New research reveals some overlooked nutritional superheroes that deserve a starring role at your next meal.
This petite fruit contains about 70 milligrams of vitamin C—more than an orange and just 5 milligrams short of the daily recommendation for women. Research links C to improved eyesight, lower cancer risks, and better heart health. All that and a younger-looking outside, too: A high intake of C makes wrinkles less noticeable, according to Melina Jampolis, MD, a San Francisco–based physician who specializes in nutrition and is the author of The Busy Person’s Guide to Permanent Weight Loss.
Bonus: Kiwifruit has 20% more potassium than bananas and is one of the few fruits (and veggies) that contain vitamin E.
How to enjoy: Peel and slice some kiwifruit, and mix it with bananas for a potassium-rich fruit salad; kiwifruit’s tartness complements the bananas’ mellow flavor. Or simply slice a kiwifruit in half and grab a spoon—the fruit creates its own bowl.
Broccoli is a super source of antioxidants, but a girl can only eat so much of the cruciferous stuff (gas alert!). Next up: ’shrooms. “Research shows that mushrooms have tons of phytochemicals, natural compounds that may help prevent cancer. Everybody should be eating more of them,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, one of only a handful of physicians who are also registered dieticians.
Pick whichever variety suits your taste buds; all of them pack a healthy punch. But researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that two of the most commonly purchased mushrooms—crimini (the small, brown ones) and portobello—ranked as high in antioxidants as string beans, red bell peppers, and carrots. And the humble white button ’shroom? “People think that they’re just fluff, but that’s not true,” Dr. Gerbstadt says.
Bonus: Eating mushrooms may be associated with reduced inflammation and a stronger immune response, according to findings from animal studies by researchers at Arizona State University and Penn State University.
How to enjoy: Saute a big portobello in heart-healthy olive oil, and sub for meat in burgers or enchiladas. Or slice raw button mushrooms, and toss them with chopped parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil for a simple side dish.
Raspberries are the main berry source of ellagitannins, a type of antioxidant that may have anticancer effects. They are also a good source of vitamin K, which helps increase bone-mineral density, reducing your risk of fractures.
Bonus: One cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber, a big step toward the 25 grams of fiber per day that women need for protection against colon cancer, digestive disorders, and heart disease, says Kerry Neville, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
How to enjoy: Try a spinach-and-raspberry salad.
Almonds are thought to help lower high cholesterol, which in turn slashes heart disease risk. But walnuts are brimming with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fat that not only helps prevent heart disease but may boost brain function, memory, and mood. One serving, about 14 shelled walnut halves, provides 2.5 grams of omega-3s—a smart amount for daily intake.
Bonus: A Loma Linda University study found that the omega-3s in walnuts may lower cholesterol more effectively than those found in salmon.
How to enjoy: Substitute walnuts for pine nuts in fresh pesto, sprinkle them on top of an apple-and-caramelized-onion pizza, or add them to oatmeal, dry cereal, or salad.
Here’s why red may be the new black when it comes to beans: The phytochemicals found in most beans are believed to protect against cancer and heart disease—and red beans have the highest amounts. They also have three times the antioxidants of black beans and are number one in antioxidants among 100 foods recently ranked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Bonus: Red beans are a good source of iron and folate, key nutrients for women of childbearing age. And like all beans, they’re high in gut-healthy, weight-controlling fiber.
How to enjoy: For a quick and tasty cold-bean salad, toss canned red beans with chopped celery and scallions, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.
Bored with spinach? Consider switching to Swiss chard. “It’s a fabulous brain food, helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s and improving mental function,” Dr. Jampolis says. A Tufts University study found a strong association between a higher intake of B-vitamin-rich foods—like chard—and decreased risk of cognitive decline. Swiss chard is also a good source of vitamin E and folate, nutrients believed to protect the brain.
Bonus: Swiss chard is rich in lutein, a carotenoid that helps protect against age-related macular degeneration.
How to enjoy: Chop chard, and saute it in olive oil. Or add finely chopped Swiss chard to soups or omelets.
Sure, salmon’s loaded with omega-3s for heart and brain health. But sardines—rich in omega-3s, too—are a more sustainable choice than salmon, which is becoming overfished, Neville says. And they’re low in mercury.
Bonus: Sardines are a great source of vitamin D, a key nutrient that experts say most of us lack in sufficient amounts. Getting more D may boost mood, lower risks of heart disease and cancer, and shore up the immune system.
How to enjoy: Top a pizza or salad with sardines. Or toss chopped sardines with minced onion and Dijon mustard; enjoy on whole-grain crackers.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a pigment that may reduce your risk for heart disease and ovarian and cervical cancers, Neville says. But one cup of juicy, sweet watermelon serves up more than twice the lycopene (7.8 milligrams) of a fresh tomato.
Bonus: Watermelon offers healthy amounts of vitamins A and C, and it has just 40 calories per cup.
How to enjoy: Toss a watermelon-feta-and-arugula salad. Or sprinkle chile powder on chilled watermelon slices.
If your favorite dark chocolate treat boosts your mood—but you hate its fat and calories—have a handful of pumpkinseeds instead, Dr. Jampolis says. “Like chocolate, they’re a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is a mood elevator—nature’s healthy Prozac.”
Bonus: An ounce serves up 150 milligrams of immune system– and bone-strengthening magnesium, about half of your daily requirement.
How to enjoy: Buy pumpkinseeds in bulk, and toss them into salads and soups. Or add unsalted, raw seeds to the tops of muffins before baking.