17 Surprising Healthy Foods

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Eating healthy food is a crucial part of protecting your overall health and wellness, but with thousands of different food options out there, it can be difficult to make the right choices when it comes to the healthiest possible foods. At times, it is hard to pinpoint precisely what makes a food healthy vs. unhealthy but it generally comes down to nutrient density, calorie content, and the type of fat it contains. Most people may already know the general list of healthy foods but there are also quite a few healthy foods that may surprise you!

Healthiest Foods

Some of the healthiest foods on the planet include salmon, garlic, beans, broccoli, walnuts, spinach avocados and lemons, thanks to their impressive nutrient density and diverse health benefits.


Packed with sulfuric compounds and antioxidants, as well as various anti-fungal and antibacterial compounds, garlic is a versatile spice that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as reduce your risk of chronic disease and cancer.


This fatty fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are the “good” fats that our body needs to re-balance cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease, while also improving cognition and lowering your chances of developing depression and other neurodegenerative diseases.


Fiber is a critical part of a healthy diet and the vast majority of beans (particularly those darker in color) can help improve digestive health, protect the heart from high cholesterol levels and reduce oxidative stress.


With significant levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, and other phytochemicals and antioxidants, broccoli is one of the best vegetables for improving heart health, boosting the immune system and increasing bone mineral density.


The high levels of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C and unique antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, give avocados a major edge in the health food world and their use in meals is also versatile.


Among cruciferous vegetables, spinach is often recommended due to its high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, along with vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and magnesium. This can help reduce oxidative stress, improve digestion, lower the risk of cancer and protect the heart.


Citrus fruits overall tend to have very high levels of vitamin C, which not only helps the immune system but also helps in preventing chronic disease and improving healing and repair throughout the body.


Possessing more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut, these tasty snacks will lower your cholesterol levels, improve mood, boost energy and even help to regulate your sleep cycle and hormonal balance.

Top Surprising Healthy Foods

Many people know about the classic healthy foods that are found in almost every diet but some of the most surprising healthy foods include dark chocolate, seaweed, olive oil, peanut butter, popcorn, red wine, and chili peppers.


Boasting higher levels of iodine than almost every other food, seaweed can be critically important in regulating thyroid hormone production, which affects hundreds of different metabolic processes around the body.

Olive Oil

Being rich in monounsaturated fats, olive oil is one of the healthiest choices for cooking oil. Although many people think of oils as being inherently unhealthy, olive oil can help to lower inflammation, reduce symptoms of depression, prevent dementia and aid in weight-loss efforts.


Provided you don’t load it up with salt, popcorn is a rich source of dietary fiber, and antioxidants, namely polyphenols that can help with everything from lowering cholesterol levels to preventing cancer and reducing your risk of diabetes.

Red Wine

Alcohol is rarely praised as being a health food, but red wine contains resveratrol and quercetin, two active ingredients that have been directly linked to protecting the heart. This grape-derived beverage can also aid with weight loss and control cholesterol levels.

Trail Mix

One of the easier snacks to keep with you on the go, it typically contains raisins, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, all of which possess varying levels of fiber, good fats, minerals, and antioxidants, making this an ideal healthy treat. Only a small amount is needed, however, as there are high levels of calories and sugar in some of those foods as well.

Dark Chocolate

The active ingredients in cocoa have a number of positive effects on our health, such as improving cognitive function, lowering oxidative stress and blood pressure, helping to prevent cancer and reducing diabetes risk.


From vitamin E and vitamin B to selenium, zinc, iron, and calcium, oysters are a low-calorie, low-fat burst of energy, not to mention protein, which can help build strong bones, improve fertility, heal the skin, and protect the immune system.

Peanut Butter

This popular spread contains high levels of vitamin E, magnesium and potassium, as well as a number of antioxidants and “good” fats that can protect your cardiovascular system while lowering oxidative stress and improving the appearance of the skin.

Chili Pepper

With an incredible amount of vitamin C, as well as potassium, folic acid, and various other antioxidants, chili peppers may not be the easiest food to work into your diet but they can boost your heart health, stimulate cognition and act as a powerful shield for your immune system.

Guide for Healthy Food

The basic rules for eating healthy food are quite easy to follow:

  • Eat Breakfast – As the “most important meal” of the day, breakfast should be filled with healthy foods, ranging from dense protein like eggs to high-fiber dishes and vitamin-rich fruits. Without a stable start to the day, you are more likely to experience hunger and snack on unhealthy food.
  • Listen to Your Body – When you are hungry, you should eat something, and when you begin to feel full, you should stop. Healthy foods that are rich in fiber can help reduce overall calorie intake in situations like this, as they can help you feel full. Overeating, even when it is “healthy food”, will put a strain on your metabolism and digestive system.
  • Less Sugar and Fat – Although some good fats and natural sugars are found in healthy foods, as a general rule of thumb, your food should be low in sugar and should not contain saturated fats or trans fats. Processed foods and fast food should be avoided, as they are very high in these fats.
  • More Fruits and Vegetables – The key to any healthy diet is a regular intake of fruits and vegetables. High in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients, while typically being low in calories, these are the epitome of healthy foods.
  • Stay Hydrated – Drinking enough water will allow your body to properly digest and absorb the nutrients in your healthy food, while also keeping your cognition up and maintaining good water balance in the body.
  • Eat Real Food – Try to avoid foods that have long lists of preservatives, as these compounds and chemicals can have unexpected side effects on the body. Organic, raw and all-natural foods will generally be healthier than anything packaged and sealed by a food distributor.
  • Don’t Skip Meals – While reducing your caloric intake may be easier if you simply skip a meal, it is important to have at least 3 square meals filled with healthy food. If anything, you should be eating 5-6 meals per day, albeit of smaller sizes, to optimize your overall health.
  • Live a Little – There is nothing wrong with occasional indulgence if you have only been eating healthy food. Allowing yourself a sweet treat or a splurge meal doesn’t mean your health will be compromised. Your body is well equipped to handle infrequent bursts of “unhealthy” food.

Healthy Meals

Once you know the general guidelines for eating healthy foods, it can still be difficult to come up with a flexible diet plan that is accessible, easy-to-prepare and diverse enough to keep you satisfied. If you want to form a brand-new healthy food diet or incorporate some healthy foods to your present diet, the following meal ideas are a good way to start.

Healthy Breakfast

Healthy Lunch

Healthy Dinner

Healthy Snacks

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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