35 Healthy Foods You Can Say YES To


35 Healthy Foods You Can Say “YES” To

Tired of being told what not to eat? Here’s a sampling of the many choices you can feel good about including as part of a balanced diet.

1. Acorn Squash

Acorn Squash is a source of lycopene, folate, and vitamins A and C. It also contains dietary fiber, which we know is a must for a healthy gut microbiome. Acorn squash is also rich in potassium — almost 900 milligrams per cup.

2. Almonds

A good source of potassium, almonds, like other nuts, are low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats. Research shows an antioxidant synergy between flavonoids and vitamin E in whole almonds, meaning these nutrients interact with each other to provide more health benefits to the human body.  Almonds are also a source of riboflavin, magnesium, and zinc.

3. Apples

Do you know what they say about keeping the doctor away?  An apple a day may not be quite that powerful, but apples are a good source of fiber, and a medium-sized apple has only 80 calories. Red apples are among the fruits highest in quercetin, which is an important antioxidant and zinc ionophore. One tip, the antioxidants are concentrated in the skin of the apple, so don’t peel before eating.  Strongly consider buying organic since apples they are in the top 5 for pesticide residue on The EWG's 2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guides to Pesticides in Produce

4. Apricots

A good source of vitamins A and C, apricots also are a way to get lycopene, which has been associated with cancer prevention in men (see tomatoes, below).

5. Asparagus

With just 25 calories in eight medium-sized asparagus spears, you get 25% of your daily vitamin A and 15% of vitamin C, plus essential folic acid.

6. Avocado

Dietary fat has a bad reputation, and I'm here to tell you, eating fat is important, especially for sustained weight loss. We now know from research that sugars and refined carbs are the true causes of obesity and heart disease -- not fats, as we've been told. Low-quality carbs turn on the metabolic switch, causing a spike in the hormone insulin, and this leads to fat storage and the dreaded inflammation. Include more avocado in your diet. Try this Avocado Key Lime Pie. It's vegan and gluten-free. 

7. Bananas

A good source of magnesium, which is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body! However, many people in the U.S. are lacking in this vital mineral. Find out if you are deficient in magnesium.

Bananas are also packed with potassium. With 422 milligrams of potassium in one medium banana, you’re getting almost 10% of the 4,700 milligrams the Institute of Medicine says you need. Potassium supports healthy blood pressure, healthy bones, and promotes kidney health in regards to kidney stones.

8. Barley

Looking for ways to eat more "slow" whole-grain carbohydrates? Try cooking up some barley—also a good source of iron and minerals—in place of white rice. 

But make sure you’re buying whole-grain barley, not the “pearl” variety with the healthful outer husk removed. Whole grains have been associated with heart health and promoting health at a cellular level.  

Other good whole-grain choices of this type include bulgur, buckwheat groats (also known as kasha), millet, and quinoa.

9. Beef Eye of Round

While studies continue to suggest it’s smart to limit your red meat consumption, when you must eat beef, eye of round is the leanest cut. A three-ounce serving has nearly half your daily protein and just 160 calories. Beef is a good source of zinc and vitamin B6. Purchase grass-fed, hormone-free beef.

10. Blueberries

Blueberries have a ton of antioxidant benefits, including the possibility they support brain functions that weaken as we age.

Blueberries are also a good source of vitamin K, which plays a role in bone health and hardening of the arteries.

Berries of all sorts are good choices, too:  Blackberries, for example, also deliver vitamin K, along with a quarter of your daily vitamin C in just a half-cup. If berries are out of season, try frozen berries blended into a smoothie.

11. Broccoli

You probably don’t need any convincing that broccoli, the classic “good for you” vegetable, is a healthy choice. When it comes to overall health, I can't emphasize enough an increased intake of dark green vegetables, like broccoli and leafy greens such as spinach and kale.

Most Americans need to double or triple their intake of dark green veggies, according to the experts. Try this green drink I love making.

