If you are like the average person, you probably think you eat a healthy diet. In reality, even if you are avoiding junk food and cook most of your meals at home, you are probably failing to include the wide array of affordable superfoods available to you.
The interesting about this nutrition shortsightedness is that most people don’t avoid these foods because they don’t like them. Rather, they are just out of practice when it comes to being adventurous with food. This is a mistake because it means there are a lot of missed opportunities for optimizing health and tantalizing your taste buds.
Whether you are in a nutrition rut, are trying to improve your eating habits, or tend to eat the same thing day after a day, this article will cover everyday superfoods that are completely affordable that you can easily incorporate into your diet.
#1: Leafy Greens
Most people think of lettuce, kale, and maybe spinach, but these greens are just the tip of the leafy iceberg when it comes to your “greens” options: Rainbow and swiss chard, arugula, collards, beet greens, mizuna, escarole, parsley, basil, and cilantro are a few flavorful alternatives to work into your greens repertoire. Not only are greens some of the most nutritious foods on the planet, they contain unique compounds that strengthen the immune system and help detoxify chemical estrogens from the body. The wealth of fiber and phytonutrients can improve brain function, and serve as a staple for proper gut function.
Your preparation options are diverse: Add raw basil and baby chard to salads or use red leaf lettuce leaves in place of bread or grains. Sauté collards or purple kale with sliced ginger and tamari. Throw escarole, mustard greens, or beet tops into the crock pot and cook them with chicken. The key is to incorporate a serving of leafy greens into every meal.
Blueberries have gotten all the fanfare when it comes to being a health-protecting food, and as wonderful as these nutrient powerhouses are, there are a slew of other dark-colored berries that provide an array of exotic antioxidants.
Along with blueberries, tart cherries are known for lowering inflammation and reducing post-exercise muscle soreness, whereas strawberries and bilberries will improve blood sugar and lower the insulin response to a high-carb meal. Raspberries and blackberries contain a unique class of phytonutrients called ellagitannins that improve wound healing and increase the brain’s sensitivity to the hormone leptin, helping you feel full sooner.
The benefits of berries are available in all dark colored fruits and vegetables: Beets and watermelon increase blood flow to muscles, which can make a tough workout feel easier. Plums contain nutrients that help eliminate inflammation that harms bones, allowing for better bone strength. Red and purple peppers are packed with vitamin C, which can support the adrenal glands and help you cope with stress.
#3: Nuts & Seeds
Almonds and sunflower seeds might be staples in your diet, but how often do venture to include macadamias, pumpkin seeds, or brazil nuts? Along with walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, sesame and poppy seed, flax seeds, all the seeds and nuts are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also supply essential fatty acids that help moderate hormones and eradicate inflammation.
For example, walnuts contain compounds that lower inflammation in the brain and can reduce risk of dementia, whereas sesame and flax seeds contain a type of fiber that helps the body eliminate dangerous estrogen molecules.
Eat nuts and seeds on salads, cooked vegetable dishes, or with lean protein to spice up your meal and provide fatty acids for better digestion and absorption of amino acids. Get creative by incorporating nut and seed butters (like tahini) into dressings and marinades, or toast whole nuts and seeds for a crispy, richer flavor.
#4: Cruciferous Veggies
A diverse and delicious group of vegetables of which the best known is probably broccoli, cruciferous vegetables are jam-packed with nutrients that improve metabolic processes. In addition to helping the body eliminate harmful chemical estrogens, cruciferous vegetables improve insulin response and lower your blood sugar response to carbs. They also contain antioxidants that fight cancer, support brain health, and feed your protective gut bacteria.
Along with steaming them, try baking broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts in the oven with tamari or spices—top them with cumin, cinnamon, or turmeric for example. Don’t be afraid to use the stems and leaves—when cleaned and cooked properly, this part of the vegetable is completely edible and provides an array of textures and flavors.
#5: Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have surged in popularity due to their ability to install a beneficial environment in your GI tract: Pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, high-quality yogurt, kefir (a fermented grain beverage), and other fermented dairy products can all provide healthy bacteria that allows your gut to work like clockwork. The payoff goes beyond healthy digestion and nutrient absorption: Probiotics can lower inflammation and boost immunity, while accelerating recovery from intense physical exertion. They also target the brain, allowing for better serotonin levels for less stress and a sunnier mental outlook.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kim chi, and pickled ginger add tang and spark to veggies, meat, and seafood dishes when used as condiments. Other fermented foods to include are tamari (soy sauce), miso, natto, yogurt, and cultured dairy.
