Almonds are a rich source of fiber, protein, heart-healthy fat, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, making them a one-stop food. "[They make] a great snack but watch your portion size as almonds are high in calories," warns Johnson. "Stick to no more than one ounce." That's 23 whole, shelled nuts.
While the monounsaturated fat works to lower LDL cholesterol, their significant dose of vitamin E provides antioxidant power. What's more, a quarter-cup of almonds has about 100 milligrams of magnesium (about 25 percent of a daily allowance), which promotes vascular and heart health, and 257 milligrams of potassium, which helps prevent high blood pressure.
These benefits also have a track record in real-world scenarios: in five longitudinal cohort studies, including the Iowa Women Health Study and the Nurses' Study, researchers found that replacing some portion of carbohydrate with nuts like almonds led to a heart disease risk reduction of 30 percent.
And in a study in the journal Metabolism, researchers found that eating almonds along with a high glycemic index food (such as white bread, potatoes or sweets) at breakfast significantly lowered the overall glycemic index of the meal by helping to modulate the postprandial blood sugar rise.
Apples are an "excellent source of pectin, a soluble fiber that can lower blood cholesterol," says Wixom. The fruit is also high in fiber and its peel contains something called ursolic acid, which has been shown in recent studies to lower the incidence of obesity.
"Apples also contain quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can help in preventing respiratory problems," Heather Bauer tells The Huffington Post. "Research shows that pregnant women who incorporated apples into their daily diet were less likely to give birth to a child with asthma."
These small greenish-yellow veggies are jam-packed with fiber -- 12 grams per cup, in fact. And a diet sufficient in fiber helps to promote healthy weight and cholesterol levels -- and digestive health. But what's more, a 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that artichoke hearts had the highest antioxidant density of any vegetable, beating out such well-known antioxidant powerhouses as blueberries, dark chocolate and grapes.
Packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat that help people feel satiated, avocados are also rich sources of vitamin C, E, potassium, and lutein. And, points out Politi, when paired with salsa or salad, the monounsaturated fat helps us better absorb carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene -- an important class of antioxidants found in many vegetables that help to protect against everything from cancer to eye health problems to heart disease.
Early research has also found that the fruit could play a role in inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer cells.
"The dark red color indicates the powerful phytonutrient package of beets," Diekman tells The Huffington Post. Indeed beets are rich in betalains, such as betanin and vulgaxanthin, that give them their pigment and also have anti-inflammation and antioxidant properties.
Beyond that, beets contain significant amounts of folate, vitamin C, B6, iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, zinc, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine.
Thanks to a certain gross-out childhood rhyme, everyone knows that beans are good for your heart thanks to a high fiber content. Their fiberous quality also makes them protective against certain cancers and a top-rated food for diabetics, per the American Diabetes Association. And when combined with a grain, they comprise a high-quality vegetarian source of complete protein.
Beans are an excellent dietary source of folate and also have high levels of iron, potassium and magnesium, according to Wixom, which help with bone health and blood pressure levels.
The peppers are "loaded with vitamin C," says Joy Bauer. But unlike many other sources of the nutrient, bell peppers are relatively low in sugar, while also providing fiber and several antioxidants from the carotenoid class (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin). Carotenoids improve eye health, and are associated with a reduction in cancer risk and a lower risk of cardiovascular-related death. And at least one study found that they can make you appear more beautiful.
Berries are low in calories and are excellent sources of fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants and phytochemicals, and, according to Wixom, some research suggests they help with such divergent health challenges as age-related mental decline, heart disease, some cancers and urinary tract infections.
On the mental acuity front, the berries are full of anthocyanins for boosting memory, according to Joy Bauer, but that's not their only age-related benefit. "These foods are high in antioxidants, protect the body from the harmful effects of by-products known as free radicals, made normally when the body changes oxygen and food into energy," according to experts at the Penn Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania.
