Improving your diet can seem like a lofty goal, one that people often think requires rigid self-discipline and sacrifice. Cupcakes out, pizza out, treats out, sigh.
But it doesn’t really have to be that way. Sometimes making better decisions for your body can be about adding — not taking away. This may create a more palatable option for those looking for a health boost that feels like a bonus, not a burden.
But what to add? I asked Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for her advice on what foods pack the biggest nutritional punch to a daily diet. Below is her list of five well-balanced options that she says you should eat every day — or at least as often as possible.
1. Salmon. This oily fish, known for its bright pink color, is rich not only in healthy protein but also in omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit both your heart and your brain. It also provides you with bone-building vitamin D. Still, serving up salmon every day would be a stretch for most people. Aim instead to eat it at least once a week to reap the health benefits, says Fung.
2. Brussels sprouts. These crunchy little green balls, which look like mini-cabbages, are nutrient-dense and low in calories — only 28 in half a cup. They offer up a well-rounded group of vitamins, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and folate. Like other cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts feature bioactive compounds, such as antioxidants, which are chemicals that help prevent cell damage inside your body. Taste-wise, Brussels sprouts may be a controversial pick, because while they’re certainly cute, some people find them bitter. If you’re firmly in the “dislike” camp, you can substitute other green vegetables for Brussels sprouts to get a similar nutritional boost. But keep an open mind. You can reduce the bitterness of Brussels sprouts by roasting them with a spritz of olive oil. Add some chopped nuts to the top for a little extra crunch and flavor (as well as extra benefits; see below).
3. Blueberries. These dark-colored little berries are high in antioxidants, particularly vitamin C, says Fung. Weighing in at 56 calories for 100 grams, blueberries also offer up a good dose of vitamin A and fiber. While most grocery stores will stock blueberries year-round, feel free to substitute another dark-colored fruit — like pomegranates or cherries — if blueberries aren’t in season. Or for some variety, swirl up some frozen blueberries, which taste good at any time of year, with plain yogurt (see below) to make a smoothie.
4. Nuts. Crunchy and satisfying, nuts not only are filling but also provide an infusion of healthy oils, protein, and vitamin E. Choose any type of nuts: almonds, walnuts, even peanuts (technically a legume), or grab a handful of mixed nuts. Just make sure they’re unsalted, says Fung. But keep in mind these are a high-calorie treat. Depending on the type of nut you choose, an ounce can ring in at 200 calories or more — so limit daily intake to a sprinkling to get the benefits without packing on any extra pounds.
5. Plain yogurt. This creamy treat gives you a dose of probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that help keep your gut working properly and contribute to better overall health. Yogurt is a nutrient-rich food that fuels your body with protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B12, and some key fatty acids that your body needs to stay healthy. And if you choose a high-protein yogurt, it can keep you feeling full, which may help you trim your waistline. While you may prefer flavored yogurts, it’s better to stick with plain. “The problem with flavored yogurt is some of the brands out there have way too much sugar,” says Fung. Sugar negates many of the health benefits of yogurt. Plain yogurt too tart? Toss in some blueberries for added sweetness, says Fung, or add nuts for some crunch. These simple additions can improve the taste, and you can check off three of the foods on this list in one easy snack.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 NIV
As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Proverbs 27:19 NIV
May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 NIV
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4 NIV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 | NIV
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 NIV
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 NIV
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 NIV
My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV
The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:8 NIV
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. Psalm 119:10 NIV
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24 NIV
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NIV
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