Power Foods for Your Health

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 04, 2024
3 min read

You probably know that eating right is one of the best things you can do for your body. A healthy diet cuts your risk of conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

But it's not always easy to figure out which foods to choose. Some of today’s most popular food philosophies -- from high-fat, ultra-low-carb keto to animal-free vegan -- are very different from each other. And research findings about diet can be confusing.  

Fortunately, most health experts agree that certain types of food are especially good for you. And within these groups, some items really stand out. Think of them as power foods.

You might know fiber as something that helps you stay regular. While that’s true, it does a lot more than that.

Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. It comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber turns into a gel as it passes through your gut. It helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve, so it helps push food through your system (and helps you poop).

We need at least 20-30 grams of fiber every day, but most of us get far less. Fruits, vegetables, and beans are good sources. Adding these foods to your diet can make it easy for you to get enough:

  • 1 medium pear: 5.5 grams
  • 1 cup pinto beans: 15.4 grams
  • 1 baked potato with skin: 4 grams
  • 1 cup spoon-size shredded wheat cereal: 6 grams
  • 1 cup quinoa: 5 grams

These nutrients may play a role in preventing certain diseases. They help prevent cell damage from molecules in the body called free radicals.   

Well-known antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. It's best to get them from foods, mostly because you’ll also get a lot of other nutrients found naturally in those items. Most studies don’t support the claim that antioxidant supplements can protect your health.

Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts are great sources of antioxidants. These are just a few of the foods that contain multiple types of antioxidants:

  • Bell peppers
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Leafy greens (such as turnip greens and collards)
  • Peanuts
  • Tomatoes

High-protein diets are popular for weight loss because protein helps you feel full. But if you get most of your protein from red meat and full-fat dairy, it can raise your risk for heart disease. 

Healthier protein comes from lean animal products, including fish, chicken, and low-fat dairy. Perhaps the best choice is plant protein, which will help you feel full and is loaded with nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants.

Get plant-based proteins in:

  • Lentils
  • Beans (all types, from black beans to chickpeas)
  • Soy and soy products (edamame, tofu)
  • Almonds and other nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Quinoa

Your body's immune system helps you fight off infections, including cold and flu viruses. Research shows that a bad diet can keep it from working as well as it should. But certain nutrients can help. They include:

  • Vitamins A, C, D, and E
  • Vitamins B2, B6, B12, and B9 (folic acid)
  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Some people are more likely than others to fall short on these nutrients. People who often eat fast food or who live in "food deserts" where few healthy foods are available may not get enough of them. Vegetarians and vegans may need fortified foods or supplements to get enough vitamin B12.

These foods are rich in immune-boosting vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potatoes
  • Vitamin B2: skirt steak, tofu
  • Vitamin B6: chickpeas, salmon
  • Vitamin B12: dairy, fortified cereals
  • Folic acid: avocados, spinach
  • Vitamin C: Brussels sprouts, tomato juice
  • Vitamin D: eggs, mushrooms
  • Vitamin E: peanut butter, broccoli
  • Iron: beans, poultry
  • Selenium: enriched pasta and rice, seafood
  • Zinc: beef, nuts