There are always a couple of trendy foods du jour — currently, it’s kale and chia seeds — that seem to get all of the attention. But there are many unsung healthy heroes that should find their way into your diet on a regular basis. Here, nutrition experts weigh in on the top five foods you may not be eating — but should be.
Beans: “Beans are a greatly underappreciated nutrition powerhouse,” says Martica Heaner, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of nutrition at Hunter College, in New York City. “They’re very filling, high in protein and fiber, rich in B vitamins, iron and other minerals like potassium and calcium,” Heaner says.
Buckwheat: Despite having the word “wheat” in the name, buckwheat isn’t actually a grain at all, but a fruit seed that can be eaten like a grain. It has a hearty texture and is an excellent source of plant protein and fiber. “Plus, it’s rich in a variety of minerals and contains flavonoids (which may be linked to better heart health),” says Mary Howley Ryan, R.D., owner of Beyond Broccoli Nutritional Counseling, in Jackson, WY.
Mushrooms: Different varieties will have different benefits, but all are packed full of nutrients. Take portabellas, for example. “They have immune-boosting benefits, contain more protein than most vegetables, plus several B vitamins and 3 grams of protein in a 3.5 ounce serving,” Ryan says. “And they’re also flavorful and are hearty enough to be used as a meat substitute.”
Pumpkin seeds: Chia and flaxseeds get most of the spotlight these days, but Ryan is also a big fan of pumpkin seeds (sometimes called pepitas). “It’s good to eat a variety of nuts and seeds because they all have unique nutrient profiles,” she says. Toss a few toasted pumpkin seeds into a salad, soup or other dishes to add some antioxidants, protein and fiber to your meal.
Walnuts and walnut oil: Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that have been shown to reduce inflammation and may decrease risk of heart disease. “Walnuts are a rich source of these healthy fats,” Heaner says. Toss a handful of walnuts into cereal and salad and when making muffins or breads. She also suggests substituting walnut oil for olive oil — it can be used to make salad dressing or be drizzled over roasted vegetables.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.