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12 Superfoods

Add these 12 nutrient-dense & delicious foods to your diet to reap outstanding health benefits.

If you’re looking to incorporate healthier foods into your daily diet, start by adding these 12 nutrient-dense options.
 

Avocado

Avocados aren’t only delicious, but they’re packed with an impressive array of antioxidants. While it’s true that avocados are high in fat (roughly 85% of an average-sized avocado’s 230 calories comes from fat), it’s unsaturated fat, which, like olive oil, plays a role in a heart healthy diet. For more information about heart health, click here.

Avocados can easily be incorporated into your diet in salads, sandwiches or snacks. And although avocados aren’t typically cooked, gently warming them, as they are in this soup, brings out the rich flavor. When shopping for avocados, choose those that give slightly when squeezed—but don’t squeeze them too hard or the flesh inside will bruise and discolor. The skin should be dark greenish-black with no signs of wrinkling. Don’t worry if the only avocados you can find are rock-hard: they ripen quickly and easily at room temperature. Just leave them on the counter or in a paper bag until they’re soft. And resist any urge to refrigerate ripe avocados as the flesh will turn mushy very quickly. After cutting, it’s a good idea to sprinkle the avocado with lemon or lime juice to prevent it from turning brown.

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Berries

From blueberries to raspberries, strawberries and everything in between, nearly all berries are fantastic fruits for regularly incorporating into a healthy diet. And some more exotic berries have been getting a lot of press recently: açai [ah-SAI-ee] and goji [GOH-jee] berries are most often found dried or are added as juice to prepared juice blends. Try incorporating the juice into side dishes, salad dressings or desserts.

It’s not difficult to get berries into your menus—simply toss a handful onto your morning cereal, stir into yogurt or blend into a smoothie for a quick breakfast. They’re also terrific tossed into salads at lunch or into turkey salad for a sandwich. When shopping for fresh berries, look for those with the most intense color and aroma, and inspect the container for any mold or bleeding (which is an indicator of smashed fruit). Eat the berries within a day or two of purchase, no more—they are extremely fragile and don’t have a long shelf life. And rinse them just before you intend to eat them. Water causes the berries to deteriorate rapidly. Interestingly, frozen fruit is as nutritious as fresh, so a bag or two stashed in the freezer make morning smoothies even easier!

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Broccoli

Closely related to cabbage and cauliflower (part of the cruciferous family of vegetables), broccoli contains an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. One cup of raw broccoli contains over a day’s worth of vitamins C and K. (For tips on incorporating vegetables into your diet, click here.)

When purchasing broccoli, choose stalks with compact florets that show no signs of yellowing or opening. The florets should be deep green in color and the stalks should be firm with no signs of wilting or drying. Store broccoli in a plastic bag with as much air squeezed out of the bag as possible; stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, it will keep for seven to 10 days. Avoid washing broccoli until you plan to cook it as water will cause the florets to spoil, and it’s best not to cut broccoli until you plan to cook or eat it: cutting can cause loss of vitamin C. And don’t throw out the stalks! They’re as delicious as the florets, but because they’re dense and fibrous, will need additional cooking time. Just begin cooking them first, then after a few minutes add the florets and finish cooking the stalks with the florets.

Of course, broccoli makes a great vegetable side dish for practically any entrée, but it’s also a terrific addition to salads, skillets, pastas and soup.

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Citrus

Packed with vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant), all citrus fruits, from oranges to tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit, should be included in a healthy diet. Most citrus fruit is available year-round but it’s especially good during the winter months (tangerines and Mandarin oranges are winter-only crops). Regardless of the fruit, choose citrus that is firm and heavy for its size, indicating that it’s packed with juice. Avoid any fruit with soft spots or mold on the skin, but don’t be too concerned if the fruit (especially oranges) shows some green or even a brown patch here or there. It’s not necessarily an indication of under- or over-ripeness, and the flesh under the skin will still be ripe and delicious. Store citrus fruit at room temperature or in the refrigerator, and be sure to wash the fruit well before using as citrus crops are often treated with pesticides.

Citrus enhances and brightens the flavor of nearly everything it touches—from drinks and dips to salads, side dishes and entrées, there’s not much that doesn’t benefit from a squeeze of citrus juice. For even more intense citrusy flavor, add the minced zest of the fruit to any recipe calling for citrus juice.

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Grains

Although grains have been eaten for thousands of years, it’s only been in the last century that we’ve really begun to understand their healthful properties and importance in a well-balanced diet. Incorporating whole grains into your daily menus is an excellent way to promote good digestive and cardiovascular health. Click here for more tips to help you get more grains in your diet.

Some common whole grains include oats, brown rice and barley, but others like bulgur and quinoa [KEEN-wah], which is actually the seed of a plant native to South America, also have excellent nutritional benefits. Besides contributing a nutty, sweet flavor to dishes, whole grains can help boost your intake of fiber and increase levels of beneficial minerals. Use whole grain bread for sandwiches and appetizers, serve dips with whole grain crackers and toss whole grain croutons into salads. You can also get a good amount of whole grain simply by changing to whole wheat versions of dried pasta.

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Green Tea

A staple beverage in Asian cultures, green tea contains antioxidants, making it a healthful thirst quencher. Try substituting your morning cup of coffee with a steaming cup of brewed green tea, or pour a glass of iced tea for an afternoon pick-me-up.

