1. Beans and Lentils - contain fiber, protein, iron, B vitamins such as folate, thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine or B6, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc, and phosphorous. Convenient to cook using soak and cook method, and readily available in canned and frozen varieties. Stores well dried, and is cheap, economical and healthy. You never have to buy lean varieties as beans and lentils contain no saturated, and trans-fatty acids - cholesterol free too.
2. Sweet Potatoes - contain fiber, Vitamins A and C, minerals like potassium and magnesium. Available year-round here in North Carolina. Perfect baked, steamed, mashed, smashed and cooked. Baked sweet potato fries with Cajun seasoning are delicious.
3. Quinoa - half grain, half legume/seed. Quinoa is remarkable in that it is a complete protein, is high in iron, fiber and B vitamins such as fiber, riboflavin, thiamin and B6, and high in minerals such as manganese, zinc, phosphorous and magnesium. Quick cooking and can be added to anything. New to this grain? Can be used in salads, soups, or served like rice and topped with stir-fried goods.
4. Tomatoes - I'm talking summer-time farmer's market varietals. Rich in antioxidants like lycopene and high in Vitamins A and C. When cooked with iron-containing foods, the Vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron. All those heirloom varieties contain many colors in which numerous other antioxidants and flavanoids lurk. Tomatoes are an all star vegetable..or fruit.
5. Eggs - contain protein, B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, folate, and b12, biotin, and Vitamins A, D and E. Eggs are forever doomed and shunned due to their high cholesterol content, but most of the nutrition is in the yolk. Yes, I agree, overconsumption of high fat animal foods is bad and will (with genetics, limited physical activity, and low consumption of plant based foods) contribute to heart diseases and poor lipid profiles. But - eggs are highly nutritious and can be consumed along with a healthy diet. You could say that about many foods, but blatant overconsumption, blatant un-cooking and purchasing of prepared and packaged foods, and sedentary - low physical activity, with low consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains and plant proteins is unhealthy. I would say purchase free-range or cage-free eggs but I will instead say, buy from a farmer from a farmer's market that can vouch for the way he/she raises chickens. I'm sorry it had to be said. You probably think I'm a crazy pro-vegetarian anti-meat crusader. I'm not. I do believe in purchasing and consuming meats from growers that can vouch for the animals condition from birth to slaughter. I also think people deserve living wages, health care and access to healthy foods and living environments.
6. Green leafy vegetables - I don't know what I can type here that hasn't already been typed or discussed on other health-nutrition sites and books. So instead I will define green leafy vegetables: salad greens such as leaf lettuces, arugula, mesclun, spinach; larger leafy cooking greens: collards, kale, mustard, spinach, chard, kohlrabi, etc. High in folate, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, antioxidants, and much more.
7. Frozen fruits & vegetables - you were probably expecting something crazy like wheat germ, or 3-grain tempeh, but alas (!) I surprised you - frozen vegetables get into some of the best foods because first, they have an entire frozen grocery section devoted to them, secondly, they are just as easy to open as a granola bar, candy bar, or bag of chips and finally you can throw them into anything for some added k'pow. They make excellent side dishes, pasta sauce additions, soup additions, roasted veggie goodness additions and everything under the domesticated sun is packaged and frozen for your enjoyment. Frozen fruits and vegetables have moved past peas and corn and now offer varieties such as cubed butternut squash, frozen field peas, stir-fry pepper blends, Asian vegetable blend, haricots verts, mixed berry medley, smoothie tropical mixer, people - the possibilities of amazement are endless. Keep it simple, choose plain frozen fruit and vegetables and avoid the seasoning/sugar packets. You'll save money too. Yes I like the idea of local fruits and vegetables, processed without the use of pesticides and fertilizers, but I also think just consuming more of these things and less of others (check out my Worst Foods) is one start to being healthier and smarter about making cooking choices. If you have to start somewhere, just getting into using and buying frozen veggies is a good first.
8. Oatmeal - I have spent many many classes teaching nutrition and health classes within the community and the one thing I hear more gripes about is the cost of cereal and other breakfast foods. First off, even if you are eating breakfast at home before leaving for work or whatever, that is a good start. Breakfast is one of the top healthy behaviors that is reported from those that have lost weight and kept it off successfully for over a year or more. The National Weight Control Registry has a list of good behaviors that their candidates report to help keep the weight off. Breakfast is a fine choice to make and could be an extremely important choice in the realm of maintaining a healthy weight. Consuming a healthy breakfast is a great start to the day because you don't start the day off, starving. As obvious as that may seem, being starved for 3-4 hours, is distracting and affects intellectual performance, blood sugar regulation and your appetite. As your stomach grumbles, it sends off cues to your brain telling you to eat anything with glucose in your sensory-motor complex. People that tend to skip breakfast compensate for those calories at their next meal by overeating. I tell everyone and anyone within ear shot to eat breakfast. Wait, eat a healthy breakfast. Bulk oatmeal and even the huge canister with the big Quaker on it is a great investment in your breakfast future. Oatmeal is quick-cooking, contains fiber, iron, and no added sweeteners. Just heat and eat. Mix in milk, fruits, and nuts for a complete balanced meal. Best of all oatmeal, per serving, is dirt cheap!
9. Fruits - any and mostly all fruits are good for you. They are low in calories and fat, high in nutrition with lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. They are readily available, visually appealing, and easy to eat. In addition, they come fresh, frozen, dried and canned.
10. Craft Brews - There are simply too many wonderful craft brews to mention. We are living in a beer revival. Brews feature years and years of meticulous creativity and attention to detail. Brews pair well with foods and they themselves have interesting flavor profiles from hoppy to floral aromas. While there is limited nutritional analysis of craft brews they contain essentially water, barley, hops, and yeast. Some contain spices, herbs, and fruit juices to enhance and bring out flavors, while others are conditioned for varying lengths of time to develop a certain flavor profile. Their overconsumption comes with pulsating headaches, and grogginess. Beer can be added to some foods to heighten flavors (ale bread and baked beans, anyone?) but I believe good solid beers are some of the best beverages in the world.