Fermented foods (such as kimchi and yogurt) increase levels and bioavailability of some nutrients and introduce microorganisms into the gut, which may help maintain a healthy digestive system and have beneficial effects on blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, immunity, and the brain. But many (including miso and pickles) are very high in sodium, which may negate some of the benefits. And observational studies have linked pickled foods to increased risk of some cancers. Look for lower-sodium versions of fermented foods if available, and keep moderation in mind, particularly when eating pickled foods.
Rich in nutrients (including folate and potassium), carotenoids (like lutein), phytosterols, fiber, and monounsaturated fat, this velvety-smooth fruit doesn’t raise blood cholesterol as many people may think, but rather may reduce it. Paradoxically given its high calories, avocado may also help in weight control, possibly due to a unique sugar in it, D-mannoheptulose (which may block the effects of insulin and the breakdown of sugar) and because they are satiating so you may eat fewer calories overall.
The means by which most plants reproduce, seeds offer a reservoir of nutrients (including protein, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and iron), healthy fats, fiber, and other plant compounds (phytochemicals) that plants have evolved to produce in order to protect themselves from oxidation, microorganisms, and pests. Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat related to those in fish. But because they are high in calories, eat seeds in moderation.
In recent years, many so-called ancient grains—from amaranth, farro, and freekeh to kamut, quinoa, and teff—have been “rediscovered.” In contrast to most of the wheat and rice we eat, these grains tend to come in their “whole” form, making them, by and large, more nutritious. They are usually good, if not excellent, sources of fiber and protein. Plus, they are a good way to add variety to your diet.
“Superfruits” tend to come and go, but it seems that acai—which we once referred to as the “Ponzi berry” because of all the unsubstantiated claims made for it—is making a comeback. Goldenberries (also known as gooseberries) are relatives of the tomatillo, orange in color and with a sweet-tart flavor and undertones of tomato. These and other “exotic fruits" are no doubt good foods, but no better than many fruits that cost less.
Native to North America, blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, pectin (a soluble fiber), polyphenols (notably anthocyanins, which give them their blue color), and other potentially beneficial plant compounds. Some research suggests that blueberry can help lower blood pressure, attributed possibly to its polyphenols, which may improve blood vessel functioning by boosting nitric oxide production.
These root vegetables are a good source of fiber, manganese, folate (a B vitamin), and betalains (red-yellow pigments that have antioxidant activity), and nitrates (which dilate blood vessels). Beet juice, in particular, has been found to lower blood pressure, enhance athletic performance, and improve blood flow to the brain, among other possible health benefits. Be aware that consuming a lot of beets can turn urine and stool a harmless red-purple color. Also, beets contain oxalates, so people who form oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid limit them.
From almonds to walnuts, nuts may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, research has shown—likely due to their combination of unsaturated fats, B vitamins, potassium, fiber, arginine (an amino acid), sterols, and other plant compounds. As little as one ounce of nuts (including peanuts) a day may be enough to have benefits. Nuts may also help with weight control due to their fats and protein, which have a satiating effect. But keep moderation in mind since nuts are high in calories.
Nearly every part of the coconut fruit is being consumed these days—including coconut water (virtually fat-free and low in calories, though some products have added sugar), coconut milk (very high in calories), coconut meat (high in saturated fat and calories, but also fiber), coconut sugar, coconut oil, and coconut flour. Despite claims that it has health benefits, coconut sugar is just another form of sugar with negligible extra nutrients. Some studies have found that coconut oil has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol despite its high saturated fat content, though many experts still advise against its use.
With more Americans opting for plant-based diets, it’s no wonder the alternative “milk” category has been moo-ltiplying, so to speak. Made from not just soy, rice, and almonds, but also oats, hemp, cashews, macadamia nuts, peas, quinoa, and more, these beverages are often fortified with calcium and other nutrients to make them comparable to dairy milk. They can be good choices if you’re lactose-intolerant or don’t drink milk for other reasons. Nondairy beverages are not a substitute for infant formula, however.
We still like—and endorse—kale, a cruciferous veggie once so popular that enthusiasts petitioned for a National Kale Day, which has been observed the first Wednesday of October every year since 2013. We also give a thumbs up to two other foods that have also fallen off the trending list: salmon (an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats) and green tea—though other types of fatty fish (such as mackerel and sardines) and other teas (including black, oolong, matcha, and many herbal varieties) are also healthful choices.