Living a healthy lifestyle begins with eating healthy food. To support your gut and overall health, you should focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods. This includes a variety of quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.
Below is a list of some of the healthiest foods you can consume for your overall health.
Protein: Meat and Seafood
Protein helps build muscle, prevent injuries and boost your metabolism. Animal-based protein is particularly important because meat, seafood and eggs contain all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). “Essential” means the body cannot produce these on its own (1).
Organ meats such as liver, tongue and heart are some of the healthiest foods you can buy. A 100-gram portion of beef liver contains over 1000% of your daily B12 allowance, over 200% of your daily riboflavin (or B2 vitamins), and over 700% your daily needs for copper (4). Organ meats are great sources of EPA and DHA, two omega–3 fatty acids which are essential for improving brain health, depression and cognitive function(5)(6).
Is grass-fed really worth the hype? Actually, yes — there is a nutritional difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef contains less fat, more CLA, more omega–3 fatty acids and more vitamins (most notably vitamin E) than grain-fed beef (7). CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is an essential fatty acid and antioxidant, linked to lowering cancer risk and lowering body fat (8).
A healthy gut is the core of your overall health, so it’s important to keep your gut strong and healthy. Bone broth has been shown to help heal and restore the lining of your gut (the walls of your intestines). How? Bone broth contains L-glutamine, an amino acid, that is crucial for the gut’s ability to heal itself from wear and tear caused by stress and diet.
A healthy diet that includes bone broth has been shown to help decrease intestinal permeability, which contributes to the prevention of certain diseases, reverses leaky gut syndrome, and reduces symptoms related to Crohn’s disease (10).
Eggs once got a bad rap for containing cholesterol, but after 60 years of research eggs have been shown to have no significant effect on raising LDL cholesterol levels (2). Eggs are one of the most affordable, easy-to-prepare and nutrient dense foods on this list. One large contains 6 grams of protein and just 70 calories. They are an excellent source of vitamin B12, vitamin A, riboflavin, selenium and phosphorus (3).
Fatty fish, like salmon, contain a healthy dose of fats and protein. Half a filet of salmon contains 40 grams of protein, 100 of your daily allowance for B12 vitamins and 85% for vitamin B6 (9). Fish is a great source of omega–3 fatty acids. Omega–3 fatty acids have been shown to improve your overall heart health, including a lower risk of developing heart disease and lower high blood pressure (5).
If you have trouble digesting dairy, here’s something you should know: One cup of sardines contains quadruple the amount of Vitamin D and double the amount of calcium as a glass of milk (11)(12). Sardines are an excellent source of protein, packing 36.7 grams into a single cup. Sardines also contain over 200% of your daily allowance for B12, 112% for selenium and 73% of phosphorus.
Carbohydrates: Fruits and Vegetables
While carbohydrates might have you picturing gluten-rich foods such as pasta, bread or your favorite brown sugar oatmeal, healthy carbohydrates come from fruit and vegetables. Fill your plate with a wide variety of both — including leafy greens, low sugar fruits and safe starches.
If you’re looking for an easy way to get more vitamins and minerals, use kale instead of iceburg or butter lettuce in your favorite salads. Kale is a superfood, containing 206% of your daily allowance for vitamin A, 134% for vitamin C, 684% for vitamin K and also contains copper and manganese. And the best part? It packs all of this nutrition with just 33 calories per cup (13).
Sweet potatoes might just be the healthiest form of starch you can consume. One sweet potato contains contains choline, betaine, potassium and manganese. It also contains over 400% of your daily needs of vitamin A and is extremely high in fiber (14).
You might think of sauerkraut as more of a condiment than a vegetable, but we couldn’t leave it off this list. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, making it rich in probiotics. Add a serving of sauerkraut to any meal to improve your digestion and skin health (15). If you purchase sauerkraut rather than make your own, make sure it’s fermented — otherwise, you won’t get the health benefits from the good bacteria.
Since we touched on probiotics, we thought it best to include prebiotics on this list too. Probiotics and prebiotics should be taken together because they help “feed” one another. Jerusalem artichokes are a one of the best sources of prebiotics, and have been shown to improve the overall health of intestinal cells (16) and increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut (17).
While fruits like apples, oranges and bananas are packed with micronutrients, they are also incredibly high in sugar. Berries, on the other hand, are relatively low in sugar while still containing high amounts of vitamins and antioxidants. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries have some of the highest amounts of antioxidants in fruits (18).The antioxidants in raspberries have been shown to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (19).
Healthy Fats: Nuts, Seeds and Cooking Fats
While scientists once thought fat makes people fat, new studies show that eating healthy dietary fats can actually boost your metabolism (20). Fats give you energy, help you absorb vitamins and minerals and promote brain health. Plus, fats are extremely satiating, which can actually help promote weight loss. When consuming fats, it’s best to consume them from quality sources, avoiding unhealthy fats like fried foods, processed food and heated seed oils.
Coconut products like flour, oil, flakes and butter are excellent sources of healthy fats. Coconut contains a certain type of fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are easily digested by the liver and therefore can be used as an energy source (21). MCTs have also been shown to help reduce the onset of obesity by speeding up your metabolism (22).
Ghee is clarified butter, made by heating butter then removing the milk solids. This removes casein protein and lactose from ghee, meaning those who have lactose intolerance can usually consume it. Ghee is a good source of healthy fats like CLA and butyric acid, a fatty acid shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation (23)(24).
Chia might just be one of the healthiest foods you can find, with a healthy dose of omega–3 fatty acids. They’re extremely high in fiber, resulting in only 1 gram of net carbs per serving. One ounce of these little seeds contains 4.4 grams of protein, 30% of your daily magnesium and 18% of your daily calcium intake (25).
Nuts — like almonds — provide a healthy dose of fats and can be ground into flour or meal which, like coconut, can be used as a gluten-free flour. One cup of almonds contains 24 grams of protein, 56 grams of fat and 12 grams of fiber (26). Almonds are a good source of calcium, copper, magnesium and iron. In fact, one cup contains 24% of your daily iron needs.
Eating Food for Health
Your overall health is directly impacted by the foods you eat. While an optimal diet will vary person to person, a good starting point is eating real, whole foods and avoiding processed and packaged foods.
If you are looking to take things one step further, and use your diet to help heal leaky gut or other ailments, check out this Leaky Gut Diet Plan, complete with a detailed list of which foods you should enjoy (and which to avoid) to improve your gut health.
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