This post was contributed by a community member.
Are you eating as healthy as you think you are?
If you’re eating a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, then you’re probably pretty far ahead of the nutrition curve. But even if you’re hitting your five-a-day, steering clear of the junk food aisle, and are at a healthy weight, there’s still a chance you’re making mistakes with your food choices without even realizing it. Not all foods are created equal—even the healthy ones—and you might not be getting as many vitamins and nutrients as you believe. In fact, you may inadvertently be loading your body with excess sugar and sodium. We asked top nutrition experts to identify the best and worst foods in every category—veggies, fruits, legumes, grains, proteins, dairy, and fats—so you can close the gaps on your nutritional needs.
Best veggie: Dark, leafy greens
The best greens are the darkest and richest in color, including spinach, kale, romaine, collards, turnip and mustard greens, and broccolini. “They’re some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet—packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that help protect the cells and build the immune system, all for a skinny little calorie level,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, a southern California-based registered dietitian. Aim to get between 1½ to 2 cups of these leafy veggies each week. (One way to do it is with the spinach and sweet potato quesadilla recipe in the video above.) Eat them in salads, wraps, or sandwiches, or serve them as a side dish with some lemon and garlic. If you’re not a fan of the bitter taste that comes along with many greens, try infusing them into your smoothies. This masks the flavor while still offering up their nutritional benefits. Or, turn them into chips by mixing in some olive oil and sea salt and heating them in the oven until they’re nice and crispy.
Vanilla might be the boring old stand-by favorite when it comes to flavors, but it’s also insanely expensive. The complicated process that needs to happen to grow real vanilla beans means it’s one of the most expensive per-unit foods in your grocery store, and the price-per point of vanilla beans means that extract (the real stuff, not the imitation flavor) can be mind-bogglingly expensive. Sure, it goes a long way, but there’s also no reason to buy it.
This is another pitfall you can avoid, but it might take a lot of label-reading. Pre-made, bottled smoothies might seem like a great option for a healthy breakfast or snack, but many include so much sugar that no number of good intentions will make up for it. According to the British Dietetic Association there’s another downfall, too. Some smoothie manufacturers rely on a process called juicing to create the base for their smoothies. Not only does that remove a lot of the pulp and fiber, but that, in turn, also removes a lot of the nutrients and benefits you might think that you’re getting.
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