50+ of the Most Nutrient-Dense Everyday Foods on the Planet
Superfoods, nutrient-dense or nourishing foods are often thought to be foods that are foreign to us, foods that we don’t necessarily find easily and that sometimes have funny or hard to pronounce names. From camu camu to lucuma, maqui and açaí, these superfoods seem to leave us just as fast as they stormed their way into our shopping carts.
The truth is that when it comes to food, most of the time the simplest and most budget-friendly options are the ones that provide us with the nutrients we need to thrive.
WHAT IS A NUTRIENT-DENSE FOOD
Simply put, a nutrient-dense food is a food that provides a large number of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds and is not excessive in calories. For example, leafy greens are considered a nutrient-dense option because they contain a lot of nutrients in a small amount of calories. On the other hand, French fries or plain white sugar can be more calorie dense but provide very little, if any nutrients.
While we could go on a search around the globe to find you the next ‘best’ superfood, what we want to focus on is foods that are easily found and available to many of us no matter where we live. So, we’re sharing the top 50+ everyday foods that also happen to be super high in beneficial nutrients.
50 MOST NUTRIENT-DENSE EVERYDAY FOODS
Almonds are actually an incredibly nutritious seed that’s rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, manganese and magnesium. They assist with blood sugar management, benefit heart health and a provide feeling of fullness which in turn helps with weight management.
Bonus Tip: Sprout your nuts and seeds for a higher bioavailability of nutrients.
How to eat: raw as a snack, slivered in salads/ on top of desserts, as almond flour in baking, almond butter on toast, home-made almond milk.
Recipe to try: Gluten-Free Chocolate Scones with Citrus Glaze
As the common proverb says “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, apples are one of the widest available and healthiest fruits out there. Apples are very rich in pectin, a prebiotic fiber that helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. They’re also linked with a lower rate of type 2 diabetes and contain an impressive number of beneficial antioxidants.
How to eat: sliced on their own or with some nut butter, in low sugar desserts, in salads, with overnight oats.
Recipe to try: Mouth-Watering Apple and Arugula Salad
Arugula, also known as rocket or rucola, is a cruciferous vegetable with an impressive nutritional profile. It has a tangy and peppery flavour that is softened by the addition of an acid such as lemon. Arugula is high in vitamin K that’s important for blood clotting and bone health, as well as vitamins A, C, folate and calcium. As part of the cruciferous family, it also helps lower the risk of cancer.
How to eat: in salad, on pizza, over your pasta, make pesto, in soups and smoothies.
Recipe to try: Vegan Arugula Walnut Pesto
Widely known for the ‘asparagus pee’ effect, this delicious veggie comes with a nutritious punch. Just half a cup contains 57% of the RDA for vitamin K, 34% of folate, 18% of vitamin A and 12% of vitamin C.
Fun fact: Did you know that only some people produce ‘asparagus pee’ while others don’t? In addition, only some people can smell it? The non-sniffers have what’s called asparagus anosmia, or the inability to smell it. So, technically you could be an asparagus pee producer, yet unable to smell it.
How to eat: oven roasted, steamed, in salads, breakfast, in appetizers.
Recipe to try: 5 Tasty Anti-Inflammatory Asparagus Recipes
Avocados are one of our favourite nutrient-dense foods. Rich in potassium and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados are highly anti-inflammatory and can help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Not only that, but eating avocados with other foods increases their anti-oxidant absorption by up to 15 times.
How to eat: in smoothies, salads, dips, spreads, with eggs, desserts, in place of mayo.
Recipe to try: Skin Glowing Avocado Rush Smoothie
An essential part of the Mediterranean diet, beans are one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet. They are rich in fiber that helps to balance blood sugar levels, increase the feeling of satiety and aid in weight loss.
Kidney and fava beans can be harder to digest for most people, while chickpeas, black and adzuki beans may be easier.
Cooking Tip: For better digestibility and nutrient availability, soak beans for 24-48 hours and add kombu seaweed during cooking.
How to eat: stews, soups, chili, dips, salads, desserts.
Recipe to try: Healthy Vegan Black Bean Dip
Bee pollen, the primary food for the beehive is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It contains over 200 beneficial compounds, is a complete protein and has an impressive profile of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants as well as anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Be cautious if you have allergies to bees, pollen, or honey.
How to eat: top yogurt/ cereal, add to smoothies, dips, desserts & bars.
Recipe to try: Warm Immune Boosting Elixir
Red, earthy and sweet, beets are definitely one of our favourite versatile vegetables. In addition to containing many vitamins and minerals, beets are a superfood for helping manage high blood pressure and improving athletic performance. These benefits can be attributed to their dietary nitrates content that helps to dilate blood vessels as well as increase oxygen update.