12. Brussels Sprouts

Another no-surprise inclusion, Brussels sprouts may do your body even more good than you’d guess. A half-cup of brussels sprouts—only about four sprouts—delivers 235 micrograms of vitamin K, which is almost double what the average American gets in a whole day.

13. Cantaloupe

Another no-surprise inclusion, Brussels sprouts may do your body even more good than you’d guess. A half-cup of brussels sprouts—only about four sprouts—delivers 235 micrograms of vitamin K, which is almost double what the average American gets in a whole day.

14. Carrots

You know carrots were good for you, but do you know how good? This orange option is packed with beta-carotene and delivers 150% of your daily vitamin A in just half a cup. Carrots also provide lesser percentages of a variety of other vitamins and minerals. Carrots are a prime example of why it’s important to eat a “rainbow” of different fruits and vegetables representing the whole spectrum of colors. 

15. Cauliflower

Don’t let the pasty white color fool you. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable (meaning it’s from the mustard family), just like broccoli and brussels sprouts.  Compounds in cruciferous vegetables have been suggested as possible cancer protectors. Cauliflower packs a nutritional punch, with 45% of your daily vitamin C in just half a cup.

16. Chicken Breast

Boneless, skinless chicken breast offer great convenience and a good way to get protein (half your daily value in a three-ounce serving) without a lot of fat (three grams total, including just one gram of saturated fat) or calories (140, only 18% of them from fat). Broil, bake, or grill—don’t fry—to keep chicken a smart choice. Purchase organic chicken, free-range chicken breast to avoid eating GMO grains, such as in the corn and soy chickens are often fed.

17. Collard Greens

Another option in the dark-green vegetable category, collard greens are packed with vitamin A. You’ll get 150% of your daily value of A in just a half-cup of cooked collard greens, plus 30% of your vitamin C and 15% of calcium. Consider buying organic since collard greens are fairly high on the list of vegetables high in pesticides.

18. Kale

Here’s another vitamin A powerhouse as well as a way to up your intake of dark green vegetables. Like most leafy greens, kale is a source of lutein, which is a necessary nutrient for your eye health.

A mere half-cup of cooked kale also rewards you with almost seven times the recommended daily amount of vitamin K. 

Strongly consider buying organic since kale is fairly high on the list for vegetables high in pesticides. Consider buying organic since kale is high on the list of vegetables high in pesticides.

19. Kidney Beans

Rich in fiber, iron, and protein, beans of all sorts can be a key ingredient in a meatless meal. They’re also a source of potassium and magnesium, as well as folate, which some researchers are studying for potential benefits to the brain.  

Beans of all types—black, pinto, and navy—are good choices and nutritionally similar to kidney beans. Kidney beans give you marginally the most protein and fiber with the fewest calories, but pintos are tops in folate. Cook your own using dried beans, to avoid added salt and BPA in canned beans. I love using the Instant Pot to make homemade beans and it's really easy and far less expensive.

20. Okra

A food better known in southern states, okra is a good source of folate and also gives you 20% of your vitamin C needs in just half a cup. A recent study suggests okra, along with eggplant and whole grains, among other foods, can be part of a cholesterol-lowering diet. Breading and frying okra, southern-style, adds so many calories and creates Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) which offsets any health benefits.

21. Oranges

Of course, you already know about the benefits of eating from the “sunshine tree”—notably, getting more than a day’s dose of vitamin C in just one navel orange. Vitamin C is extremely valuable to support a healthy functioning immune system.  Oranges also are a pretty good source of potassium.

22. Peaches

Peaches and similar fruit such as nectarines deliver modest amounts of vitamins (especially A and C), niacin, and minerals (particularly potassium), while satisfying your craving for something sweet—all at a tiny price in calories (only 40 in a medium-sized peach).  Purchase organic since peaches are #7 on the Dirty Dozen list.

23. Popcorn

Air-popped popcorn (easy on the salt and butter!) makes a filling whole-grain snack. A cup of plain air-popped popcorn has just 30 calories.

