20 Foods That Give You The Most Nutrient Bang For Your Buck

It’s no secret that the best foods are the ones that have plenty of nutrients. Inspired by SmartyPants Vitamins, which combines a multivitamin, vitamin D, and omega-3s into one nutrient-dense gummy, here’s a score of powerhouse foods that will give your body what it needs without hurting your bank account. Of course, SmartyPants can help you fill in the gaps when your busy life occasionally gets in the way of healthy eating.

But don’t think eating this healthfully has to be boring — we’ve included links to some delicious recipes, too!

1. Eggs

The humble egg had been taking a beating (bad pun intended) for years. Everyone groused over its fat and cholesterol content, but recent research has shown that eggs (yes, with yolks) are an important part of a good diet, delivering vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as being high in protein and low in calories. And while those at risk of heart disease should probably steer clear of the yolk, the rest of us can indulge a few times a week. Want something besides the old scrambled variety? Bored of breakfast scrambles? Here are some eggs-cellent ways to consume this nutrient-dense food.

2. Salmon

Sometimes referred to as a superfood, this tasty fish gives you high-quality protein, potassium, selenium, vitamin B-12, and of course omega-3 fatty acids. Those omega-3s contribute to healthy brains, hearts, and joints. And while plain grilled salmon is always delicious, try sprucing it up with some sunflower-dill pesto.

3. Milk

Much like eggs, milk has seen its ups and downs. But the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings a day of calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous, all of which milk provides. And if you’re going to drink milk, it’s best to go organic, since organic contains more heart-healthy fatty acids than regular milk.

4. Greek yogurt

Craving a parfait? Opt for Greek yogurt, which provides more protein while giving you less of the bad stuff (cholesterol, sugar, carbs, and sodium) than regular yogurt. And if you think the only way to enjoy it is in a bowl with some granola or fruit, think again!

5. Chicken breast

Chicken’s been a top food choice of the health-conscious for decades. Less expensive than beef and fish, chicken breast (yes, specifically the breast, which is the leanest cut of the bird) is low in calories (231 per cup) while delivering a whopping 86 percent of your recommended daily protein. And it needn’t be boring and bland — just whip up this coconut paprika chicken.

6. Almond milk

Almond milk is great if you’re lactose-intolerant. And while it has many health benefits, like having half the calories of cow’s milk and no cholesterol, it’s not a replica of regular milk, since it doesn’t have much protein or calcium. But almond milk’s great for smoothies, oatmeal, and cereal — just be sure to use the unsweetened kind to avoid added sugar.

7. Almonds

Almonds are also called a superfood, and with good reason: Just 23 per day pack a big wallop of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber, while being very low in sugar. And unlike almond milk, almonds themselves are high in protein. As tasty as they are eaten as a raw snack, try them on cereal or mixed with yogurt or oatmeal for a delicious crunch.

8. Oats

Speaking of oatmeal, there are few healthier breakfasts than a hot bowl of plain oats. You can jazz it up with nuts, fruit, raisins, cinnamon, and peanut butter, all while getting the cholesterol-lowering properties of this hearty, hunger-reducing food. Here’s an easy, delicious recipe for you.

9. Potatoes

Not long ago, when low-carb diets were in vogue, the humble potato was starch-non-grata among the health conscious. But that distinction was unearned: Spuds are complex carbs that help reduce binge eating while offering large amounts of vitamins B and C. There’s certainly no shortage of inventive ways to cook potatoes, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple baked potato with a little grass-fed butter and pepper.

10. Kale

What can be said about kale that hasn’t already been written? It’s been the darling of the healthy crowd for years, and with good reason: One cup has just 33 calories while offering more than the daily recommended amounts of vitamins A, C, and K, plus iron, folate, omega-3s, calcium, iron, fiber, and protein. Munching on this kale salad will make you love this nutrition powerhouse.

11. Berries

Yet another superfood, berries are among the most delicious entries on our list. (Just be sure to buy them during summertime, when they’re in season.) Low in fat but high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese, berries are thought to promote cardiovascular and brain health while reducing cancer risk. Have a sweet tooth but don’t want to overindulge? We have you covered with this cobbler recipe.

12. Garlic

Who doesn’t love garlic? Used liberally in many cultures’ cooking, this delicious bulb lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, protects against cancer, and helps prevent blood clots. We’re sure you already have dozens of recipes that call for garlic, but whenever possible, eat it raw: Heating it can destroy allacin and ajoene, the two compounds that make it most effective.

13. Cinnamon

No smell is more mouthwatering than a kitchen simmering with cinnamon. And its health benefits are numerous: weight loss aid, brain function booster, and anti-inflammatory. Try sprinkling it on wheat toast and oatmeal — you’ll satisfy your sweet tooth while avoiding calorie-dense desserts.

14. Dark chocolate

We don’t think you need to be told twice to eat a little dark chocolate every day. Chocolate that’s high in cocoa contains large amounts of antioxidants, fiber, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc. Just remember: It’s still chocolate and high in calories, so keep your intake to a minimum. Try these tasty coconut macaroons with dark chocolate at your next dinner party — your guests will never know they’re choc-full of nutrients!

15. Beans

You already know that beans are packed with fiber. But did you know that a serving of two of the best — lentils and black beans — contains about three times as much fiber as an oat bran muffin and four times as much as instant oatmeal? These magical legumes can turn a salad or soup from light appetizers to hearty main dishes — and here’s the best bean recipe you’ll ever make!

16. Carrots

Crunchy, sweet, and fun to eat, carrots have long been the go-to food for eye health and beta-carotene. But they’re also a good source of fiber, and their high water content (about 88 percent) will keep you feeling full without unnecessary calories (about 25 per carrot). And don’t forget how good they are in juices.

17. Peanut butter

There aren’t many foods that make you feel good yet are sinful to eat. Peanut oil is loaded with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, both of which are good fats. (You should avoid saturated and trans fats as much as possible.) Also, try the natural variety of peanut butter: The stuff you don’t have to stir contains additives and sugar, and who needs those?

18. Spinach

Ditch the romaine for a spinach salad; you’ll get more vitamins A and C, as well as folate and an immune-system boost. And the carotenoids in this leafy green help protect against eye disease, heart disease, and cancer. Interestingly, spinach has different benefits when cooked and raw, so try eating it both ways. Consuming it raw will net more folate, vitamin C, niacin, and potassium, while heating it releases more carotenoids, which your body converts to vitamin A.

19. Cherries

Like berries, cherries are beyond delicious — when purchased in season, which is late spring and early summer. They’ve have been associated with lower levels of uric acid, helping fend off gout. And while there are few things more delicious than a big bowl of ripe cherries, try these raw chocolate-cherry brownie bites for something a bit more decadent.

20. Shrimp

These little crustaceans are tasty and versatile, making them a popular seafood choice. But like eggs, shrimp were erroneously linked to cholesterol worries — until better knowledge of cholesterol rehabilitated their reputation. Shrimp boost healthy HDL levels. They also raise LDL levels — albeit at a lower rate than HDL — so be sure to consume them a little less often than the other foods on our list.

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