All too often, seemingly healthy snacks are secretly loaded with sugar, saturated fat, and carbohydrates. That’s why we handpicked the healthiest foods to eat that are delicious and incredibly easy to cook. After all, rule number one for sticking to a smart meal plan is to not get bored, and these healthy ingredients will keep you on your toes (promise!).
You’ll notice something that all these healthy foods have in common: each one is a basic ingredient, such as a fruit, vegetable, grain, or dairy product. That means no pre-packaged products with a laundry list of strange-sounding ingredients. You can use this as a rule of thumb when shopping: if the food is simple, wholesome, plant-based, and minimally processed, you’re in good shape. (Literally.)
Now, on to the healthiest foods to eat list.
Oatmeal keeps cholesterol in check, helps fight against heart disease, and keeps you full until lunch, thanks to its soluble fiber. Look for old-fashioned or steel-cut varieties.
Try this: For a savory breakfast, drizzle cooked oatmeal with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan, or try this oatmeal recipe with spinach and poached eggs.
You’ll get nearly 20 percent of your daily dose of fiber in one 1/2 cup serving of avocado, plus cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fats.
Try this: For a side dish, halve an avocado, drizzle with soy sauce and fresh lime juice, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Or try avocado toast.
Walnuts are a solid source of omega-3 fatty acids—the fats that lower the bad-for-you cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good-for-you kind (HDL).
Try this: For a healthy on-the-go snack, pack a handful of walnuts with some dried figs and a few anise seeds. (As the ingredients sit together, the anise releases flavor.) Or try this Corn Salad With Feta and Walnuts recipe.
Meaty and filling, as a stand-in for beef, mushrooms can slash up to 400 calories from a meal.
Try this: Sauté sliced mushrooms and shallots until tender. Add a splash of white wine and cook until evaporated. Serve over roasted fish or chicken. Or try Mushroom White Pizza.
The whites offer up protein with minimal calories (and zero fat or cholesterol). Egg yolks get a bad rap, but don’t skip them—they are awash with vitamin B12 and vitamin A, and they contain choline, a nutrient that’s particularly important for pregnant women.
Try this: Make a sandwich with whole-grain bread, sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, anchovies, red onion, and a drizzle of olive oil. Or try Italian Baked Eggs.
These young soybeans pack more fiber per serving than shredded-wheat cereal and are one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein, meaning they have all nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce on their own.
Try this: Puree cooked edamame with garlic, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice for a quick hummus-like spread. Or try Risotto With Edamame, Lemon, and Tarragon.
Ounce for ounce, this fuzzy fruit contains more vitamin C than an orange and is a good source of potassium and fiber.
Try this: Thinly slice, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with toasted, unsweetened coconut.
The darker the color, the richer these tubers are in the antioxidant beta-carotene.
Try this: For a side dish, steam cut-up sweet potatoes and apples. Puree with maple syrup and crushed red pepper. Or try one of these 48 delicious sweet potato recipes.
The payoff from this leafy green: loads of calcium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and a variety of other antioxidants. Kale is also a good source of lutein, an eye-friendly nutrient that may slow the development of macular degeneration.
Try this: Make kale chips by tearing the leaves into pieces and tossing them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees F until crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. Or try Quinoa With Mushrooms, Kale, and Sweet Potatoes.
Another high-fiber cholesterol fighter. On weeknights, use the pearl or quick-cooking variety. More time? Give hulled barley, with its extra layer of bran, a try.
Try this: Add sautéed mushrooms and sherry vinegar to cooked barley. Or try Chicken Thighs With Barley and Peas.
The antioxidants in this winter squash keep skin healthy; its potassium helps lower blood pressure.
Try this: Peel, cut into chunks, and roast with olive oil and sprigs of fresh thyme. Or try Pumpkin-Leek Soup.
Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats abound in these protein-rich spreads, especially peanut and almond butter. Opt for those with just two ingredients: nuts and salt.
Try this: Mix with soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar to make a quick Asian-style dipping sauce for chicken skewers. Or try Peanut Noodles With Edamame.
Chard is supercharged with nutrients—think calcium, B vitamins, and beta-carotene. This leafy green fuels your body with fiber, too.
Try this: Sauté chopped chard with sliced garlic, then toss with whole-grain pasta and raisins. Or try Swiss Chard With Chickpeas and Couscous.