Along with green and white teas, black tea is full of antioxidant flavonoids. "Studies suggest [they] may have strong anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties, be protective against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Heller. "Just don't load your tea up with sugar and cream!"
On the other hand, adding a squeeze of lemon could help your body absorb antioxidants as well. But don't think that the compounds from tea are just the same as those found in other antioxidant-rich items like fruits and vegetables -- flavonoids are distinctly different, according to tea researcher John Weisburger, who told WebMD: ""In my lab, we found that green and black tea had identical amounts of polyphenols. We found that both types of tea blocked DNA damage associated with tobacco and other toxic chemicals. In animal studies, tea-drinking rats have less cancer."
While all berries provide healthful antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and phytochemicals, studies show that blueberries have a particular and unique health benefit.
"Among the fruits with the highest level of antioxidants, blueberries have been linked to lowering cholesterol, reducing diabetes risk, slowing the aging process, improving motor skills and supporting urinary and vision health," says Fitzgerald. "The compound, anthocynanin, gives blueberries their color and may be the main component of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties."
"Broccoli is high in fiber, low in calories, rich in the antioxidants vitamin C and beta carotene," says Young. But that's not all: according to Politi, the cruciferous vegetable is also rich in vitamins K, E, B and the minerals, calcium, iron, selenium and potassium. And that means broccoli is something of a wonder-food, promoting eye health and preventing macular degeneration with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin; protecting against cancer, heart disease, stroke; building strong bones, thanks to calcium; and fortifying the immune system.
But it's their richness in sulforaphane (what also gives them a slightly unpleasant smell) that research shows may help fight breast cancer. In fact, in one recent Chinese study, women who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables were 62 percent less likely to die of breast cancer and, if they had a history of breast cancer, were 35 percent less likely to experience a recurrence.
Fiber-packed and nutrient dense brown rice helps fill you up while being relatively low in calories," says Johnson. What's more, a 2010 Harvard study found that eating two or more servings of brown rice helped protect against Type 2 diabetes, compared to five servings of white rice, which actually increased the risk. And a 2006 rat study found that brown rice might specifically help to lower blood pressure.
"Consuming cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts may play a role in protecting against heart disease perhaps by reducing inflammation," Zied tells The Huffington Post. They contain important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of ALA), vitamin A, B vitamins (thiamine, niacin, and folate), and vitamin E, according to Zied.
And that's not all: according to a resource for breast cancer patients from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the antioxidant, antiestrogen and chemopreventive properties of the Brussels sprouts may make them useful in preventing recurrence of cancer.
These tartly sweet fruits are packed with vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, and are a low-calorie food to boot.
Zied explains that they also are a good source of fiber, and have virtually no sodium or fat.
Cherries are "packed with antioxidants, and emerging studies suggest that eating cherries or drinking cherry juice may promote heart health, play a role in pain management, support recovery from exercise, and even help you fall asleep faster," Zied tells HuffPost.
Experts at the Penn Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania also note that cherries' antioxidants help to "protect the body from the harmful effects of by-products known as free radicals, made normally when the body changes oxygen and food into energy."
Flickr photo by D H Wright
Chia seeds are actually from the Salvia hispanica plant, and have been a part of the diets of the Aztecs and Mayans. The little seeds are super-rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which research has shown to be important in lowering inflammation in the body and reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Heather Bauer says that she loves putting chia seeds as a topping for yogurt in order to boost calcium and fiber intake.
"A one tablespoon sprinkle contains 6 grams of fiber and is full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation," Bauer tells HuffPost. "They're also abundant in antioxidants and contain more calcium than milk per serving."
And Joy Bauer says that chia seeds actually have more calcium and fiber than the notoriously healthy flaxseed.
Flickr photo by little blue hen
Ah, coffee. The perks of this remarkable brew have been more and more researched lately, with potential health benefits including the ability to protect against heart failure, lower depression risk, lower risk of some cancers, protect against diabetes and possibly even help you live longer.
