Want to improve your family's nutrition? Though no one food can work magic, the following foods (or groups of foods) are packed with healthy fats, lots of fiber, and loads of vitamins and antioxidants. Benefit everyone's health by adding them to your shopping list. Then be sure to serve them to your loved ones on a regular basis.
1. AvocadosAside from the occasional guacamole or Cobb salad, many people avoid avocados because of their high fat content. But the type of fat in this luscious fruit is the heart-healthy monounsaturated type. Avocados are also a rich source of fiber (7 grams in half a medium-size fruit), vitamins E, C, B-6, folate, K, and potassium.
- Spread avocado on whole-grain toast. Sprinkle with a small amount of low-fat cheese. Melt the cheese in a toaster oven and add sliced tomato.
- Dice avocado into salads or slice it into sandwiches.
- Cut an avocado in half, remove the pit, and sprinkle the avocado with lemon juice and pepper. Eat the avocado out of the shell.
- Mash avocado with salsa for a quick dip.
2. ApplesDon't think of apples as a super food? You may not know they are a rich source of many antioxidants as well as vitamin C. Along with pears and berries, they are also one of the highest-fiber fruits. Just remember to leave their skin on.
- Chop and toss apples into a green salad.
- Slice an apple and serve it with a dollop of natural peanut butter.
- Dice and mix an apple into hot oatmeal while cooking.
- Bake a whole apple in the oven for a "baked apple."
3. BarleyBarley is an often overlooked whole grain. Its high soluble fiber content makes it desirable for helping to prevent heart disease and manage blood sugars. Be sure to look for hulled barley, which retains most of the bran and germ of the whole grain. Pearled barley is more refined and not as nutritious.
- Use barley in soups such as mushroom barley and lentil barley.
- Make barley into a warm pilaf.
- Use barley as the base for a cold salad tossed with an olive oil vinaigrette.
- Use barley mixed with raisins and nuts as a hot cereal.
4. BerriesBerries are a great source for antioxidants as well as vitamin C and potassium. They also contain higher amounts of fiber than most other fruits.
- Mix berries with yogurt or cottage cheese. Add a small handful of crushed nuts.
- Add fresh or frozen berries to smoothies.
- Toss berries into cold or hot cereal.
5. Leafy greensGreens make up a family that includes spinach, collards, kale, bok choy, arugula, and romaine. Leafy greens have the distinction of being the most nutrient-dense veggies for the least amount of calories. They are also good sources of calcium, potassium, folate, fiber, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
- Saute leafy greens with a small amount of olive oil, garlic, and chicken broth.
- Use a variety of dark and light lettuces in salads.
- Chop greens and add to soups.
- Use greens in stir-fries.
6. Omega-3 rich fishEating fish (especially fatty fish high in omega-3) at least two times a week may help cut your risks for heart disease and stroke. Studies are also underway to see its effect on Alzheimer's and arthritis. Choose wild salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel.
- Brush salmon with a mixture of orange juice and orange marmalade. Bake until done.
- Flake cooked salmon into whole-grain pasta mixed with peas, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan.
- Mash sardines with hard boiled eggs and light mayo, and serve with whole-grain crackers.
7. Beans (includes beans, split peas, and lentils)Beans combine the dynamic duo of protein and fiber. Specifically, they are high in soluble fiber, a type of fiber that can lower your risk for heart disease and help control blood sugars. Other noteworthy nutrients include B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Beans are also surprisingly high in calcium.
- Add rinsed canned beans to your favorite salad.
- Use beans in soups like black or navy bean, lentil, or split pea.
- Use beans in chilies.
8. MushroomsMushrooms may not seem like they have much to offer on the nutrition front. But they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Several potential cancer-fighting substances have also been found in shiitake mushrooms. Purified forms of these substances are being studied to see their effect on stomach and colorectal cancer. More research is needed.
- Saute mushrooms with a small amount of olive oil along with onions and zucchini. Add them to your favorite tomato sauce for a heart-healthy pasta topping.
- Slice fresh mushrooms into salads.
- Saute and combine mushrooms with barley for a hearty mushroom barley soup.
9. Nuts and SeedsNuts and seeds are good sources of monounsaturated fat. These fats can help lower your cholesterol if you substitute them for saturated fats. The protein, fiber, and healthy fat content of nuts and seeds provide a feeling of being full that can keep you from overeating. Nuts contain magnesium, vitamin E, fiber, riboflavin, iron, calcium, and vitamin E.
- Toast a whole-grain English muffin and spread with low-fat cream cheese. Top it with a handful of crushed walnuts or slivered almonds.
- Toss nuts or seeds into cold or hot cereal.
- Grab a small handful of nuts or seeds along with a piece of fruit for a snack.
- Mix nuts or seeds into cooked brown rice along with dried cranberries for a tropical side dish treat.
10. PomegranatesPomegranates can be a little tricky to eat, but they're well worth the effort. Pomegranates have up to three times the antioxidants of red wine and green tea. They are also rich in vitamin C and potassium.
- Toss the seeds into a green salad or a fruit salad.
- Mix them into yogurt.
- Add them to cooked oatmeal
- American Cancer Society. Shitake mushroom. Accessed: 02/01/2011
- Simopoulos A. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2002;21(6):495-505.
- International Food Information Council Foundation. Functional foods fact sheet: antioxidants. Accessed: 08/13/2010
- Ma QL, Teter B, Ubeda OJ, et al. Fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid increases SorLA/LR11, a sorting protein with reduced expression in sporadic Alzheimer's disease (AD). Journal of Neuroscience. 2007;27(52):14299-14307.
- American Heart Association. Antioxidant vitamins. Accessed: 08/13/2010