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The 20 Most Nutrient Dense Foods You Can Eat

According to the wise folk over at the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “nutrient-dense foods” are foods that provide a high amount of essential nutrients but with relatively few calories… or in other words, food that do you the world of good without expanding your waistline in the process. If you want every mouthful to count, do your health and your weight a favor by stocking up on some of the world’s most nutrient-dense foods: we can’t promise miracles, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction to great health.

20. Sweet Potatoes

Nutritious, high in fiber, and incredibly filling, sweet potatoes make a great way to kick off our roundup. In just one medium-sized sweet potato, you’ll find a host of great properties, including a whopping 3.8 grams of fiber, one of the key nutrients in ensuring colon health. Other key nutrients include pro-vitamin A (with just 100 grams of sweet potato being all you need to reach your recommended daily amount); vitamin C (a great all-rounder and essential for immune and skin health); potassium (one of the key nutrients in controlling blood pressure); manganese (vital for proper growth, development and metabolism); vitamin b6 (crucial in the conversion of food into energy); vitamin B5 (excellent for maintaining good mental health); and vitamin E (a fat soluble antioxidant that plays a role in protecting your body from oxidative damage).

19. Sunflower Seeds

Small but mighty, just a quarter of a cup of sunflower seeds provides a whopping 82 percent of the daily value for vitamin E, a mighty antioxidant capable of strengthening immunity, maintaining good skin condition, and fighting free radicals. They’re also an excellent source of copper, vitamin B1, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, and folate, Folate in particular is dynamite for good health, doing all kinds of good things for the immune system, heart health, and nerve function. As Doctor’s Heath Press recommends, optimize the health giving properties of these little miracle seeds by choosing versions that are free from salt and other added flavorings.

18. Potatoes

It may come as a surprise to many, but the humble potato is in fact one of the most nutritious foodstuffs out there. A single large potato will give you a good helping of potassium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese, as well as a decent portion of your daily requirement of vitamin C and most B vitamins. To benefit from potatoes full nutritional profile, allow them to cool before eating: believe it or not, cold potatoes have much higher levels of resistant starch (a fiber-like substance with many powerful health benefits) than hot potatoes.

17. Tomatoes

Are they a fruit or are they a vegetable? Whatever they are, they’re packed with enough vitamin C, A, and K to make them a valuable addition to your shopping list. As an added bonus, they’re one of the richest sources of the antioxidants lutein and lycopene around. Lutein packs a powerful punch when it comes to maintaining healthy eye function, while lycopene is basically an edible form of sun protection, shielding the skin from UV radiation and giving you that envy inducing inner “glow”. The skin benefits don’t stop there: in a 2011 study, it was found that combining tomatoes with olive oil not only protected against sun damage, it also increased the production of pro-collagen, a key ingredient for firm, youthful skin. Strangely, the health-giving properties of tomatoes are known to increase ten-fold when they’re processed, so don’t hold back on the ketchup (although you may want to opt for a sugar-free version if you’re watching your weight).

16. Bok Choy

Cabbages of all kinds are great for your health, but Bok Choy is one of the very best. This unassuming little Chinese cabbage is often overlooked in favor of its flashier neighbors at the grocery store, but its host of valuable vitamins and minerals makes it well worth a second look. Packed with vitamins K, A, and C, as well as potassium, calcium, folate, and manganese, it’s a veritable powerhouse of heath given nutrients. Try it sautéed as a side dish, or add to soups for a warming, nutritious lunch.

15. Grass-Fed Beef

Who doesn’t love a steak? Whether you take yours well done, medium, rare, or blue, steak (and beef in general) is packed full of the kind of health given properties that mean you never have to feel guilty about your carnivorous ways again. As loaded with vitamins B12, B6, iron, zinc, niacin, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium as it is with mouthwatering deliciousness, enjoy with a side of vegetables for the perfect nutrient-dense meal.

14. Almonds

Whether you enjoy them as a solitary snack, scattered over a salad, mixed in with your morning porridge, or ground into a flour and baked in a cake, almonds are the perfect way to sate your hunger and get a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and heart-healthy fatty acids in the process. The biggest nutritional hitters in almonds are vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, calcium, copper, potassium, and iron. Just a small handful of almonds a day will go a long way to hitting your recommended daily allowance for all these essential nutrients.

(Photo via Totalshape)

13. Blueberries

Forget expensive goji berries… when it comes to fruit, blueberries are in a league of their own. Just a small handful of these miraculous purple treats will supply you with an abundance of anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant) and various other plant compounds that have been proven to positively impact on brain health, improve memory, lower blood pressure, decrease “bad” cholesterol, and even lower your risk of certain cancers. As Medical News Today also notes, just one cup of blueberries provides 24% of your recommended daily amount of vitamin C- reason alone to tuck in. As delicious as they are nutritious, they make a great addition to everything from pancakes to muffins to breakfast cereals.