Joy Bauer also points out that coffee is high in antioxidants, which is great for brain health.
This little red fruit is actually a powerful urinary tract infection preventer, as it's able to stop bacteria from clinging to the urinary tract walls, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that there is not yet enough evidence to say that cranberries can actually treat UTIs.
Some studies have also shown that cranberries have lots of antioxidants and may even be able to lower the amount of dental plaque we have in our mouths (which is a risk factor for gum disease, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
However, it's important to keep in mind that juices made of cranberries often contain high amounts of sugar, so look out for types that are sugar free, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises.
Flickr photo by Bruce Foster
How sweet it is that this sweet can actually be good for us?
Ding notes that the flavonoids in cocoa are able to protect the heart from disease by lowering blood pressure, raising levels of "good" cholesterol and lowering levels of "bad" cholesterol, helping with blood flow and even improving insulin sensitivity.
However, Ding also says that chocolate is high in calories and fat, and so supplements of cocoa flavonoids may be a better option for getting the full benefits of chocolate, instead of eating several bars a day.
For more health benefits of chocolate, click here.
Flickr photo by cursedthing
This green soy bean is packed to the gills with important nutrients like folate, protein, magnesium, potassium and fiber, Heller says, estimating that "one half a cup has about 8 grams of protein."
And studies have shown that soy-containing foods -- such as tofu and edamame -- may even be able to protect the body from diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, Heller says.
Flickr photo by joyosity
"Eggs provide perfect protein in a nutrient-rich, low-calorie, low-fat package," Katz says.
That's because they are full of choline -- which is good for memory -- as well as the vision protectors lutein and zeaxanthin, Harvard Medical School says.
Eggs do contain cholesterol -- about 212 milligrams per large egg, according to Harvard Medical School -- but the Mayo Clinic points out that having four egg yolks a week doesn't seem to have an effect in increasing heart disease risk or most people.
Eggs' "dietary cholesterol is of limited, if any, importance," Katz says.
Flickr photo by telepathicparanoia
Flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans (a phytonutrient linked with lower risks of heart disease and possibly some cancers), Katz says.
HuffPost blogger Kathy Freston, a health activist and author, notes in a past blog post that the abundant amount of fiber in flax seed makes you feel full faster and keeps blood sugar stable.
Freston notes in her blog post that flaxseeds can be purchased ground or whole (and you can grind them on your own in a coffee grinder) and then added to foods like oatmeal, salads or smoothies.
A "superstar of Traditional Chinese Medicine," ginger root can be consumed as a tea (from boiled root) or eaten sliced as part of a dish, according to Fitzgerald.
"Ginger has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties, can help with nausea and digestive challenges [and] possesses anti-viral properties," she says.
The National Institutes of Health also notes that ginger -- fresh dried, and/or juiced-- can also be used to treat migraines, toothache, rheumatism, cough, upper respiratory tract infections, stomach pain and burns.
Flickr photo by Dinner Series
Even though Greek yogurt is trendy right now, it does live up to its nutritional name, says Diekman. Greek yogurt provides "a good dose of protein and is an important source of calcium, potassium and phosphorous."
In fact, the amount of protein obtained from Greek yogurt is actually twice that of traditional yogurt, Joy Bauer notes.
However, U.S. News reports that Greek yogurt does have a significant fat content, with 16 grams of saturated fat in a six-ounce full-fat Greek yogurt from Fage. Therefore, to decrease fat intake, it may be wise to choose low-fat or nonfat options.
Green tea, made of unfermented tea leaves, has the highest amount of polyphenols -- a kind of plant-derived antioxidant -- compared to other teas, Politi says. These antioxidants keep the heart and brain healthy, and even protect against cancer.
Recently, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that elderly people who made green tea consumption a part of regular life were also more likely to retain their independence and not have "functional disability."