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Leafy Greens

Popeye knew what he was doing when he ate cans of spinach for strength. Leafy greens, including spinach, kale, chard and collards, are nutritional powerhouses, all sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Kale and collards are members of the same family as broccoli (cruciferous) and, thus, share similar nutritional benefits. But where leafy greens really shine is in their vitamin K content, which is important for strong bones and blood clotting.

When buying fresh greens, look for those that have deep color with no signs of yellowing, wilting or spoilage—in essence, choose greens that look “alive.” Store greens in a plastic bag in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer with as much air removed from the bag as possible, and don’t wash the greens until you’re ready to cook them as water will cause the leaves to spoil quickly. Be sure to wash the greens well: they tend to be very sandy and gritty.

With the exception of spinach, which is tender enough to eat raw in salads, most leafy greens are best cooked—steaming, sautéing or boiling are common cooking methods, but oven-roasted kale is deliciously addicting. Simply strip the leaves from the stems, tear into large pieces then coat lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast in a 400°F. oven until crisp and browned around the edges, watching carefully to prevent burning.

Vegetables can play a large role in weight management. To learn more, click here.

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Nuts

Full of healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants, nuts such as almonds and walnuts are a wonderful addition to a healthy diet. Because nuts are rather high in calories, they should be eaten in moderation, but a handful (¼ cup) of unsalted almonds or walnuts (raw or toasted), makes a terrific snack to tide you over between meals. They also add delightful flavor and crunch to entrées, side dishes and salads. In addition, nut butters can give body and rich flavor to dips and pasta sauces and make a deliciously unique addition to dipping sauces and soup. However, use nut butters judiciously in your diet as they may contain high amounts of fat and sugar.

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Olive Oil

A staple in Mediterranean cuisines, olive oil has in recent years become an increasingly important part of a healthy diet. Like avocados, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and can actually help lower blood cholesterol levels. But as with all fats, olive oil should be used in moderation because of its high levels of fat and calories.

Because olive oil is such an integral part of today’s cooking, choosing one for general home use can be overwhelming. Grocery stores carry a wide variety of olive oils which vary in quality and cost, but for optimum health benefits, choose one labeled “extra-virgin” which is from the first pressing of the olives. Extra-virgin oil will have the best flavor and is what you want to use to drizzle on salads, steamed vegetables or over simply cooked fish, chicken or beef. Taste the oil before purchasing if possible—depending on where the olives were harvested, the time of year they were pressed and the variety of olive used, flavor can vary from mild and rich to peppery and pungent. And if you’re planning to use the oil for sautéing, a less expensive “virgin” version is fine.

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Salmon

Salmon contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, making it an excellent food for regularly incorporating into your diet. When buying salmon, it’s important to purchase it from a store that has high turnover so you know you’re getting as fresh a product as possible. Look for fillets or steaks that are stored on a bed of crushed ice with a layer of plastic wrap between the ice and fish. And pay attention to the flesh—it should look bright and moist and have no signs of discoloration or dryness. If you can, give the fish a sniff; any “off” odors are an indication of age and should be avoided. When you get the fish home, store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the lowest shelves toward the back) in a shallow baking dish filled with ice and covered with a sheet of plastic wrap. Arrange the salmon on the plastic wrap then cover with more plastic. Replace the ice if it melts before you cook the fish. And plan to cook the salmon no more than a day after purchase.

Salmon is delicious practically any way you prepare it. From baked to pan-seared to grilled, there’s no shortage of possibilities for taking advantage of the healthful benefits of salmon!

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Tomatoes

There’s nothing like a tomato fresh off the vine in the middle of summer. But besides tasting wonderful, tomatoes are also a source of lycopene and vitamins A and C. And while summer is the best time of year for tomatoes, they are available year-round, however, winter tomatoes may not have quite the same nutritional values as in-season ones; during the colder months you may actually get better flavor and nutrition from canned tomatoes. (Click here to learn more about what tomatoes have to offer.)

When buying fresh tomatoes, look for those that have rich, deep color (red, orange, yellow or purple) with no cracks, bruises or wrinkles on the surface. Tomatoes are sensitive to cold and should never be stored in the refrigerator; instead, keep them at room temperature out of direct sunlight. If they’re a bit underripe when you buy them, you can help speed their ripening by placing them in a paper bag along with an apple or a banana. The fruit will give off ethylene gas which in turn speeds the ripening of the tomato.

Salads and sandwiches are the first things to come to mind when thinking about recipes using fresh tomatoes, but they also add sweetness to egg dishes and pizza. Sun-dried tomatoes are another way to add concentrated tomato flavor to dishes, but because you don’t use a large quantity of them in recipes, their nutritional benefits may not be quite as high as fresh tomatoes.

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Yogurt

For a quick, nutritious breakfast, lunch or snack, yogurt is a wonderful option that can be a good source of calcium, protein and vitamins. Besides being delicious eaten straight from the carton or buzzed into a breakfast or post-workout smoothie, use plain yogurt (either traditional style or thicker Greek-style) in place of sour cream: Try it on top of a baked potato, folded into chicken or pasta salad or whisked into a sauce to give it a creamy finish. To keep fat and calories in check, it’s best to opt for low- or non-fat yogurt varieties.

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