#6: Root Veggies
As the ketogenic diet and low-carb eating gained mainstream popularity, root vegetables have unfortunately gone out of favor. Although it’s true that carrots, parsnips, beets, potatoes, and yams provide a nice dose of starch and are more calorie dense then leafy greens, they are massively nutritious and have many health benefits, while providing flavor and texture to meals.
First, root vegetables provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, meaning they feed your healthy gut bacteria and improve transit of waste products along the GI tract. Second, all root vegetables are nutrient-rich and populations that have a high intake tend to be long living and extremely healthy. For example, the Okinawans in Japan have one of the highest populations of centenarians on earth, which researchers attribute to their whole food diet that is extremely high in sweet potatoes.
Finally, root veggies are filling. In fact, potatoes are thought to be one of the most satiating foods out there, while being incredibly nutritious and supplying loads of iron, vitamin C, all the B vitamins, and fiber. When choosing root veggies, don’t forget radishes, ginger, turnips, celeriac, and Jerusalem artichokes.
As the connection between foods containing cholesterol and heart disease crumbled in the past decade, eggs are coming back into favor and for good reason. An excellent protein source that provides the powerful inflammation-fighting antioxidants zeaxanthin, selenium, and lutein, eggs are extremely filling, and have actually been shown to improve cholesterol readings in overweight, at-risk populations. Other benefits of eggs include the metabolic boost you get from the high amino acid protein content and the fact that the cholesterol in eggs can be used by the body to produce androgenic hormones like testosterone and DHEA, which have an anti-aging effect as you grow older.
When it comes to eggs, you’re options are fairly limited in terms of the actual egg, but there are numerous recipes that provide exciting options for getting more of these nutrient powerhouses into your dining routine. Besides scrambled, hard boiled, and baked eggs, you can poach them on top of a soup or sautéed green dish, or try any of these 83 egg recipes from Bon Appetit
Often forgotten about unless you are in a sushi restaurant, seaweed is an incredible source of essential fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals that are scarce in the average western diet. Seaweeds like nori, wakame, kombu, and kelp are rich in iodine, the nutrient that enables thyroid hormone production, which is often deficient in people who live inland from the ocean or eat processed food diets. Seaweed also provides fiber to promote gut health and an array of antioxidants to counter inflammation throughout the body.
In addition to sushi, which usually uses nori, there are numerous recipes incorporating various sea vegetables, but you can also get fermented seaweed salads, or dried seaweed which can be crumbled and sprinkled on salads, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes for a little extra umami flavor.
#9: Beans & Lentils
If you’re eating a high-protein diet, it’s easy to forget about beans and lentils because they don’t pack the same amino acid punch as chicken, salmon, or beef, but these flavor bombs are an exciting way to spice up meals. Providing an array of nutrients including B vitamins and fiber, lentils, split peas, and beans can be cooked with spices to provide an array of antioxidants that are protective against many stress-related diseases including heart disease, high blood pressure, and inflammation. Don’t get bored with regular lentils or pinto beans. Try yellow, red, and green split peas, and the array of beans—black, kidney, red, white, cannellini, butter, garbanzo, and fava are a few to incorporate into your meals.
Instead of relying on store-bought dressings and marinades that contain added sugar and are usually soybean oil-based, try the amazing array of vinegars: Balsamic, apple cider, red or white wine, rice wine, tarragon-infused, champagne, and umeboshi vinegar are some of the options you should have in your pantry.
Consider that by substituting vinegar for a typical salad dressing you can save yourself at least 200 calories, while improving the way your body handles carbs. Besides being delicious, vinegar acts as an insulin mimetic, which means it moderates the release of insulin when you eat high-carb foods. It also helps the body in storing carbohydrates as muscle glycogen rather than fat, and it improves pancreatic function.
Vinegar can be used by itself on veggies, fruit, and legume dishes, or mixed with lemon or lime juice, spices and herbs (tarragon, basil, rosemary, cumin, etc.), and olive oil for a never ending variety of flavoring options.
Final Words: Healthy eating is about more than avoiding flour, added sugar, and processed fats. It also requires optimizing your nutrient intake around an array of micronutrients, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and other dietary components like fiber and beneficial probiotics. This list of foods will help you do that. Enjoy!!