Studies have also shown that drinking three cups of green tea a day can decrease heart attack rate by 11 percent, and that it can also raise levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, the University of Maryland Medical Center reported. Other research has linked drinking green tea with lower levels of bladder, breast and colorectal cancer.
Flickr photo by mckaysavage
This dark leafy green is loaded with calcium, which is good for bone and teeth health.
"Kale contains most of the important vitamins and minerals needed to help the body grow and work the way it should," say experts at the Penn Institute On Aging. "Vitamins help resist infections, keep nerves healthy, and help the body get energy from food or blood to clot properly."
Kefir is a probiotic drink made of milk, typically from cows or goats, that has been fermented with kefir grains.
Forberg notes that the beverage is a "scrumptious source of calcium, protein and probiotics to aid our digestion," and is also a welcome substitute in smoothies for milk or yogurt.
Studies have shown that probiotics can improve our health by amping up the immune system and fighting infections. For the complete guide to probiotics, click here.
Think you need meat to fulfill your protein requirements? Think again. As The Huffington Post reported earlier this month, just a cup of lentils is loaded with 18 grams of protein (about the same amount as three ounces of steak). That means lentils have enough high quality protein to substitute for meat in your diet, Katz says.
And when that protein is combined with the fiber in lentils, it becomes a "dynamic duo" for satiety, Zied explains. "Not only do they fill you up and give you the unique combination of complex carbohydrates -- essential fuel that your body and brain rely on -- and protein," she says, "but they also provide valuable vitamins and minerals including folate, manganese, thiamin, potassium and copper."
They may also lower LDL (or bad cholesterol), raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower heart disease, according to Zeid.
This breakfast superstar is a great source of soluble fiber, Diekman says -- and that means it keeps you full way past the morning hours. Oatmeal is also a proven cholesterol reducer.
Oats are additionally a solid source of vitamins B1, B2 and E, and minerals zinc and iron, Politi says.
Added bonus? Diekman points out that oatmeal tastes great with berries and walnuts as toppings, both of which are on the list in their own right.
This heart-healthy oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids (also known as MUFAs), which, according to experts at the Penn Institute on Aging, provide energy and keep you feeling fuller longer.
MUFAs are among the so-called healthy class of fats that might lower risk of heart disease. "For instance, MUFAs may lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels," Donald Hensrud, M.D. told the Mayo Clinic, pointing out that these fats might also help with clotting. "And some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have Type 2 diabetes."
Just remember that olive oil isn't low-cal (one tablespoon has 119 calories) so stick with a drizzle to max out your benefits without overdoing it on your calorie count.
Oranges (and their other citrus cousins, like grapefruit) are a solid source of fiber, folate, antioxidants, photochemicals and, of course, vitamin C, Wixom says. And, in turn, vitamin C is important for immune function, wound healing and as an aid in iron absorption, she explains.
"Not only do they taste great, but they fill you up because of their protein and fiber content," Zied says of these little green nuts. She also points out that they make a good source of nutrients such as vitamin B6, thiamin, copper and phosphorous, as well as some potassium.
Pistachios also rank high for antioxidant content, Zied says, and several studies have linked them to heart health (including new research recently published in the journal Hypertension, suggesting that the nut might reduce blood pressure when under stress).
These tasty little seeds pack a powerful punch of antioxidants to promote heart health, Forberg says. Pomegranate is also a good source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K, according to Self Nutrition Data.
Forberg suggests adding them to cereal, using them to top off a salad, squeezing the juice into a cocktail or just snacking on them plain.
Potatoes get a bad rap -- and for good reason when they're fried up or slathered in butter. But in their pure form, spuds can actually find a place in a healthy diet. According to Zied, potatoes are, "rich in complex carbohydrates, relatively low in calories, and virtually free of fat, cholesterol and sodium." They're also rich in vitamin C, B and potassium -- and the skins contain dietary fiber that helps to fill you up, she explains.
One small, preliminary 2011 study also found that purple potatoes might help to lower blood pressure, maybe even as much as oatmeal, USA Today reported when the findings were released.