24. Pork Loin

This is the leanest cut of “the other white meat” (actually a red meat). A three-ounce serving delivers 32% of daily protein needs with just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 120 calories. Because it’s so lean, be careful to cook pork loin to the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees but not beyond. Use a meat thermometer, and remove from the heat 5-10 degrees before it’s done, as the pork will keep cooking while “resting.” Even if still pink in the center, pork is safe to eat at 160 degrees.

25. Prunes

Prunes aren’t just your mom’s constipation cure. A half-cup of dried prunes does provide a quarter of your daily fiber, sure, but you’re also getting potassium and vitamin A, plus vitamin B6 and powerful antioxidants. In order to promote blood sugar stability, it would be ideal to limit prunes to 2-3 at a time and eat them after a meal.

26. Salmon

The classic example of fish with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, wild-caught salmon can be broiled, baked, or grilled and makes a great main dish. Here's why I recommend avoiding farmed salmon. Only 120 calories for a three-ounce serving of wild Atlantic salmon. If you occasionally opt for canned salmon with the bones, you’ll also get calcium in the bargain.

27. Sardines

Another fatty fish that’s rich in omega-3s, sardines are also a good source of vitamin D and (eaten with the bones) calcium.

28. Spinach

Popeye was onto something here. Being the quintessential dark leafy green and rich in vitamins A and K (plus some folate), spinach is also packed with lutein.

Researchers have found lutein consumption is associated with eye health, in particular the health of the macula of the eye.  

Strongly consider buying organic since spinach is #2 on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list. 

29. Strawberries

Like most berries (see blueberries, above), grapes and prunes, strawberries contain anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that improve circulation and may have other health benefits.

Strawberries are also a good choice for folate and vitamin C. Strongly consider buying organic since strawberries are #1on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list. 

30. Sweet Potatoes

Try sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes. They have more beta-carotene (a whopping 25,000 IU in one baked sweet potato with skin), vitamin C, folate, calcium, and manganese compared to the white spuds. Try out this Sweet Potato smoothie.

31. Tea

What to drink with all this? Try a nice cup of freshly brewed tea instead of a sugary soft drink. Research has suggested many possible benefits from the phytonutrient antioxidants in tea, called catechins; the strongest scientific evidence is for supporting heart health. There’s not a significant difference in antioxidants between caffeinated and decaffeinated tea, but we’re not talking about herbal teas here. Iced tea contains only low concentrations of catechins, however. Premixed iced-teas and ready-to-drink teas are likewise low in antioxidants—but laden with sugar. Here's my favorite Citrus and Ginger Immune tea I make at home.

32. Tomatoes

Men have been gobbling tomatoes ever since research suggested that the lycopene therein may be protective against prostate cancer; a recent study points to a similar effect for pancreatic cancer in men.

Tomatoes are also a good choice for lutein, and a single medium tomato contains half your daily value of vitamin C.

33. Turkey Breast

Like its poultry cousin, chicken, skinless turkey breast delivers plenty of protein —38% of daily needs in a three-ounce portion— without a lot of fat (five grams, including 1.5 grams of saturated fat). Turkey is also rich in B vitamins and selenium, which are both important for supporting the body's immune system. Besides making a good main dish, fresh, sliced turkey breast can substitute for processed meats in your sandwiches. Purchase nitrate-free turkey, and consider buying organic.

34. Walnuts

Remember what we said about almonds?  The same goes for walnuts: They’re low in saturated fat, free of cholesterol, and high in unsaturated fats. Although a quarter cup of walnuts contains four grams of protein, you’re also consuming 160 calories, and they support healthy blood sugar levels. Walnuts are relatively high in essential minerals and in folate.

35. Watermelon

A good source of lycopene, a cup of watermelon also gives you about 20% of your daily vitamin C and 15% of vitamin A, in a sweet treat with only 45 calories.

Although there are many other "YES" foods, this is a great start!  How many of these foods do you eat regularly??

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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