How to eat: in salads, roasted, in smoothies, desserts, soups, side dishes.
Recipe to try: Vegan Beet Burger with Avocado Mango Salsa
When you think of blueberries, most likely the first thing that pops to mind are antioxidants and that’s because blueberries are known to contain one of the highest amounts of those beneficial compounds amongst all fruits and veggies.
Anthocyanins specifically, give blueberries their beautiful color and can be attributed for most of their benefits including helping control blood sugar, protect against heart disease and reduce DNA damage.
How to eat: add on top of breakfast, snacks, salads, yogurt, oatmeal, in smoothies, home-made jams and sauces.
Recipe to try: Superfood-Packed Blueberry Cheesecake
Most of us would cringe at the sheer mention of broccoli, but this incredible cruciferous vegetable packs a lot of vitamins, minerals and many beneficial compounds. One of those is glucosinolates that may offer protection against several types of cancer including breast, prostate and lung.
How to eat: roasted, with dips, in salads, pasta dishes, sauces, soup.
Recipe to try: Vegan Creamy Lemon Caper Broccoli Salad
Another delicious cruciferous vegetable is cauliflower. It’s high in fiber, vitamins C, K, B6 and folate. It’s also the perfect alternative for making lower carb breads and crusts and makes a delicious healthy food alternative for rice.
How to eat: roast with tahini sauce, in soups, salads, dips, in place of rice, to make GF crust.
Recipe to try: 2-Ingredient Cauliflower Pizza Crust
These little seeds can be traced back to the Aztecs and Mayans who used chia seeds to gain strength and stamina. In fact, the word ‘chia’ is an ancient Mayan word that means strength.
Chia seeds are an incredible source of fiber, omega 3s, calcium and iron and are known to help promote good gut health.
How to eat: soak for best absorption, in smoothies, pudding, with overnight oats, in baking as egg replacement, chia water.
Recipe to try: Chia, Banana and Almond Pudding Parfait
Yes, we know that they should have been part of the bean family, but our special love for hummus landed chickpeas their own spot.
High in fiber, protein and iron, chickpeas help manage blood sugar levels, are great for your heart, hormone regulation, and aid in detox and weight loss. They’re also wonderful for the health of your gut, and are relatively inexpensive to buy.
How to eat: in dips, salads, soups, curry, falafel, roasted as a snack, in desserts.
Recipe to try: Spinach & Artichoke Hummus
Is there anything that coconut cannot solve? Used in anything from food to toothpaste, deodorants and moisturizers, coconut has gained a lot of popularity over the past few years.
Coconut water, coconut milk, sugar, cream, jam and even vinegar are some coconut products that have made it into store shelves, but none is more popular than coconut oil. Coconut oil contains what are known as Medium-Chain-Triglycerides (MCTs) that are used as a quick source of energy, and don’t get stored by the body.
How to eat: in desserts, ice-cream and ice pops, milk, curries, pies, hot drinks, coconut water.
Recipe to try: Creamy Coconut Ice-Cream
If there’s one food that tops the charts in terms of pleasure and nutrition, it’s definitely chocolate. Our love for chocolate runs deep, we even have a page dedicated to all of our chocolate recipes.
High-quality chocolate is an incredible source of antioxidants (higher than blueberries) as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium. It helps to protect your body from oxidation, acts as food for your healthy gut bacteria and is also high in the ‘beauty nutrient’ sulfur. Just make sure to choose 70%+.
How to eat: in baking, desserts, hot or cold drinks and pure 70% chocolate as is.
Recipe to try: Salted Chocolate Nut Butter Cups
Eggs are without a doubt one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. In terms of biological value (BV) or the percentage of protein that is absorbed by an organism, eggs rank near the top of the chart.
They are rich in many nutrients, most notably choline, a B vitamin that’s found in the egg yolk. Choline is very important for the structure of cell membranes, as well as the nervous system and brain. It’s also a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of. Just 2 eggs provide you with 50% of your daily requirement.
How to eat: boil, poach, fry, bake, frittata, omelettes, quiche, in baking and desserts, salads, stir-fries.
Recipe to try: Chipotle Breakfast Burrito
Flax seeds are typically associated with women’s hormone health and for good reasons. They contain plant compounds called lignans, which are weak plant-based estrogens that may help lower the risk of breast cancer for some women as well as offer other health benefits. They are also high in fiber and omega 3, and known to help reduce high cholesterol and benefit cardiovascular health.
To be absorbed by the body, flax seeds must be ground, and since they’re prone to oxidation, make sure to store any ground flax in an airtight container in the fridge once opened.
How to eat: on top of oats, yogurt, in smoothies, salads, in baking and as egg replacement.
