7 Go-To Foods to Help You Stick to Healthy Eating Habits

When it comes to maintaining a nutrient-rich diet, I try to have a list of go-to foods that I can always turn to. These are foods that I can buy easily, affordably, and whenever possible, organically. I can enjoy them raw, or without too much prep time. I can eat them together or alone, and find enough things to do with them that I won’t get bored of them.

Most important, I know what’s in them and appreciate what they’re doing for my body (and mind!) Here are seven go-to foods that I eat almost daily, and a little bit about what makes them so great.

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CHICKPEAS. This amazing legume is probably my food BFF. I think I eat chickpeas every day. Chickpeas are so packed with nutrients, a single paragraph probably won’t do them justice. Chickpeas provide a holy trinity balance of fiber, protein and carbohydrates, and also contain a TON of other key nutrients like calcium, iron and magnesium. They’ll fill you up, and they’re great raw in salads, roasted, or as the base for hummus. They’re a vastly underrated superfood. It’s best to buy them raw, in bulk, and soak them yourself, as the processing of canned/bottled chickpeas take a significant toll on the world’s water supply.

Chickpeas are high in:

Fiber (helps control blood cholesterol levels, helps aid digestion, improved blood sugar control and colon health)
Vitamin B6 (supports synthesis of neurotransmitters, liver detoxification and carbohydrate metabolism)
Folate (associated with nervous system support, lower cardiovascular disease risk, and improved reproductive health, particularly fetal development)
Iron (supports oxygen transportation and energy production)
Magnesium (supports bone integrity, promotes energy production, supports the nervous system–low levels of magnesium are associated with depression, helps control blood sugar, helps control inflammation)
Calcium (supports bone health, as well as muscle and nerve function)
Zinc (supports immune functions and skin health, including acne and canker sores)
Copper (supports antioxidant enzymes, collagen production, iron absorption, and cholesterol balance)
Manganese (supports bone health, enzymes that assist in blood sugar control, and collagen production)

blueberries

BLUEBERRIES. The blueberry is the consummate antioxidant food. If you’re going to bring sugar into your body* via any fruit, make it blueberries. Blueberries are high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, and half a cup of blueberries only contains about 7g of sugar (the recommended daily intake of sugar by the World Health Organization is now 25g). Blueberries are also moderately alkaline-forming (which is to say, they help create an alkaline, as opposed to acid, level of pH when digested by your body; highly acidic pH levels are associated with inflammation. You can read more on this intriguing but controversial diet theory here).

Blueberries are high in:
Manganese (supports bone health, enzymes that assist in blood sugar control, and collagen production)
Vitamin C (supports the body’s absorption of iron, collagen production, the creation of neurotransmitters, and the production of hormones including serotonin)
Vitamin K (supports healthy blood clotting and bone health)
Fiber (helps control blood cholesterol levels, helps aid digestion, improved blood sugar control and colon health)

*My non-expert, enthusiastically hypochondriac opinion has led me to the conclusion that sugar is total bullshit. It’s fair to call it a “weapon of mass destruction” (as one study recently deemed fructose), and I don’t see myself or the scientific community ever deviating from this consensus. That said, a diet without any sugar is next to impossible, for me at least. And that’s partly because I think there’s a tradeoff to be had with a few key foods that contain the stuff, blueberries being numero uno.

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SPINACH. Screw kale, spinach is my leafy green of choice. It may not be as high in calcium as kale, but it’s higher in magnesium, folate (an essential B vitamin, particularly for women), and it’s more palatable and versatile (read: I’d prefer to eat spinach in its optimal form, which is raw, than I would kale).

Spinach is high in:
Folate (associated with nervous system support, lower cardiovascular disease risk, and improved reproductive health, particularly fetal development)
Vitamin A (supports the immune and inflammatory system by helping release helpful antibodies)
Vitamin C (supports the body’s absorption of iron, collagen production, the creation of neurotransmitters, and the production of hormones including serotonin)
Vitamin K (supports healthy blood clotting and bone health)
Manganese (supports bone health, enzymes that assist in blood sugar control, and collagen production)
Magnesium (supports bone integrity, promotes energy production, supports the nervous system–low levels of magnesium are associated with depression, helps control blood sugar, helps control inflammation)
Iron (supports oxygen transportation and energy production)
Fiber (helps control blood cholesterol levels, helps aid digestion, improved blood sugar control and colon health)

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CASHEWS. I eat mineral-dense cashews almost every day as a snack, as they’re easily accessible and far less inflammatory than their more popular cousin the peanut. Pick up cashews instead of a bag of chips next time you need an afternoon snack. They’re still a great “salt vehicle” (one of the things I love about potato chips) and they’ll fill you up and give you sustained energy, unlike chips.

