Finding the most nutritious foods doesn’t require using unknown ingredients or trips to specialty food stores. Everyday foods are functional, meaning they provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition by reducing the risk of certain diseases and health conditions. Functional foods not only taste great, they are the top foods you should eat every day.
Lean cuts of chicken, turkey and beef provide valuable sources of protein and amino acids, the building blocks of muscle. Meat also contains B vitamins and minerals such as iron and selenium that help protect cells and support a healthy metabolism. One serving equals 3 ounces.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and chard are loaded with nutrients and fiber. Leafy greens contain calcium, iron and an antioxidant called carotenoids that protect cells against damaging free radicals. One serving equals one cup raw or one-half cup cooked.
Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are among the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat. Each berry contains a wealth of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that improve the body's antioxidant capability and contribute to brain health. One serving equals one-half cup fresh, frozen or canned.
Walnuts and almonds top the list of nutritious nuts. Packed with protein, vitamin B6 and vitamin E, nuts are an ideal snack food. Walnuts are also a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. One serving equals one and one-half ounces or one-third cup.
Eggs are a budget-friendly source of high-quality protein. Most notably, eggs are a good source of vitamin D, vitamin B12 and biotin, which play an important role in regulating metabolism. One serving equals one whole egg.
By definition, whole grains can be a single food , such as rice or oats, or an ingredient in a food, such as in bread or cereal. Look at a food’s ingredient list to ensure whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Whole grains provide fiber and B vitamins that help reduce the risk of heart disease and promote good digestive health. One serving equals one slice of bread, or one-half cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal.
Yogurt provides protein, calcium and key vitamins that support strong bones and a healthy metabolism. Yogurt is a source of probiotics, which are vital to protecting digestive health. Select low-fat, plain or unsweetened yogurt varieties. One serving equals one cup.
Beans pack a nutritional punch with protein, fiber, potassium and magnesium. The nutrients in beans help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke as well as support good immune function. One serving equals one-half cup cooked.
Replacing solid fats such as butter and lard with oils, especially olive oil, is a simple heart-healthy substitution. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat and vitamin E that help lower cholesterol. One serving equals one teaspoon.
Even a treat like dark chocolate has nutritional benefits. Dark chocolate contains phytonutrients called flavonoids,that support the maintenance of heart health by preventing the buildup of cholesterol in arteries. One serving equals one ounce.
- International Food Information Council: Functional Foods
- International Food Information Council: Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Antioxidants
- United States Department of Agriculture: Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Chapter 4: Food and Nutrients to Increase
- United States Department of Agriculture: Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Appendix 10: The DASH Eating Plan at Various Calorie Levels