According to Forberg, quinoa is easy to prepare and versatile -- it works in everything from breakfast to dinner. And it's healthy, to boot.
Forberg calls quinoa a "powerhouse of nutrition," as well as a "complete protein." According to Self Nutrition Data, it's also a solid source of magnesium, phosphorus and especially manganese.
Cheers to this one: according to Young, red wine (and red grapes) contain resveratrol, a compound that acts as an antioxidant and might even reduce inflammation and blood clot formation. Not bad for 100 calories in a four ounce serving (just remember that experts typically define moderate drinking as one glass a day for women and two for men -- anything beyond that can cause health problems).
On top of these red wine-specific perks, alcohol in general has been found to boost our good cholesterol, or HDL, Politi points out.
Salmon was perhaps one of the most popular items among our experts -- almost all of them recommended including it. As Katz puts it, this fish superstar is a "delicious source of great protein and concentrated omega 3," he says. "What more needs to be said?"
Forberg explains that those omega 3s make you healthy from the inside out, promoting heart health, brain health, soft skin and shiny hair.
For more on how to pick the healthiest salmon (wild vs. farmed, frozen vs. fresh, etc.), check out this piece from our partner, EatingWell.
Nutritionist and author Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of "The 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth," once told the New York Times that sardines are basically "health food in a can."
These little fish (their name, in fact, means "small fish") are among the best sources of Omega-3 fats, according to Eating Well, with a full 1,950 milligrams per three ounce serving. And Omega-3s, in turn, help with blood clotting and support healthy brain function, among other health benefits.
Sardines also pack a healthy punch of niacin, calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium. Added bonus? HuffPost blogger Dr. Andrew Weil points out on his website that because sardines are closer to the bottom of the food chain, they don't have the same contaminants found in larger fish.
"This is my favorite low-calorie food for when I'm craving something salty and crunchy," Heather Bauer says. She explains that it's packed with vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iodine, which helps to regulate and maintain the health of the thyroid.
According to an article last year in Science Daily, researchers have targeted seaweed, which has been eaten for centuries in other parts of the world, as a possible rich source of bioactive peptides:
Maria Hayes and colleagues Ciarán Fitzgerald, Eimear Gallagher and Deniz Tasdemir note increased interest in using bioactive peptides, now obtained mainly from milk products, as ingredients in so-called functional foods. Those foods not only provide nutrition, but have a medicine-like effect in treating or preventing certain diseases.
Seaweed is low-cal, too -- most brands have fewer than 50 calorie per package, according to Bauer. For more on the nutrition benefits of various types, click over to this list from Oprah.com.
"This delicacy has been shown to lower cholesterol and improve the immune response," says Fitzgerald. "Shiitake contains a compound lentinan, which has been found to have powerful anti-cancer properties."
Lentinan is believed to stop or slow tumor growth, according to the American Cancer Society.
At least one clinical trial found lentinan, in conjunction with chemotherapy, helped stomach and colorectal cancer patients live longer. Animal studies, such as a study in mice that found lentinan in high purity reduced the size of colon cancer tumors, have shown even more promising results, according to the ACS.
While the taste can take some adjusting to if you're used to a richer milk, the fat-free variety is "low in calories while rich in several nutrients that are low in many Americans' diets," says Johnson, like calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
And a recent study found that people who eat and drink low-fat dairy products, including skim milk, have a lower stroke risk than people who eat high-fat dairy foods.
This leafy green, along with kale (also on our list), is rich in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which keep eyesight sharp, says Joy Bauer. It's also full of vitamin A and packs a serious calcium punch, with 245 milligrams in a cup of the cooked stuff, almost as much as a glass of milk.
A half-cup of cooked, fresh spinach also contains 3.2 milligrams of iron -- more than beef -- according to the CDC. (Keep in mind, however, that non-heme sources of iron don't absorb as easily, so eat your spinach with some vitamin-C-rich foods to make them more bioavailable.)
