This article lists the 15 foods that sources and studies across the United States and Western Europe deem the most healthful.

It is vital to have awareness of the most healthful foods to ensure a wide a range of nutrients in the diet.

A balanced diet is the secret to healthful eating. This article will cover the 15 most healthful foods and their benefits.

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A healthful diet can help ensure that the body gets all the nutrients it needs.

Nuts, pulses, and grains are all highly nutritious. The following are some of the most healthful:

1. Almonds

Almonds provide plenty of nutrients, including:

One 2019 meta-analysis found that consuming almonds significantly reduced total cholesterol levels.

2. Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are some of the most healthful nuts available.

They are an excellent source of both protein and carbohydrates, and they also provide good amounts of vitamin B-1, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.

Brazil nuts also contain more selenium than many other foods. Selenium is a vital mineral for maintaining thyroid function, and it is a great antioxidant for the human body.

These nuts come in a hard shell and are usually available ready to eat, making them a quick, nutritious snack.

Learn more about Brazil nuts here.

3. Lentils

A lentil is a pulse that features prominently in many food cultures around the world, including those of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.

Lentils provide good amounts of fiber, magnesium, and potassium.

They tend to require a long cooking time. However, manufacturers can sprout the seeds, making them a delicious, healthful, ready-to-eat snack.

Adding a container of sprouted lentils to a lunchbox or picnic basket, perhaps with some chili powder or pepper for flavoring, makes for a delicious and healthful snack.

Learn more about the health benefits of lentils here.

4. Oatmeal

Interest in oatmeal has increased considerably during the past 20 years because of its health benefits.

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed that foods with high levels of rolled oats or oat bran could include data on the label about their cardiovascular health benefits as part of a low fat diet. This led to a surge in oatmeal’s popularity.

Research has found that the cereal’s soluble fiber content helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.

Oats contain complex carbohydrates, as well as water-soluble fiber. These slow down digestion and help stabilize levels of blood glucose. Oatmeal is also a good source of folate and potassium.

People can make oatmeal from rolled or ground oats. Coarse or steel-cut oats contain more fiber than instant varieties.

5. Wheat germ

Wheat germ is the part of wheat that grows into a plant. It is essentially the embryo of a seed. Germ, along with bran, is a byproduct of milling. Refining cereals often removes the germ and bran content.

Whole grain products, however, still contain the germ and bran. This makes them a more healthful choice.

Wheat germ is high in several vital nutrients, including:

  • fiber
  • vitamin E
  • folic acid
  • thiamin
  • zinc
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • fatty alcohols
  • essential fatty acids

Fruits, vegetables, and berries are easy to incorporate into the diet. The following are some of the most healthful:

6. Broccoli

Broccoli provides good amounts of fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds that reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

Broccoli also provides essential antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. In fact, a single half-cup serving of broccoli can provide around 85% of a person’s daily vitamin C value.

Another compound in broccoli, called sulforaphane, may have anticancer and anti-inflammatory qualities, according to one 2019 study.

However, overcooking broccoli can destroy many of its key nutrients. For this reason, it is best to eat it raw or lightly steamed.

Learn more about the nutritional impact of broccoli here.

7. Apples

Apples are an excellent source of antioxidants, which combat free radicals. Free radicals are damaging substances that the body generates. They cause undesirable changes in the body and may contribute to chronic conditions, as well as the aging process.

However, some studies have suggested that an antioxidant in apples might extend a person’s life span and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Learn more about apples here.

8. Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable that offers a wide range of different nutrients. For example, this powerfully nutritious plant is an excellent source of vitamins C and K.

People can cook or steam kale. They can also blend it into smoothies or juices for a nutritional kick.

Learn more about how to include kale in the diet here.

9. Blueberries

Blueberries provide substantial amounts of fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Unlike minerals and vitamins, phytonutrients are not essential for survival. However, they may help prevent disease and maintain vital bodily functions.

