While variety is key to a healthy diet, there’s no doubt that some foods contain more nutrients than others. If you’re looking to get the most out of your meals, here are 10 foods that are incredibly nutritious, delightfully tasty, and might even help dial down chronic inflammation—which is known to contribute to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. If you’re adventurous enough, you might even be able to get all 10 into one recipe.
While this bright-orange plant from Asia and Central America has about a quarter of the percent daily need of manganese and 16% of daily iron in its powder form (spice), turmeric has also gained scientific traction for other health benefits. Researchers have shown that turmeric may offer some anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties in patients with arthritis, may help prevent some cancer types, acts as an antioxidant to help improve liver function, and aids in digestion. It’s no wonder that Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid suggests eating healthy herbs and spices, including turmeric, in unlimited amounts.
Beans and legumes
Often underappreciated, these small yet mighty fruits/seeds of the Fabaceae family are packed with nutrients. A serving (164 g) of cooked chickpeas, for example, has 14.5 g of protein, almost three-quarters of the recommended daily intake of folate, and good amounts of manganese, copper, and iron. Lentils, peas, soybeans, peanuts, and beans of all sorts are part of the family and are just as nutritious in their own right. They’re also a great source of fiber, which helps increase the number of good bacteria in the gut and may help control inflammation, decrease colon cancer risk, and reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Try to consume 1-2 servings (1/2 cup of cooked legumes/beans) per day to take advantage of their anti-inflammatory properties as well.
While fruits of all kinds are an important part of a daily diet, berries rise to the top for their antioxidant power. You’re likely familiar with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries—but have you heard of black raspberries and their cancer-fighting abilities? Or the intensely concentrated vitamin C content in sea buckthorn berries? Nutritionists recommend eating 3-4 servings (1/2 cup per serving) of berries every day.
Asian mushrooms (cooked)
This addition to the list is quite specific (and perhaps a bit unexpected) but cooked—not raw—Asian mushrooms pack a punch to chronic inflammation, and they contain compounds that have been used to support immune function, improve cardiovascular health, and prevent cancer. You won’t find these benefits in the more common fungi, like Portobello or cremini. Instead, look for shiitake, maitake, oyster mushrooms, or enokitake. Mushroom lovers rejoice! The Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid says that cooked Asian mushrooms can be eaten in unlimited quantities.
Black cod, also known as sablefish or butterfish, may soon overtake salmon’s reign as the go-to fish for omega-3s—the fatty acids known for their anti-inflammatory properties. That’s because black cod is gaining in popularity in the United States and has even more omega-3s than salmon does. Experts recommend eating 2-6 servings (one serving is equivalent to 4 oz) each week of fatty fish, including black cod, wild Alaskan salmon, herring, and/or sardines.
Have you ever watched the Great British Baking Show? It seems like you can’t get through one episode without hearing ginger mentioned at least a dozen times. But this spice is not just for sweets; ginger pops up as a savory aromatic in many Asian foods as well. These cooks know what they’re doing. In addition to adding a lovely flavor, ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory, an anti-nausea agent, and a carminative (which helps reduce intestinal gas). According to the Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, eat as much ginger as you wish!
Looking for a snack with a ton of protein? Just one little serving (28 g) of almonds has 6 g of protein and 3 g of fiber, and the plant sterols in this nut are a good source of several vitamins and minerals. In a systematic review and meta-analysis of almond consumption published in the Journal of Nutritional Science, researchers showed that almonds significantly decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels without affecting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. One serving is 22 almonds, which equals 1 oz, ¼ cup, or about one handful.
Dark, leafy greens will always be among the healthiest foods to eat. Sure, we all know about spinach and romaine, but what about bok choy? This tasty Asian vegetable is leafy-green on top and a bit like celery on the bottom. A member of the cruciferous family, bok choy contains compounds active in preventing inflammation and cancer. And, as an added bonus, it has more beta-carotene and vitamin A than its cruciferous cousins. Consider bok choy as one (or all) of your 4-5 servings (2 cups of salad greens) of vegetables per day.
Seriously, what doesn’t green tea do? Across a myriad of studies, researchers have shown that it has positive effects on hypertension, diabetes, and cholesterol control. Green tea also helps the body burn fat and supports bone health. And, in addition to having antioxidant effects, green tea has L-theanine, an amino acid that provides people with a sense of calm awareness.
A healthy food list would not be complete without including foods that support your microbiome—the trillions of commensal bacteria in your gut that have far-reaching benefits beyond GI health. Fermented foods are those that have been preserved using a natural process and probiotics, which ultimately help strengthen your microbiome. Consider foods with live cultures, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kefir.