Greek yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt can be used to make savory dishes like tzatziki or sweet treats when mixed with fresh fruit and granola. Greek yogurt is packed with protein, calcium and potassium and, because of the way it is made, it is thick and creamy even when it is fat-free. As a bonus, yogurt contains probiotics, which are live, beneficial microorganisms that play a prominent role in health and well-being by contributing to immune function and digestive regularity while possibly helping to prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease. Yogurt labeled as containing “live and active cultures” has probiotics. Other sources of probiotics are kefir, miso, kombucha tea, tempeh, unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, and dietary supplements.
Dark green leafy vegetables. Greens like chard, collards, kale and spinach are packed full of nutrients like vitamins A, C and K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, fiber and lutein. They are such a good source of many vitamins and minerals that I tell students to guess spinach on an exam if they can’t remember the food source of an important nutrient. Sauté gently and add dried cranberries for some sweetness, or vinegar or lemon juice for tartness.
Garbanzo beans. All beans are healthy due to their high protein and fiber content accompanied by their low-fat and cholesterol-free qualities. But garbanzo beans have such a neutral flavor that they can easily blend into many dishes like curries, salads, soups and stews. Mix them with whole grains like bulgur or brown rice to compose a meal containing all the essential amino acids.
Deep red, blue, or purple berries. Common berry fruits like black and red raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are rich sources of polyphenols, such as anthocyanins and flavonoids, as well as ellagitannins. Recent research shows that one serving per week of the colorful berries may slow memory decline associated with aging. Not in season? Don’t worry; frozen berries have nearly the same nutritional value as fresh.
Ocean-friendly fish. Due to their omega-3 fatty acids, fish is a fantastic way to improve heart health when eaten twice a week. Any fish will do as long as it is grilled, broiled or sautéed rather than deep-fried or covered in a butter-cream sauce; and, no, shellfish like shrimp, crab, or lobster do not count. Refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for information, including a smartphone app, on sustainable seafood.
Nuts. A handful (1 ounce) of unsalted nuts like almonds or walnuts are full of healthy oils and fiber that have a positive impact on your blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. Nuts are high in fat and calories, so while a handful per day is great, a whole bowl can lead to weight gain.
Mushrooms. Low in calories, mushrooms are a flavorful source of potassium, selenium and B-vitamins that assist our metabolism in breaking down the foods we eat. Due to their savory flavor, they can be used to replace high-fat meats in many recipes. Depending on how they are grown, mushrooms can also be a good source of vitamin D, of which most Americans do not get enough.
Avocado. Technically a fruit, avocadoes are high in monounsaturated oils, fiber and potassium. Try using avocado on a sandwich instead of less healthy spreads like mayonnaise or thousand island dressing. Due to their high fat content, they are also quite caloric, so only moderate consumption is needed to achieve the nutrient value.
Quinoa. This South American whole grain can easily replace starches like rice, potatoes or corn as a side dish. Quinoa contains more protein and fiber than other grains and starches and can help you feel full for a longer period of time. Its high folate, potassium, selenium, and vitamin E content are an added bonus.
Beets. These colorful vegetables contain phytochemical pigments that are antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation in the body. Toss cooked beets with olive oil and black pepper, then sprinkle with feta cheese for a nice snack or side dish.