Some foods are so healthy they star on every nutrition expert’s list of super foods. But often missing on those lists are some underrated gems that can definitely upgrade your diet.
We tapped nutrition experts to find out their favorite underrated fare. They only selected whole foods that are familiar, widely available, affordable, and nutrient-rich -- and that taste great.
Here are their top picks.
1. Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils really are nutrition superstars -- rich in protein, fiber, complex carbs, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It, says healthy foods like beans and lentils defy the recommendation to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. "There are hundreds of essential foods like beans and lentils lining the shelves in the center aisles that should not be overlooked."
Beans are versatile and easy on your wallet, and Taub-Dix suggests you can lower the sodium in canned beans by approximately 40% by thoroughly rinsing the beans in water.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips, says, "Eating a diet rich in legumes can help promote weight loss and has been shown to lower LDL [low-density -- "bad" -- cholesterol] and raise HDL [high-density -- "good" -- cholesterol]," .
Toss these nuggets into soups, stews, salads, grain medleys, or greens, or create a veggie dip, like hummus made from chickpeas, by pureeing beans and adding your favorite seasoning.
Watermelon is everyone’s favorite summertime fruit. But because it is so naturally sweet, some people avoid it because they think it's high in sugar.
Elizabeth Ward, RD, author of Expect the Best, says watermelon should be a staple in everyone’s diet. "It is fun to eat, sweet, juicy, low in calories, and chock full of vitamins C and A, potassium, and lycopene. Because it is so high in water, it helps meet fluid needs."
A bonus is that the thick peel keeps pesticides far from the flesh, earning it a spot on the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15" -- the produce with the least pesticide residue.
3. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are often thought of as high in calories and carbs because they are so naturally sweet. But don’t let that fool you.
Heather Mangieri, RD, says, "Sweet potatoes are nutritional all-stars and one of the best vegetables you can eat. Not only are they a great source of beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, but this highly underrated vegetable is so versatile it can be enjoyed with very few extra calories or embellishment."
She suggests topping a slow-baked sweet potato with a sprinkle of cinnamon, applesauce, and crushed pineapple. Or try topping it with black beans and salsa. Other options: Mash it or slice it into fries and oven bake then until golden brown.