In a 2019 review of 16 studies, the authors suggest that consuming blueberries may help protect against cognitive decline, which may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They also found that blueberries might help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Another 2019 study, this time in mice, found that blueberry polyphenols reduced obesity and certain metabolic risk factors. They also improved the composition of gut bacteria.

According to a 2015 clinical trial, eating 22 grams of freeze dried blueberries every day for 8 weeks led to a significant decrease in blood pressure among women with stage 1 hypertension.

Discover the nutritional power of blueberries.

10. Avocados

Some people avoid consuming avocados due to their high fat content. However, avocados provide healthful fats, as well as B vitamins, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Avocados are also a good source of fiber.

In one 2018 review of studies, avocados increased levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol. This type of cholesterol removes more harmful cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Avocados might also have anticancer properties. A 2019 test tube study of avocados showed that colored avocado seed extract reduced the viability of breast, colon, and prostate cancer cells. However, the study did not indicate whether or not the effects would be the same in humans.

Avocados may also have associations with improved nutrient absorption, better overall diet, and fewer metabolic risk factors, according to one 2013 study.

Avocados are highly nutritious and very filling. Learn more about them here.

11. Leafy green vegetables

One 2019 study in rats showed that consuming leafy greens for 6 weeks led to a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk factors.

Spinach is an example of a leafy green with antioxidant content, especially when it is raw, steamed, or very lightly boiled. It is a good source of the following nutrients:

  • vitamins A, B-6, C, E, and K
  • selenium
  • niacin
  • zinc
  • phosphorus
  • copper
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • manganese
  • betaine
  • iron

Learn about the many benefits of spinach here.

12. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes provide dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and potassium.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes with that of several other vegetables.

Sweet potatoes ranked number one for their vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, and complex carbohydrate content.

When it comes to fish, meat, and eggs, many healthful options are available. For example:

13. Oily fish

Some examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. These types of fish have oil in their tissues and around their gut.

Their lean fillets contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These oils may provide benefits for the heart and nervous system, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

The ODS also suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can help with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. They are also plentiful in vitamins A and D.

One 2014 study suggested that fatty acids can significantly reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

14. Chicken

Chicken is a cost effective and healthful meat. Free-range chicken serves as an excellent source of protein.

However, it is important to remember that preparation and cooking methods affect how healthful chicken is. This means that people should limit their intake of deep-fried chicken and always remove the skin before consumption. Chicken skin has high levels of saturated fat.

15. Eggs

Eggs are another source of protein that people can easily incorporate into a balanced diet, as they are highly versatile.

Eggs contain vitamins including B-2 and B-12, both of which are important for preserving energy and generating red blood cells. Eggs are also a good source of the essential amino acid leucine, which plays a role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Eggs also provide a good amount of choline, which is important for cell membranes.

The yolk contains most of the egg’s vitamins and minerals, as well as the fat and cholesterol. However, one 2017 review found that eating up to seven eggs per week does not increase the risk of heart disease. That said, the authors mention that people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes should seek medical consultation about including eggs in the diet.

Indeed, one study found higher rates of cardiovascular disease in people who consumed more cholesterol from eggs.

Consuming fat in moderate amounts is healthful as part of a balanced, nutritious diet.

Learn more about eggs here.

Including these 15 foods in the diet can provide notable health benefits. However, it is important for people to have a balanced diet that does not focus on one specific type of food.

People should remember that having an occasional treat is not going to be harmful to overall health, as long as they ensure a regular and varied intake of nutrients.

Q:

I want to follow a vegan diet. Can I still obtain all the healthful proteins I need?

A:

People who follow a vegan diet can obtain healthful proteins from plant sources, but not all plant sources contain all of the essential amino acids that animal sources of protein do.

Therefore, pairing certain plant foods together is important to ensure that the person consumes all of the essential amino acids they need. Quinoa and tofu contain all essential amino acids.

Beans and rice, hummus and pita, and whole grain bread with peanut butter are examples of pairs of plant-based foods that provide all the essential amino acids.

Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.