Recipe to try: Spiced Flaxseed Schnitzel Bites
Garlic, one of the oldest natural remedies used by many ancient civilizations is also one of the most studied with a lot of scientific research to back its benefits.
Cooking Tip: Mince garlic 10 minutes before adding it to any dish. This allows its main active compound, allicin to be produced.
How to eat: add to salads, soups, dips, pasta dishes, crusts, and in many recipes as a flavour enhancer.
Recipe to try: Creamy Eggplant Spinach Dip with Garlic
A powerful anti-inflammatory, ginger has been used by athletes to help relieve muscle soreness, and by women for menstrual pain. It’s also known as a natural remedy to help with nausea, morning sickness and tummy aches. Most of the beneficial effects can be attributed to its main active compound, gingerol.
How to eat: tea, in smoothies and drinks, soups, sauces, salads, in cooking to add flavour.
Recipe to try: Homemade Ginger Ale
Hemp (not to be confused with marijuana), are the crunchy seeds of the hemp plant that are usually hulled to give the creamy, soft and earthy hemp hearts, but are often still referred to as hemp seeds.
Hemp seeds have the ideal 1:3 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. They are also an amazing source of highly bioavailable plant-based protein and contain all the essential amino acids, so they are an amazing addition to vegan or vegetarian diets.
How to eat: on top of salads, yogurt, oats, cereal, to make granola, desserts, in smoothies, dips and sauces.
Recipe to try: Banana Bread Hemp Energy Bites
Truly one of the most nutrient-dense greens on the planet, just a single cup of kale provides you with over 200% of the RDA for vitamin A, 135% of vitamin C, and almost 700% of vitamin K, in addition to many other vitamins and minerals including manganese, calcium, potassium and vitamin B6.
Cooking Tip: Many people give up on kale as it can be quite tough to chew and tasteless on its own. The key to making kale taste great is to massage the leaves with a little olive oil until it’s tender, then proceed with your recipe.
How to eat: in salads, smoothies, soups, as chips, in stews, pesto, sautéed.
Recipe to try: Sweet Heat Kale Salad with Shrimp
Kefir, also known as búlgaros is a fermented milk drink that originated in Eastern Europe. It’s much more potent than yogurt in terms of probiotic content, which makes it wonderful for the digestive system
How to eat: with fruits, in smoothies, desserts, sauces.
Recipe to try: Banana Blueberry Kefir Smoothie
One of the richest sources of vitamin C, lemons add a delicious, nutritious and refreshing boost to any recipe. They’re an incredible source of antioxidants and lemon peels are known to have a compound called “limonene” that is being researched in the prevention of cancer.
How to eat: in dressings, sauces, dips, smoothies and drinks.
Recipe to try: Cool & Refreshing Raw Lemon Cheesecake
While regular honey does have its benefits, the New Zealand native manuka honey tops the charts in terms of antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Manuka honey has been used successfully to help those with gastric ulcers, and it’s also used topically to help speed up wound healing.
How to eat: best as is, add to yogurt, oats, smoothies, desserts, sauces, dressings.
Recipe to try: Citrus Salad with Manuka, Vanilla & Pistachio
Did you know that there are over 14,000 different varieties of mushrooms?
While most of them are actually not edible, the ones that are have an incredible health profile. They contain many nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C, iron, zinc, folate, manganese, potassium, copper, and some B vitamins. They’re also one of the few foods that contain vitamin D (if they’re sun grown).
How to eat: in soups, salads, use as buns, burgers, in stews.
Recipe to try: Portobello Mushroom Bowl
The king of breakfast meals, oats absolutely had to make this list. They contain beta-glucan, a prebiotic fiber that feeds healthy gut bacteria, helps to reduce LDL cholesterol and keeps you feeling full due to its effect on managing blood sugar levels. Oats are also high in iron, zinc, folate, B vitamins, magnesium and manganese.
How to eat: breakfast oatmeal, overnight oats, granola, energy bars, baking, soups, desserts.
Recipe to try: Warm Nut Butter Oats
The Mediterranean diet was voted as the best diet for 2019. Apart from its focus on vegetables, legumes and seafood, the Mediterranean diet encourages the use of olive oil versus processed vegetable oils for all your cooking needs.
Rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oil to cook with and has been scientifically proven to help reduce the risk of heart disease, and protect the brain.
How to eat: in cooking, salads, sauces, dips.
Recipe to try: Sweet & Spicy Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
This delicious tropical fruit contains bromelain, a natural enzyme that aids in the digestion of proteins. Pineapple also contains natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and the alphabet of vitamins and minerals.
How to eat: fruit salad, with yogurt, pudding, in desserts, baking and smoothies.
Recipe to try: No Added Sugar Pina Colada Chia Pudding
Pumpkin seeds are one of the biggest sources of zinc that’s important for the immune system, prostate health and wound healing.
