Healthy Foods Dietitians Say You Should Be Eating Every Day
Heading to the grocery store without a grocery list almost always never goes well. Without a game plan for what foods to buy and what meals to make, it's easy to aimlessly walk around those grocery aisles and just plop food in your basket. If you ever find yourself with this conundrum after a busy week, don't sweat it—there are a variety of healthy foods you can grab that even dietitians recommend you should eat every day that will easily make all kinds of healthy, nutritious meals.
In general, any whole, real foods will work well for a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean proteins (chicken, eggs, fish) will all help in making a few nutritious meals with minimal effort. Eating real foods, in general, provides your body with a variety of nutrients that help with your overall health.
"The most important thing when it comes to including foods healthfully on a daily basis is to make sure you include a variety of foods from different food groups and balance them out through mixing different food groups together at each meal and/or snack," says Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN at a Taste of Health and Expert at Testing.com.
According to Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, eating a healthy diet is all about focusing on balance, variety, and moderation in your meals. Look for "healthy, or nutrient-rich, foods include an infinite list of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.), lean proteins (lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, soy protein, etc.), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, fatty fish, etc.) and low-fat dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt)."
While eating a variety of whole foods is good for your body, it can be hard to choose which foods to grab at the grocery store. That's why we asked a few registered dietitians to share with us some of their favorite healthy foods to eat every day that you can start stocking up on regularly. Here's what they recommend, and for even more healthy foods to eat, check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
"These tiny blue-colored berries are among my favorite fruits," says Lisa R. Young PhD, RDN, and the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. "Not only do they taste great, [but they are also] relatively low in calories and pack in nutrients including vitamin C, manganese, and fiber ( 4 gram of fiber per 1 cup serving). I often eat them by the handful or throw them into yogurt, smoothies, or salads. Frozen blueberries also taste great after nuking them in the microwave for a minute or so."
Here's why blueberries are considered The One Sweet Food To Eat for a Longer Life.
"I always keep Greek yogurt in my refrigerator," says Young. "It is creamy and delicious and high in protein, which helps keep you full for hours. It contains the mineral calcium necessary for bone health and it also contains probiotics, good bacteria with a multitude of health benefits, among them promoting immune health."
"Greek yogurt provides an easy way to increase protein intake, which is advantageous as most people load up protein at the end of the day, but struggle with getting enough in other meals and snacks," says Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN of Bucket List Tummy. "Greek yogurt is also a good source of calcium and Vitamin D, both of which are important for strong bone health, as well as probiotics, which can help contribute to a healthy microbiome, which is linked to many other aspects of wellness."
Not sure which kind to buy? Here are The 20 Best and Worst Greek Yogurts, According to Dietitians.
A mixed salad
"Besides helping us feel fuller on fewer calories, eating a colorful diet high in vegetables—including greens, tomatoes, carrots—can give your diet a boost of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which cut your risk of chronic disease and help counter free radicals, thereby helping to fight cellular damage and aging," says Young. "Choosing a colorful assortment of produce is best, as different health benefits exist from the different color spectrum."
This is also a great way to get a variety of colorful vegetables into your meals. Dr. Rachel Paul, PhD, RD from CollegeNutritionist.com says to challenge yourself to eat a rainbow of colors throughout the week such as "tomatoes (red), carrots (orange), yellow peppers (yellow), spinach (green), and purple (eggplant)."
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"While olive oil is high in fat and calories and should be used sparingly (1 to 2 tablespoons as a serving on a salad), it is rich in monounsaturated fat and contains many health benefits, among them controlling cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels," says Young. "I always keep a bottle of extra virgin olive oil handy—in a cool dry place—to toss on salads, drizzle on fish, and add zest and flavor to my favorite vegetables."
"Apples are high in fiber, antioxidants, low in calories, and an apple a day may, indeed, even keep your prescription medication away," says Young. "I enjoy an apple (Fuji is my favorite) as a snack most days and also love making baked apples to enjoy while home. I suggest buying organic apples and eating the entire apple along with the skin."
"Sweet potatoes are among one of the most common foods I recommend people to increase in their diet, and even incorporate daily, if possible," says Schlichter. "While sweet potatoes are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed in fry form, added to stir-fries and rice dishes, pureed into hummus, mixed in burger form, and more, they are also extremely nutrient-dense. Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A and C, both of which are important for a healthy, functional immune system. Sweet potatoes are also high in fiber and potassium, which can help decrease blood pressure."