12. Spinach

When your mother told you to eat your greens, she wasn’t just saying it to be mean… love them or loathe them, no one can deny that greens are a nutritional heavyweight, with spinach being one of the all-time champions. This simple superfood is cheap, readily available, and packed with more vitamin K, A, and C than your average multi-vitamin. Whether you enjoy the leaves tossed into a salad, sautéed in olive oil and lemon juice, or blended into a green smoothie, make sure to add a few handfuls to your daily diet.

11. Shiitake Mushrooms

Regardless of shape, size or color, mushrooms of all varieties get an A+ from the nutritional experts. Shitake mushrooms are perhaps the most nutritionally dense, with numerous scientific studies demonstrating their powerful health-giving properties. Absurdly rich in copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc, shitake mushrooms can help alleviate the symptoms of mineral deficiencies, while their powerful antioxidant profile is thought to help guard against certain cancers. Use them in any dish that’s benefit from their earthy goodness, whether that’s sautéed with bacon, thrown atop a pizza, or mixed through a warm salad.

10. Garlic

High in vitamins C, B1 and B6, along with minerals such as calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium, Garlic may be tiny but it's punching well above its weight when it comes to the kind of nutrients that keep our hearts ticking over and our bodies in peak condition. Key among its many ingredients is allicin, a sulphuric compound that’s been shown to decrease blood pressure, lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol. Some studies have even suggested garlic can lower the incidences of certain cancers, particularly cancers of the stomach and colon. For the most health benefits, experts suggest you eat several cloves a day, raw and minced... just make sure to brush your teeth afterward.

9. Sardines

Packed with vitamin B12, vitamin D (one of the few food-based sources of the vitamin available), calcium, niacin, and iron, as well as minerals like selenium and heart-healthy, inflammation suppressing omega 3 fatty acids, sardines are the kind of cheap, cheerful nutritional powerhouses that should be on everyone’ s shopping list.

8. Avocado

Mash them on toast, sprinkle them with salt, or slice them in salads… whichever way you choose to eat them, avocados will do you the world of good. As an excellent source of both vitamin E and healthy fats, avocados are one of the best foods around for maintaining good skin health. Their ample quantities of vitamin K, C, and B6, along with the minerals copper, magnesium, and potassium., meanwhile, will do the rest of you very little harm either.

7. Cacao

An indulgent snack or a nutritional powerhouse? Chocolate, or rather the cocoa that goes into it, offers the best of both worlds: a delicious treat that’s jam-packed with the kind of heart-healthy antioxidants that reduce inflammation and improve your mood. As Mercola recommends, try to source raw or minimally processed cocoa and cocoa products to maximize your antioxidant intake: raw cacao powder contains over 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of a typical bar of dark chocolate, making it a winner when it comes to health benefits.

6. Seaweed

With an abundance of antioxidants (carotenoids being the most prominent), along with magnesium, calcium, iron, and iodine, seaweed is one the most nutritious foods on the plant. Try adding some delicious sushi to your weekly diet to reap the benefits of this super-healthy gift from the sea.

5. Kale

Of all the greens, kale is generally considered the king. Packed to bursting with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, a few handfuls a day is almost guaranteed to keep the doctor away. Try it raw in a salad or sautéed in lemon juice and olive oil for a tasty side dish.

4. Eggs

Once considered a health hazard, eggs have regained their rightful place in the world as a healthy, nutritious superfood. The white is packed with protein, while the yolk is one of the richest dietary sources of choline (a nutrient vital for brain health) available. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also jam-packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, two of the most potent antioxidants for eye health.

3. Salmon

Considered by nutritionists to be the “King of the Fish”, salmon has it all: as well as being rich in protein and packed with essential minerals like magnesium, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus, it’s also bursting with heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids (so bursting in fact, that just one small four-ounce portion will give you nearly three grams of omega-3s).

2. Shellfish

As well as being an indulgent treat, shellfish is a treasure trove of vitamins, including the hard to come by vitamin B12, selenium, and iron. Treat yourself to an occasional batch of fresh oysters, and you’ll also get a hefty whack of zinc, copper, and vitamin D.

1. Liver

Liver may be one of those foods you either love or loathe, but regardless of taste, you’ll be well advised to add a few pieces of grass-fed liver to your weekly diet. Just a small 3-4-ounce portion will give you over 100% of your recommended daily intake of B12, B2, and vitamin A and copper, as well as a considerable dose of iron, phosphorus, and zinc. As Dr. Health Benefits notes, liver is also a great source of protein: a piece of beef liver weighing just 68 grams will supply over 40% of the protein your body needs to convert food to energy, make vital enzymes, repair and make cells, and generally keep in tip-top condition. Try it fried with onions and bacon and served with a dollop of mashed potato for a delicious, nutritious dinner.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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