The 20 Healthiest Foods to Eat in Every Food Group

When eating clean is your goal, these are the nutritional superstars you'll want to put on your menu week after week.

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Grain: Oats

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When in doubt, always go for whole grains. Oats fit the bill perfectly. They're packed with beta glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps keep your cholesterol in check, according to Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, founder of simplecravingsrealfood.com. Plus, you can use them to bulk up recipes, like meatballs and meatloaf, to save a few calories. Go for steel cut, slow cooking, or (unsweetened) instant—whatever you prefer. They all deliver on fiber and you'll eat more of what your schedule allows and you enjoy. These are the tasty oatmeal toppers you haven't thought to try.

Grain: Quinoa

QuinoaSia-James/Shutterstock
It has a rep as a superfood because, hey, it is a superfood, says Retelny. "Quinoa offers complex carbs and a complete protein source, which you don't typically get from grains," she says. (It's actually a seed but many people lump it into the grain category.) In fact, one cup of quinoa offers 8 grams of protein. Make it into a main meal by tossing in your favorite veggies or cook into a hot cereal to change things up for breakfast. Check out these creative quinoa recipes you'll want to make tonight.

Grain: Amaranth

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Okay, we just said that a complete protein source is hard to find in grains, but enter another: amaranth. The gluten-free ancient seed is one that you probably don't have in your rotation, but you should give it a whirl. One cup packs 9 grams of protein, plus 5 grams of fiber (20 percent of your daily need), and caps it all off with nearly one-third of the iron women under age 50 need in a day. (Over 50? It supplies over 60 percent of the RDA). Cook it like a warm breakfast cereal or stir into roasted veggies for a warm side dish.

Grain: Barley

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If the only time you have this is in beef and barley soup, it's time to rethink that. Barley contains inulin and resistant starch, two carbohydrates that have been found to impact gut hormones that affect appetite and blood sugar regulation, per research in the British Journal of Nutrition. Barley is also on our list of healthy foods that are way more nutritious than you realized.

Grain: Brown rice

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White rice has been shown to raise diabetes risk, but replacing white with brown rice dropped diabetes risk by 16 percent, according to Harvard research. Compared to white, brown rice elicits a lower blood sugar response, plus it contains more fiber (particularly insoluble fiber), not to mention vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that may guard against diabetes.

Fruits + veggies: Blueberries

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And make them wild blueberries while you're at it. "These smaller blueberries contain two times the antioxidants compared to regular," says Retelny. If they're hard to find fresh in your store, no worries—often a better option is buying them frozen. "Many times, they're higher in nutritional value because they're flash frozen immediately after harvest," she says. One cup of frozen blueberries contains 120 calories. Get these amazing health benefits when you add blueberries to your cereal.

Fruits + veggies: Apples

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Don't knock the humble apple. Apples come packed with soluble fiber, which, in addition to having cholesterol benefits, can help fill you up, says Retelny. In fact, a study in the journal Appetite found that eating an apple 15 minutes before lunch helped people eat about 187 fewer calories compared to a control group. Besides, they're really portable, so you can just throw them in your bag to prepare for when hunger strikes. These are the best ways to eat apples for ridiculous health benefits.

Fruits + veggies: Tomatoes

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Their red hue gives a big clue about their health status, as they're bursting with the antioxidant lycopene. Eating foods rich in the antioxidant is a smart move. In a 2012 study in the journal Neurology, men who had the highest levels of lycopene in their blood had a 55 percent lower odds of stroke compared to those with the lowest blood levels. Glob on the tomato sauce, folks. Check out the smartest ways to eat tomatoes and your other favorite healthy foods.

Fruits + veggies: Leafy greens

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Namely kale and spinach. "These greens are so beneficial for cognitive health," says Retelny. "Research on brain health shows they can help prevent dementia and Alzheimer's." Besides, they provide a low-cal base that fills you up. Don't just save them for salads; toss them wherever you can—into an egg scramble, a smoothie, soups, stews, you name it. Here are five more great reasons to eat more kale today.

Fruits + veggies: Brussels sprouts

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Any veggie in the cruciferous family, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are top choices. These veggies pack in fiber and compounds called glucosinolates that have been linked to cancer prevention, says Retelny. Squeezing them into your diet may help guard against prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer, reports the National Cancer Institute. Read the uplifting truth about cancer statistics.

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