"I also recommend people incorporate nuts or seeds on a daily basis," says Schlichter. "While the nutrition profile of specific nuts and seeds varies depending on the variety, in general, they are high in fiber (which most Americans don't get enough of), as well as micronutrients, like iron, magnesium and B vitamins. They can be enjoyed on their own, on top of oatmeal or yogurt or salads, or mixed into granola snacks or bars. Lastly, I recommend people eat greek yogurt daily."
"I keep almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews in rotation," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. "They all provide heart-healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber, and keep me satisfied in between meals. Each one has some unique benefits, so I like to keep them all on hand."
Not sure what kind of nuts to grab? Try starting with walnuts!
"[Walnuts] are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which help to fight against the inflammation that is associated with aging and chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes," says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT from The Nutrition Twins and our medical expert board. "Research has also shown that walnuts help to lower blood pressure, improve brain and gut health, and that their ellagic acid and gamma-tocopherol provide potent anti-inflammatory and cancer protective properties, especially when it comes to breast and prostate cancer. Although they're calorie-dense, they can provide some benefits for your waistline since they may reduce hunger and aid in appetite control. However, if you're watching your waistline, simply enjoy walnuts in smaller quantities. They make the perfect snack or topping for yogurt, whole grains, or salads."
"I truly believe everyone should find a way to add chia seeds to their daily diet," says Megan Byrd, RD, from The Oregon Dietitian. "They are extremely high in omega-3s, and antioxidants, and are a great source of fiber, too! Chia seeds can help reduce inflammation, improve our GI tracts to make us more regular, and improve heart health, too! Chia seeds are a true superfood."
Byrd says you can add in chia seeds to all kinds of foods like your daily smoothie, baked goods, or even cereal and oatmeal. You can even make chia seed jam!
Dark leafy greens
"Any food from the category of dark leafy greens should be eaten on a daily basis," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, with Balance One Supplements. "Dark leafy greens are rich in nutrients and low in calories making them easy to add to any balanced diet. The nutrients you receive through these foods can be difficult to gain from other sources and are vital to maintaining overall health. Because they are a classification of different vegetables it is easy to work in a variety to avoid becoming bored of the same food each day. This category includes spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens, arugula, swiss chard, bok choy, and turnip greens."
"Whether it's arugula, baby spinach, or a salad kit, I love having greens that are ready to go," says Largeman-Roth. "My sink is often full of dishes, so skipping the washing step is a huge bonus for me in terms of actually eating my greens, which are so nutrient-packed and deserve a place on my table each day."
"The little red gems and their juice contain unique, health-promoting flavonoids called PACs. PACs help reduce the incidence of certain infections, maintain a healthy urinary tract, improve heart health, and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease and aging," say The Nutrition Twins. "And results of a new clinical trial suggest that regular consumption of cranberry juice has the potential to assist in the management of H. pylori. H. pylori infection is the primary identified cause of gastric cancer while other major risk factors include chronic gastritis, high-salt diets and chemical carcinogens. We make cranberry juice ice cubes to jazz up water, seltzer, and smoothies— or for a sweet treat grab a handful of PAC-filled dried cranberries!"
In general, reach for whole foods.
"In order to protect ourselves and support the immune system it is recommended to consume whole foods that will not only give you a variety of nutrients and will provide optimal fuel for our cells and tissues, but they will also help bolster our immunity and maintain our healthy weight," says Talia Segal Fidler, MS, HHC, AADP, and holistic nutritionist from The Lodge at Woodloch. "I recommend choosing foods that are made by Mother Nature that have Anti-aging, disease protection nutrients, and many other health benefits are coming from these incredible edibles. One great way to help make sure that the health benefits are varied from whole foods is to concentrate on eating the rainbow. By filling your plate with a colorful array of foods, you are often expanding the many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other natural benefits from whole foods."
Segal Fidler recommends shopping the periphery of the grocery store aisles where you will find those whole, perishable foods.
"Try to avoid processed foods, starchy grains, and white sugar," she says. "Buy organic as much as possible, or better yet, shop locally and at farmers markets. Did you know that there are often more probiotics in organic/ locally grown fruits and vegetables than in any supplement?"
Swap out those foods with these clever 15 Homemade Swaps for the Worst Ultra-Processed Foods.