These sweet red berries are low in calories and rich in fiber, says Johnson. Plus, they are packed with vitamin C: one serving (147 grams) contains over 86 milligrams -- more than an orange and even more than one day's recommended amount, she says.
Strawberries have also been linked to slower cognitive decline in older adults and may protect the stomach in a way that could be used to treat stomach ulcers.
"An ideal addition to salads to provide a different flavor, they have a great nutty taste that'll add some kick to your greens," says Heather Bauer. "They're loaded with health-boosting components such as chlorophyll, antioxidants and vitamin D for bone and muscle health. In addition, they contain tons of digestive enzymes, crucial for GI health."
Sprouts in general may fight certain cancers, help with menopause symptoms and lower cholesterol, among other benefits, according to the Times Of India. However, they have taken some heat for possible involvement in recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.
"Sweet potatoes boast vitamin A and beta carotene, which makes them effective weapons to help keep your immune system strong," says Zied. They're also a good source of fiber, folate and potassium, adds Wixom.
They can additionally give your skin a boost. Beta carotene jumpstarts skin cell production, helping repair damage and leaving you looking silkier.
But don't confuse them with yams. Turns out, the two aren't even related. In most cases, the orangey starch you're used to seeing labels "yams" is just a sweet potato by the wrong name.
Full of vitamin C and low in calories, tomatoes are also "rich in lycopene, which may help fight cancer," says Young. Lycopene, a fat-soluble nutrient, has been shown to help fight prostate, lung and stomach cancers in particular, according to the ACS.
"Known for its significant anti-inflammatory properties, this root may provide relief for those with arthritis," says Fitzgerald, as well as diabetes, allergies and Alzheimer's. "The anti-cancer properties of this popular Indian spice are impressive."
Among those properties: University of Texas studies found that curcumin, the main component of turmeric, stopped skin cancer growth and slowed the spread of breast cancer to the lungs. It may also increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation.
Plus, spices in general are smarter ways to add flavor to dishes than adding salt or fat.
While you might think of sardines or salmon first when you consider healthy, fatty fish, tuna is not to be forgotten. It's a smart source of iron, protein and omega 3's, which keep your brain functioning properly and reduce the risk of heart problems, among other benefits.
Just be sure to look for albacore tuna that's been troll- or pole-caught in the U.S. or British Columbia. EatingWell reported smaller, younger fish are usually caught this way, and typically have lower levels of mercury or other unwelcome contaminants. (Albacore is the light-colored tuna most often found in cans.)
These nuts are "the one nut that is a good source of omega-3 oil," says Katz, notably alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which has been linked to decreasing inflammation. They also contain fiber and an array of vitamins, he adds, plus protein Young points out.
"Walnuts made history in 2004 when they became the first food that the FDA allowed to make a qualified health claim," says Fitzgerald. "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."
Don't underestimate the power of a simple glass of water. Soaking up 91 ounces (women) or 125 ounces (men) a day keeps skin smooth and memory sharp, protects the joints and can even help you shed those couple extra pounds.
Not to mention, the body couldn't perform a number of key processes without H20. "Water helps the body digest food, absorb nutrients from food and then get rid of the unused waste," according to experts from the Penn Instutute on Aging. They also point out you don't only have to drink it -- there is plenty of water in high-water-content foods like watermelon and cucumbers and in other liquids, too.
And did we mention it's the only food or drink with absolutely zero calories?
"Black, green and white teas contain antioxidants called flavonoids that studies suggest may have strong anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties, be protective against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Heller. "Just don't load your tea up with sugar and cream!"
White tea in particular may have a more powerful anticancer punch, according to WebMD. That may be at least in part due to its higher concentration of antioxidants compared to green tea, Katz explains. "Green tea is made from the mature leaves; white tea from the buds before the leaves unfold," he says.
White tea's anti-inflammatory properties may also help reduce wrinkles and fight rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2009 study.