A healthy diet is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay disease free. It provides optimal nutrition to support day-to-day functioning including immune response. The key lies with variety. No one food will supply everything you need. The term superfood is a bit of misnomer. However, some things stand out as superior sources of vitamins and minerals.

We’ve identified several rock stars in each food group. Each group has compelling evidence that supports adding it to your diet. They can reduce your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. These are some of the leading causes of death for which a healthy diet could make a big difference.

Fruits

Fruits are excellent sources of a wide array of vitamins including B-complex and C. These nutrients are water-soluble, meaning that your body doesn’t store them. That’s why you see recommendations for two to four daily servings. Vitamin C is especially important since it supports protein synthesis for your skin and repairing wounds.

Important food sources include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, and blueberries. Adding any of these to your diet will ensure you get adequate amounts of this essential nutrient. Adult men should get 90mg a day; women should shoot for 75mg. Our favorites are papaya or strawberries. A single serving of either will have you covered for the RDA. Sorry, fruit juices don’t count.

Vegetables

Like fruits, vegetables contain lots of vitamins for supporting good health. They are a tasty source of dietary fiber for controlling your cholesterol. They are low in fat and calories too. Many provide several nutrients that the USDA Dietary Guidelines have identified as of concern because of low intake. It makes good sense to increase the amount you get each day.

Our pick, the potato, contains the highest source of dietary potassium at 941mg in a medium-sized portion. Other smart choices include beet greens and sweet potatoes. The great thing about vegetables is that you can have unlimited servings. Try to get at least five a day to maintain your good health.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds provide a healthy source of fat and important nutrients such as vitamin E and selenium. Selenium, for example, may reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline and thyroid disease. Though you only need trace amounts, there are a limited number of foods that contain adequate amounts.

Our fav, Brazil nuts, contains all the selenium you’ll need for a day in a single nut. Other excellent choices include flaxseed and almonds. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume five one-ounce servings of nuts and seeds each week. Opt for unsalted or lightly salted varieties to keep your sodium intake in check.

Fish

Fish provide rich sources of many nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain depends on your dietary intake of these types of foods because the body can’t produce them on its own. They are essential for maintaining its structure and for their protective qualities. The great thing about fish is that they are low in saturated fats.

They are high in protein and iron. They also an excellent source of vitamin B12. This important nutrient is primarily found in animal sources. It is essential for synthesizing DNA and for producing red blood cells. Our top pick is salmon. A single three-ounce serving will provide all the omega-3 fatty acids you need for a day. Sardines and mackerel are also good choices.

Lean Meats

The emphasis here is on lean. Meat provides a tasty source of iron and other nutrients. It is a complete protein. That means you’ll get all of the essential amino acids in one serving. These chemicals are the building blocks of proteins which compose anything from muscle to organ tissues to tendons.

Like fish, meats provide a rich source of vitamin B12. There’s no denying the nutritional value of beef, our top choice. A single serving will cover most dietary needs. Lean choices include tenderloin and flank steak. If beef isn’t your thing, then chicken (white meat) and pork tenderloin are great alternatives.

Whole Grains

Whole grains provide a myriad of health benefits. They offer a delicious source of dietary fiber to help your body eliminate cholesterol. High levels are a risk factor for heart disease. Also, they can help you maintain a healthy weight by making you feel sated. They are low in fat and won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar.

Mayo Clinic recommends that women get 21 to 25 grams a fiber a day. For men, the goal is 30 to 38 grams. Whole wheat is by far the best source of fiber with 6.3 grams in a single serving of pasta. If you can’t tolerate it, brown rice and popcorn offer similar health benefits without the gluten.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes often don’t get the credit they deserve for the nutritional value they can bring to your diet. They are great sources of fiber and protein. And when combined with rice, they provide all the essential amino acids. They are a nutrient-dense food with plenty of iron and calcium.

Also, they’re low in fat. And compared to other foods, they’re relatively inexpensive to prepare. All beans shine in the nutrients that they offer. Our favorite is split peas which contain 16.3 grams of fiber per serving. Other good choices include lentils and black beans.

With all the foods we’ve listed preparation is the key. Avoid excess fat and salt when cooking them so that you won’t undermine their health value. Remember unprocessed foods like the ones we’ve listed here are your best sources. Limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 grams per day.

A healthy diet includes a wide variety of foods to provide all the essential nutrients that you need. Our picks stand out as top sources of vitamins and minerals that are crucial for good health and disease prevention. Adding them to your diet will increase your nutrient intake with foods that will support a healthy lifestyle.

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