rich in the mineral calcium and is an especially good source of vitamin K2, needed for healthy bones and teeth. It’s a source of compounds that inhibit the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) and as a result may have a blood pressure lowering effect.
Gouda also contains antioxidants that appear to protect the cardiovascular system from the effects of high levels of salt; this is most relevant for those who are salt-sensitive.
Check out our delicious recipe for roast Jerusalem artichokes with leeks, crème fraîche, hazelnuts and shaved gouda.
With a more diverse composition of beneficial bacteria and yeast than yogurt, kefir is well worth adding to your diet. These microbes are responsible for producing bioactive compounds that have numerous benefits for health, from improving digestion to lowering cholesterol.
Discover the health benefits of kefir.
Compared with other commonly eaten fruit, kiwi is unrivalled for its nutrient density, health benefits and ability to support the heart. Regularly eating kiwi appears to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the so-called ‘good’ cholesterol reduces other blood triglycerides (fats) and minimises platelet aggregation, which over time may lead to atherosclerosis. Kiwi also helps manage blood pressure, thanks to its effects on the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE).
Discover the health benefits of kiwi.
Studies suggest regularly eating lentils reduces your risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. This is thanks to protective plant compounds called phenols – in fact, lentils are among the top legumes for phenolic content. So, it comes as no surprise that lentils boast an antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effect and are cardio-protective.
Discover the health benefits of lentils.
Rich in protein, low in calories and packed with essential vitamins and minerals, liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. What makes it even more of a ‘superfood’ is that the nutrients it provides are easily absorbed by the body.
For example, it’s an especially good source of vitamin A in the form of retinol, the ‘active’ form of vitamin A (muscle meat is not such an impressive source and the type available from plants has to be converted in the gut so that the body can use it). Liver is also a source of vitamin D, again in the more ‘active’ form – vitamin D3.
Discover the health benefits of liver.
Try liver in our recipe for liver and onions.
13. Olives and their oil
Rich in polyphenols, olives and their oil may help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease and cancer. Oleocanthal is one such polyphenol and appears to share the same pharmacological activity as ibuprofen, acting as a potent natural anti-inflammatory.
Made from the juice of the olive fruit, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat (MUFA), which means it only has one double bond; this makes it more resistant to the changes incurred when cooking. If you opt for virgin olive oil, you’ll also benefit from the protective antioxidant properties of numerous polyphenols and nutrients including vitamin E.
Discover the health benefits of olives.
Onions contain over 25 different flavonoids and are one of the richest sources in our diets. When consumed regularly and in sufficient quantity, these compounds may help protect against chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes.
One of the flavonoids in onions is quercetin which has anti-viral and anti-histamine properties – don’t over peel though because much of the quercetin is found in the outer layers of the onion.
Discover the health benefits of onions.
Compared to most other nuts, pistachios have a lower fat and calorie content and contain the highest amount of potassium. They’re especially rich in phytosterols, which support cardiovascular health. They’re also the only nut to provide reasonable levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids which play an important role in protecting the eyes.
Discover the health benefits of pistachio.
With studies suggesting pomegranate juice has an antioxidant activity three times higher than that of red wine and green tea, it would be fair to expect some pretty impressive health benefits. Current studies don’t disappoint with research underway to examine the effects of pomegranate juice on the inflammatory markers of patients hospitalised with covid-19.
Discover the health benefits of pomegranate.
Be inspired by our chana masala with pomegranate raita and coriander salmon with curried quinoa and pomegranate.
A popular oily variety of fish, salmon is rich in the most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Known as ‘long chain’ fatty acids, these occur naturally in oily fish in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Scientists are also now investigating the role fatty varieties of fish may play in protecting against some cancers and conditions like asthma, macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis.
Discover the health benefits of salmon.
Plus, the fermentation process breaks down compounds known as anti-nutrients, which may inhibit our uptake of some of these vital minerals. This makes fermented foods, like tempeh, easier to digest and the nutrients it provides easier to absorb.
Discover the health benefits of tempeh.
Like all nuts, walnuts provide ‘good-for-you’ fats that are predominantly polyunsaturated. In fact, of all edible plants, walnuts have the highest content of the ‘short chain’ omega-3 essential fatty acid, alpha lipoic acid (ALA). This makes them an incredibly valuable inclusion for those following a plant-focused diet.
Discover the health benefits of walnuts.
Watercress is an aquatic leafy green from the cruciferous family and is packed with impressive cancer-protection, thanks to compounds called isothiocyanates. The action of these compounds appear to be effective against colon, prostate and skin cancer and may suppress the growth of breast cancer.
Watercress is loaded with antioxidant polyphenol plant compounds, which may be useful in combatting the chronic diseases associated with ageing.
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Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_
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