Best Foods to Boost Your Health

Try adding these not-so-obvious foods to your pantry and plate to get better nutrition from the calories you eat.

Canned Wild Salmon

Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, have protein, which gives you energy and makes you feel full longer. And they're full of healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help keep your heart healthy and hold inflammation at bay throughout your body. They also help give skin its glow.

Wild salmon, when it's fresh, can be pricey. Andrea Moss, a certified holistic nutrition coach in Brooklyn, likes canned wild salmon. It costs just a fraction of the fresh variety, and it's just as good for you.

Whole-Leaf Aloe Juice

When you hear "aloe," you might think of the gel you slather on your skin after a sunburn. But you can also buy drinkable, food-grade aloe vera. The plant has been used for centuries for its medicinal, health, and beauty benefits.

It's rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and it also has vitamin B12, folic acid, and choline. Aloe is a good source of magnesium, calcium, and zinc. And it provides 20 of the 22 amino acids your body needs. The salicylic acid in it helps with inflammation.

"Drink 2 ounces a day," recommends Julia Hunter, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, to help heal the lining of a damaged intestinal tract and heal or prevent leaky gut syndrome.

Aloe juice can be bitter. If the taste bothers you, she suggests mixing it with fruit juice or coconut water.

Pumpkin Seeds

"Most of us only think of pumpkin seeds around Halloween, but they're one of the healthiest seeds to add to your daily diet," Moss says. She recommends them hulled, eaten raw or gently toasted.

They're a rich source of magnesium and zinc, two minerals many people don't get enough of. Magnesium helps relax the body and relieve everything from tight muscles to anxiety to headaches to constipation. Zinc is a key player for your immune system, and it boosts testosterone (which can help improve your libido).

Research suggests both could help people who take medication for depression.

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Brazil Nuts

Often overlooked, they're rich in selenium, a mineral your thyroid gland needs. Selenium also supports your immune system and, because it's an antioxidant, helps prevent damage to nerves and cells caused by free radicals as a result of things like cigarette smoke and UV rays.

"Just don't go nuts with these nuts," Moss says. You only need about two a day to get enough selenium, and too many can cause serious health problems.

Watercress

You're more likely to find this member of the cabbage family as a garnish instead of the star it is, at least nutritionally speaking. It's packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants, both of which help prevent disease and slow aging.

One of these is beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid. These compounds help prevent eye diseases and some cancers. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.

Watercress also has fiber and vitamin K. Just 2 cups of it give you about a third of the vitamin C adults need each day. And cruciferous vegetables have sulfur-based compounds known as glucosinolates that help your body fight off infection and cancer.

Like all cruciferous veggies, watercress helps detox, Moss says. It's especially good for cleansing the liver.

Sauerkraut

Naturally fermented sauerkraut and other foods with live cultures -- like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha -- can help relieve constipation, bloating, and gas. That's because the friendly bacteria that caused the fermentation, called probiotics, are still alive. When you eat them, they help break down certain parts of food, making it easier for your gut to absorb nutrients.

Moss says that research "shows regular consumption of fermented foods supports long-term health, helps prevent disease, and boosts our immune system."

Be choosy about what you buy though. If the product has been pasteurized to preserve it, the high temperature has killed the probiotics. Other jars and bottles on the shelf may have used vinegar rather than bacteria to pickle the food. Fermented foods can also have a lot of salt and sugar, so read the labels.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 07, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation: "The Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Arthritis."

Andrea Moss, certified holistic nutrition coach; founder, Moss Wellness, Brooklyn, NY.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Nutrient content and variability in newly obtained salmon data for USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference."

Julia Hunter, MD, Wholistic Dermatology, Los Angeles, CA.

Indian Journal of Dermatology: "Aloe Vera: A Short Review."

Internet Journal of Microbiology: "Biologic Effects Of Aloe Vera Gel."

Benzie, I.F.F. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition, CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011.

Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: "Aloe vera in treatment of refractory irritable bowel syndrome: Trial on Iranian patients."

Topics in Clinical Nutrition: "Do the Micronutrients Zinc and Magnesium Play a Role in Adult Depression?"

Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine: "Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health."

Mayo Clinic: "Slide show: Add antioxidants to your diet."

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: "Selenium: Fact Sheet for Consumers," Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Consumers."

SpringerPlus. "Phenolic profile and antioxidant potential of wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale L.)."

Nutrition in Clinical Care: "The role of carotenoids in human health."

BMC Genomics: "De novo transcriptome analysis and glucosinolate profiling in watercress (Nasturtium officinale R. Br.)"

Journal of Applied Microbiology: "The antimicrobial effects of glucosinolates and their respective enzymatic hydrolysis products on bacteria isolated from the human intestinal tract."

Page, L. Healthy Healing's Detoxification: Programs to Cleanse, Purify & Renew, Healthy Healing Enterprises LLC, 2008.

Harvard Health Publishing: "Fermented foods for better gut health."

Health & Nutrition Letter, Tufts University: "Discover the Digestive Benefits of Fermented Foods."

Current Opinion in Biotechnology: "Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond."

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