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5 nutrient-packed foods you should be eating (almost) daily

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Mar 5, 2022

Multitasker foods brimming with various disease-fighting nutrients, delivered deliciously 

 

Ask any dietitian, “Does food impact my health,” and you’ll hear a resounding, “YES!” Ask any dietitian, “What are your top five healthy food choices to eat daily,” and you’ll get dozens of different answers. But that’s okay. Food choices are personal and even dietitians have their food favorites. And luckily there are plenty of nutrient-rich foods to choose from.

This is why achieving good health is within your reach. Even the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” acknowledges this. It’s your daily health habits over time that add up to meaningful health changes. This is why food choices matter. Choosing nutrient-rich, health-promoting foods each day can powerfully impact long-term health and well-being.

Below are my top five nutrient-rich foods, well-known for packing a nutritional wallop. Each available and affordable. Whether eaten in their natural form, as part of a meal or snack,  or added into recipes, smoothies, or baked goods, each has boundless versatility. Let’s take a look:

5 NUTRIENT-PACKED FOOD YOU SHOULD BE EATING (ALMOST) DAILY 

  1. Berries

Berries – strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries – are some of the healthiest foods you can eat.  Protectors of your heart, berries are full of anti-inflammatory compounds helping reduce heart disease.  One such compound found in berries is flavonoids which contain a pigment called anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins are the pigments found in certain plants like berries that give them their red, purple, blue, or black color. Besides giving berries a brilliant colorful hue, anthocyanins also have antioxidant effects. This means they fight unstable molecules called free radicals that damage cells increasing the risk of certain diseases.

Berries are also loaded with vitamin C, important for immune health and wound healing. Need a fiber fix? Berries are your go-to. Fiber is necessary for good bowel health, lowers cholesterol, helps control blood sugars, and aids in achieving a healthy body weight.

When out shopping for berries, most grocery stores stock fresh and frozen berries year-round making them easy to find. However, do have fun mixing berries with other dark-colored fruit such as pomegranates, cranberries, or cherries. Aim to have ¾ cup to one cup of your favorite berry(s) each day.

  1. Nuts

It’s good to be nutty for nuts and a handful each day is recommended. Crunchy and satisfying, nuts are brimming with heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. For example, walnuts are especially good sources of omega-3 fatty acids helping lower heart disease risk. Besides heart health, nuts are also valuable sources of fiber and protein.  Even almonds, high in vitamin E and a rich source of antioxidants, help improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome.  Nuts also contain heart-healthy potassium, copper, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, plant sterols, and other phytochemicals.  If you love pistachios, you’re in luck as they have been linked with helping to lower blood pressure.

 

  1. Plain Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt’s thick and creamy richness stands out from regular yogurt. The thicker consistency comes from it being strained numerous times to remove the whey, the liquid component of milk. Straining Greek yogurt also reduces its sugar content while increasing protein content. Here’s an example: A seven-ounce container of Greek yogurt may contain around 18 grams of protein and just six grams of sugar. Compare this to an eight-ounce container of regular yogurt with 5 grams of protein and 26 grams of sugar.

Greek yogurt is also rich in probiotics, providing a dose of live bacteria great for digestive health. A healthy gut means better sleep, proper immune functioning, improved mood, and even clearer skin. Greek yogurt also provides high-quality protein helping reduce hunger, boosts metabolism, and build muscle mass.

One more thing – Greek yogurt is an excellent source of calcium helping strengthen bones delaying the onset of osteoporosis. In addition, it boasts a ton of other important nutrients like vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and riboflavin.

There is a variety of ways to enjoy Greek yogurt. Have it for breakfast topped with bananas and blueberries. Use as a topping for chili instead of sour cream. Spread Greek yogurt on crackers. Or give pasta sauce extra creaminess by adding in Greek yogurt.

  1. Carrots

Carrots are a worldwide beloved vegetable.  This garden favorite is tasty, affordable, and very versatile in cooking. Good cooks take advantage of carrot’s versatility.  For instance, cooks like to chop or dice carrots, adding them to soups or stews.  Shredded carrots are a cook’s go-to for adding to a leafy green salad.  Even thick smoothies benefit from a carrot or two added in. That’s because when blended with an apple, orange, or mango, carrots lend great color to a refreshing drink.

Although crunchy, sweet carrots are often eaten raw, when steamed or stir-fried, they become even sweeter. This is because of a process known as caramelization. Caramelization oxidizes the natural sugars within this tasty root vegetable. When carrots are exposed to high heat, the water molecules inside start to vibrate. That water gets released as steam, and the carrots’ cell walls break down, releasing a bunch of volatile chemicals.

Carrots have many health benefits coming from their beta carotene and fiber content.  In addition, carrots are rich sources of vitamin A, pantothenic acid, folate, potassium, copper, and manganese. And let’s not forget this crunchy veggies’ high fiber content – 4.6 gram in one cup.  Studies show that fiber enhances digestive functioning. Fiber does this by adding bulk to bowel movements increasing the weight, size, helping soften it. A bulky stool is easier to pass helping reduce constipation.  Also, high-fiber foods like carrots are a satisfying weapon against snack cravings.

If eye health matters to you, eat carrots. They may reduce the risk of macular degeneration.  Research has found people who ate foods with the most beta carotene, like carrots, had a 40 percent lower risk of macular degeneration than those who did not. Beta carotene is a plant pigment belonging to a group of substances called carotenoids and is the precursor to vitamin A which boosts our vision.  Beta carotene is also linked to a reduction in lung cancer.  Researchers found when beta carotene consumption went from 1.7 to 2.7 milligrams per day it reduced lung cancer by 40 percent.  Carrots are one of the best sources of beta carotene. Only cooked spinach and sweet potatoes beat carrots by providing more.

  1. Green Tea

Regularly drinking green tea can do wonders for your bodily health and well-being. First, green tea is made from unfermented leaves and reportedly contains the highest concentration of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols.  Polyphenols are substances that fight free radicals. Free radicals are damaging compounds that change cells, damage DNA, and even cause cell death.   As a result, free radicals are linked to speeding up the aging process as well as increasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

However, antioxidants like polyphenols found in green tea can neutralize free radicals helping reduce or possibly prevent the damage they cause.  These same polyphenols may also be the answer to a youthful glow. That’s because research has discovered compounds in green tea may protect skin against UV radiation helping improve skin’s elasticity and prevent dryness.

It is recommended to consume about 2 to 3 cups of green tea daily to receive the health benefits it may provide. Be sure to squeeze in a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Doing so supplies some vitamin C and protects polyphenols from being oxidized and lost.

 

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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