Made from wheat that has been steamed, dried, and cracked, bulgur delivers more fiber than brown rice, plus you get a boost of potassium, B vitamins, and calcium.
Try this: Cook bulgur as you would oatmeal. Top it with honey and chopped nuts for breakfast or a hearty snack. Or try Minty Bulgur Salad With Salmon and Cucumbers.
Whole-grain pasta contains three times the amount of fiber per serving as the typical semolina variety. Skip pasta that is labeled “multigrain,” as it may be made with several grains that aren’t necessarily whole ones.
Try this: Toss whole-grain pasta with pesto, chopped arugula, and grated lemon zest. Or try Whole-Grain Spaghetti With Kale and Tomatoes.
These burrito mainstays boast antioxidants and magnesium, which help maintain nerve and muscle function. They’re also a source of potassium and fiber.
Try this: On a baking sheet, toss canned black beans with olive oil, ground cumin, and salt. Roast at 450 degrees F until crispy, about 10 minutes, for a tasty snack. Or try Cuban Black Beans and Rice.
You’ll get iron, folate, and at least a dozen flavonoids—compounds that are loaded with antioxidants.
Try this: Blend a handful of spinach into your favorite fruit smoothie. Or try Shrimp Pil Pil With Spinach.
A chili essential, kidney beans are a plant-based protein packed with fiber. They’re also a great source of antioxidants.
Try this: Make a quick salad with kidney beans, olive oil, fresh lime juice, and fresh cilantro. Or try Three-Bean Chili With Spring Pesto.
It may cook like a grain, but quinoa is actually an herbaceous plant. It’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids and offers the same energy and satiety you would get from meat, sans the fat or cholesterol.
Try this: Stir fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh dill into cooked quinoa. Or try Spiced Cod With Broccoli-Quinoa Pilaf.
A protein powerhouse, lentils are flush with folate, a nutrient that supports healthy cell growth and function, and may prevent certain birth defects.
Try this: Toss cooked lentils with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, chopped celery, and fresh thyme. Serve over salad greens. Or try Winter Lentil Soup.
Salmon contains heart-healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids and it’s one of the few food sources of vitamin D. The fish may also help keep your skin glowing. For guidance on how to shop for the most sustainable varieties, look for MSC Certified wild salmon or BAP- or ASC-certified farmed salmon
Try this: For breakfast, mash some avocado on whole-grain toast and top with flaked poached salmon. Or try Sheet Pan Salmon With Potatoes and Broccolini.
A dinner staple from the leanest part of the bird: half a breast has around 2.5 grams of fat and more than 28 grams of protein.
Try this: Shred cooked chicken and toss with olive oil, raisins, curry powder, and fresh lime juice. Or try Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Tomato Salad.
Your go-to source for vitamin C, which, among other useful traits, may stimulate collagen synthesis to keep skin looking supple.
Try this: Roast orange wedges along with salmon. Or try Salmon Fillet With Citrus and Thyme.
This protein-rich winner is an acquired taste for some, but totally worth it. Loaded with vitamins D and B12, sardines are also an excellent source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Try this: Toss chopped sardines into a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and fresh parsley.
Almonds are packed with monounsaturated fatty acids, which keep blood vessels healthy. These nuts are also a source of calcium and cholesterol-lowering fiber.
Try this: Fold chopped almonds into cooked whole grains, along with raisins or dried currants. Or try Chickpea Pasta With Almonds and Parmesan.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil is an outstanding source of monounsaturated fats. This tasty Mediterranean staple is a source of cancer-fighting polyphenols and may even cut the risk of heart disease.
Try this: Gently heat olive oil with fresh herbs (such as rosemary and thyme). Drizzle on pasta, steamed vegetables, or sandwiches in place of mayo.
Packed with fiber, this superfruit contains a large amount of the antioxidant group “anthocyanins”.
Try this: Serve over vanilla frozen yogurt with a pinch of ground cardamom. Or try Frozen Blueberry Lemonade.
A vitamin C gold mine—a 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli satisfies 80 percent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily dose. It’s also a key source of vitamin K, which helps blood clot properly.
Try this: Toss with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Roast at 375 degrees F until tender. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan before serving. Or try Orecchiette With Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts.
Chia seeds are small but mighty. They are packed with antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also a great source of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which means they can improve bone health.
Try this: Make your own chia seed pudding with milk and a sweetener of your choice. Or try Chia Pilaf With Pesto.