Cashews are high in:
Protein (supports connective tissue health, helps regulate blood sugar, and potentially protects against inflammatory disease)
Vitamin K (supports healthy blood clotting and bone health)
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) (supports energy production and the nervous system)
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) (supports energy production, fat metabolism and iron metabolism)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) (supports energy production and antioxidant protection)
Vitamin B6 (supports synthesis of neurotransmitters, liver detoxification and carbohydrate metabolism)
Iron (supports oxygen transportation and energy production)
Magnesium (supports bone integrity, promotes energy production, supports the nervous system–low levels of magnesium are associated with depression, helps control blood sugar, helps control inflammation)
Copper (supports antioxidant enzymes, collagen production, iron absorption, and cholesterol balance)
Manganese (supports bone health, enzymes that assist in blood sugar control, and collagen production)
Selenium (supports antioxidant enzymes and normal thyroid function)
Potassium (supports normal blood pressure and healthy kidney function)
Zinc (supports immune functions and skin health, including acne and canker sores)

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SARDINES. I always pack a tin of sardines when I’m going on a hiking trip, because they’re such a complete food that helps replace energy and important nutrients like Vitamin D and calcium. I first heard about sardines’ many benefits from a friend Seamus Mullen, who’s a chef in NYC and the author of the cookbook Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better, in which he promotes the foods that helped him make a miraculous food-based recovery from rheumatoid arthritis.

Sardines are high in:
Protein (supports connective tissue health, helps regulate blood sugar, and potentially protects against inflammatory disease)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) (supports energy production and antioxidant protection)
Vitamin B12 (supports production of red blood cells, DNA production, and the brain and nervous system)
Vitamin D (supports bone health, helps regulate blood sugar, and the immune system, and is also associated with lower levels of depression)
Calcium (supports bone health, as well as muscle and nerve function)
Selenium (supports antioxidant enzymes and normal thyroid function)

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AVOCADOS. Probably one of the most in-demand foods of the past few years, but still a bit hard to obtain, and to afford, in the U.S. But when you can get it, and get it organically, the avocado is a great source of fat, Vitamin K, potassium and other nutrients. It’s another one of those foods that you can take anywhere, eat on its own or with some salt, oil, or pepper flakes. Another great go-to when you’re in the outdoors or just finished a workout.

Avocados are high in:
Protein (supports connective tissue health, helps regulate blood sugar, and potentially protects against inflammatory disease)
Fiber (helps control blood cholesterol levels, helps aid digestion, improved blood sugar control and colon health)
Potassium (supports normal blood pressure and healthy kidney function)
Folate (associated with nervous system support, lower cardiovascular disease risk, and improved reproductive health, particularly fetal development)
Vitamin B6 (supports synthesis of neurotransmitters, liver detoxification and carbohydrate metabolism)
Vitamin C (supports the body’s absorption of iron, collagen production, the creation of neurotransmitters, and the production of hormones including serotonin)
Vitamin K (supports healthy blood clotting and bone health)

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SWEET POTATOES. Especially when I’m running a lot or hiking, sweet potatoes are my go-to recovery carb. I try to select them over most grains, as they’re higher in nutrients and are less inflammatory (lots of grains, even those that don’t contain gluten, contain a protein called lectin, which can make them hard to digest). Like avocados, sweet potatoes can be eaten on their own, baked or roasted, pureed, spiced up, added to a hash, or made into fries.

Sweet potatoes are high in:
Protein (supports connective tissue health, helps regulate blood sugar, and potentially protects against inflammatory disease)
Potassium (supports normal blood pressure and healthy kidney function)
Fiber (helps control blood cholesterol levels, helps aid digestion, improved blood sugar control and colon health)
Vitamin A (supports the immune and inflammatory system by helping release helpful antibodies)
Vitamin B6 (supports synthesis of neurotransmitters, liver detoxification and carbohydrate metabolism)
Copper (supports antioxidant enzymes, collagen production, iron absorption, and cholesterol balance)
Manganese (supports bone health, enzymes that assist in blood sugar control, and collagen production)

So there they are: chickpeas, spinach, blueberries, cashews, sardines, avocados and sweet potatoes, seven food friends you can add to your weekly shopping list. They help me stick to a plant- and nutrient-rich diet because of how simple and versatile they are. What foods would you add to this list, or take away? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Nutrient information sourced from World’s Healthiest Foods and Nutrition Data.

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