They are also quite high in protein, iron, magnesium and healthy fats and they are the perfect on-the-go snack.
How to eat: in trail mix, make nut butter, on salads, breakfast, in baking, granola, energy bars.
Recipe to try: Spiced Pumpkin Seed Cranberry Snack Bars
A complete protein and completely gluten-free, quinoa has become the most popular grain replacement in recent years. It’s packed with fiber and many vitamins and minerals including magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese.
It also contains high levels of quercetin and kaempferol, two important antioxidants to help protect our bodies from the damage of everyday stressors.
How to eat: for breakfast, in salads, stuffing, bake, as side, burger, fritters.
Recipe to try: Saffron Quinoa and Roasted Celeriac Salad
Salmon is rich in omega 3 fatty acids that most of us don’t get enough of in our diet. Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and important for heart, hormone and brain health.
How to eat: in salads, burger, patties/ cakes, baked/ roasted.
Recipe to try: Baked Ginger & Soy Salmon with Tomato Relish
Pretty much a staple in every culture, fermented foods are one of the healthiest ways to keep your gut nourished and strong. Sauerkraut is amazing for your gut, and quite easy to add to your diet.
Apart from probiotics, it’s rich in vitamins C, K, folate, and minerals like iron and manganese. Did we mention it helps to boost your immune system too?
How to eat: in salads, as a side, in sandwiches, on toast.
Recipe to try: Anti-Inflammatory Pineapple & Pear Sauerkraut
A natural source of iodine, seaweed is a staple in Asian diets. Iodine is essential for optimal thyroid function. Seaweed also contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber that support gut health.
Just make sure to eat it in moderation as some forms of seaweed may contain too much iodine and be harmful to certain people with autoimmune thyroid conditions.
How to eat: in salad, as wrap, in soups, stews, use kombu with beans, spring rolls, sushi rolls.
Recipe to try: Quinoa Nori Rolls
Sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index and don’t spike blood sugar levels; in fact, they help keep them stable. They’re also high in vitamin A, vitamin C and B vitamins. Their sweet flavour means that they can also be used as a healthier ingredient in sweets and desserts.
How to eat: baked, in salads, soups, stews, curries, desserts, cakes, icing.
Recipe to try: Best Baked Sweet Potato Fries
A potent anti-inflammatory, turmeric has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. The active compound curcumin has been heavily studied for its role in fighting pain and inflammation in patients with arthritis, reducing the risk of heart disease and in Alzheimer and cancer prevention.
Bonus Tip: Black pepper helps with the absorption of curcumin, so always make sure to add a sprinkle of pepper with any turmeric based meal.
How to eat: raw in smoothies, elixirs, curries, stews, latte.
Recipe to try: Fermented Turmeric Latte
Not a very popular green, but one of the absolutely most nutritious on the planet. Watercress has a spicy and peppery flavour and tastes great with citrus based dressings. It’s high in vitamins A, C and K, has one of the highest amounts of antioxidants amongst the cruciferous family and has been ranked as the at the top of nutrient-density charts by researchers.
How to eat: in salads, soups, sandwiches, on pizza, stir-fried, sautéed.
Recipe to try: Cleansing Watercress & Citrus Salad with Turmeric Dressing
15+ MORE FOODS TO TRY
Recipe to try: Simple Celery Soup
Recipe to try: Vegan Avocado & Cilantro Dressing
Recipe to try: Sautéed Spicy Dandelion Greens and Onions
Recipe to try: Goji Berry Spice Latte
Recipe to try: Turmeric Lentil Soup
Recipe to try: Easy Vegan French Onion Soup
Recipe to try: Oysters Rockefeller
Recipe to try: Digestion Smoothie with Papaya
Recipe to try: Grain-Free Tabbouleh Salad
Recipe to try: Pan Roasted Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Recipe to try: Vegan Raspberry Oatmeal Bars
Recipe to try: Roasted Sardines & Cherry Tomatoes
Recipe to try: Chewy Sesame Seed Bars
Recipe to try: Kale & Spinach Pizza Crust
Recipe to try: 3-Ingredient Strawberry Chia Jam
Recipe to try: Sesame & Carrot Soba Noodles with Tempeh
Various Greens (Collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens)
Recipe to try: Garlicky Collard Greens
Recipe to try: Walnut Olive Miso Magic Sauce
This amazing guest post was written by Jenni + Mimi, Registered Holistic Nutritionists and founders of Naughty Nutrition. They’re research-lovin’ nutrition mavens that have made it their mission to connect you with the most accurate, up-to-date, science-based health resources alongside simple and delicious recipes. You can download a list of their Top Free Resources here to kick-start your health and make this newfound lifestyle stick, for life.
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