We hear so much about what not to eat that sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are plenty of foods that you can work into a balanced daily diet that have some potential health benefits. While experts are always continuing to study what’s healthy and what isn’t, the following are items are commonly known as “power foods” that you can easily (and deliciously) incorporate into your daily diet plan.
Dark chocolate: It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Dark chocolate has potential benefits to your heart, and it may help in reducing “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and blood pressure and increasing blood flow to the brain. This is because dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which come from the cacao bean. The healthiest option is going to be chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa and a low amount of processing. However, use caution — although dark chocolate does have benefits, it also has sugar, calories, and fat, so you need to eat it only in moderation.
Olive oil: Like chocolate, olive oil is also best when consumed in moderation. It has a lot of calories and is 100 percent fat. However, substituting this monounsaturated fat for other fats, like saturated and trans fats, could have cholesterol-lowering effects, and its antioxidants may help protect against certain cancers and other health conditions.
Coffee: While people used to consider coffee to be a vice of sorts, recent research shows that coffee may have certain health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s Disease, type-2 diabetes, and liver disease. Like other healthy foods, coffee is rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants become more potent after roasting; it also contains magnesium and trigonelline (which can help prevent some dental problems). Studies have shown that caffeine offers some benefits, too. All of that doesn’t mean that you should have an extra latte or frothy espresso drink, though – those add calories and fat to your coffee, so stick with the plain brew.
Pomegranate: Pomegranates are the “it” fruit these days, it seems. Research suggests that its antioxidants might keep some LDL cholesterol from forming plaque and improve blood flow, and its juice might slow the growth of prostate cancer. We do know this colorful fruit is fun to eat! It is rich in antioxidants and a great source of Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Avocado: Guacamole, anyone? Avocados can be tricky because they stay ripe for just a short time before becoming overripe. However, they have plenty of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, oleic acid, and potassium. These fats, when consumed in moderation and eaten in place of saturated or trans fats, may help reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the risk for heart disease. As part of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avocados may help ward off high blood pressure and stroke, promote eye health, and protect against certain cancers.
Salmon: Why is this so important? It’s because salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, and also a good source of protein, while still being “low” in calories (233 calories in a four-ounce portion). Eating two servings of fish per week is a good rule of thumb. If salmon is not your choice, mackerel, trout, herring, and sardines also have omega-3s.
Beans: We’re not necessarily talking about your standard green string bean, here. While those are certainly healthy, it’s the navy, black, red, white and garbanzo beans that can pack an extra punch when it comes to your health. What they don’t have is much fat, and they have no cholesterol. What they do have is protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, potassium, and (red and black beans, especially) flavonoids. They’re also antioxidant-rich.
Pumpkin: While pumpkin muffins, lattes, and other delicacies are all the rage during the autumn season, eating pumpkin regularly has year-round benefits. Pumpkins are full of fiber and beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A in your body), along with vitamin C and potassium. While we can’t wholeheartedly endorse pumpkin muffins, cakes, and sugary pumpkin-flavored specialty drinks, we can say that when eaten alone or cooked into healthy recipes, pumpkin can be a great asset to your health. Further studies are looking into the potential benefits these foods can provide in the prevention of cancers, atherosclerosis, and reduction of blood pressure.
Whole grains: Oats, popcorn, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain barley, whole wheat, buckwheat and whole grain corn all contain good amounts of fiber. Soluble fiber helps to reduce the amount of cholesterol in food from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Insoluble fiber helps with digestive health and keeps you feeling full.
Mushrooms: Ever heard of ergothioneine? It’s not one of the often-discussed antioxidants, but it’s still important. Mushrooms are full of it, along with potassium. In fact, a three-ounce portobello mushroom has as much potassium as a small banana!
Tea: Whether you prefer hot or iced, or if you want to cook it into a savory recipe, tea has many benefits for your health because it has high antioxidant content.
Seaweed: That’s right, seaweed. Popular in parts of Asia, there aren’t too many Americans who consume seaweed as part of our normal diet, but it may be a beneficial addition. Seaweed is a good source of potassium and calcium, as well as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.
Scallops: These are a guilt-free indulgence. Provided that they’re not breaded, fried, or drenched in butter, pan-seared scallops have 95 calories and 20 grams of protein in a serving (about 3 oz. cooked), along with magnesium and potassium.
Lentils: Maybe their slogan should be “Lentils: Not Just for Soup Anymore.” Really, though, a cup of lentils has 16 grams of fiber and a ton of folate. Not only can they be the heart of a delicious soup, but you can also cook them and use them as a bed for your main protein (like chicken, fish, or meat), instead of pasta or rice.
These foods are items you can find easily at your local supermarket without having to shop at specialty grocers or health food stores, which is one reason why they’re great choices to incorporate into your daily diet. Also, they can be used creatively either on their own or in recipes that you can make to boost your own and your family’s health.
For more tips and tools on healthy eating, visit our Diet & Nutrition center.