When you type “world’s healthiest foods to eat” into Google, results range from blueberries to eggs to broccoli. You’ve been eating these same foods your whole life, and you’d probably eat more of them if all those recipes didn’t start to all taste the same. Where’s the variety? Are there foods with healthy fats besides avocados and nuts? Are there antioxidant-rich foods besides blueberries?
Chances are, you’ve only just begun to discover the variety of nutritious foods the world has to offer. You don’t have to keep eating the same boring foods to be healthy. It’s time to add more flavors — and health benefits — to your diet. These are some of the world’s healthiest foods you’ve probably never heard of. Start making your grocery list ASAP.
1. Mung beans
Fish and avocados aren’t the only heart-healthy foods out there. Foods high in protein and fiber are also good for your heart. And plant-based foods like mung beans often have natural anti-inflammatory properties. This is likely due to the high fiber content, as this form of carbohydrate promotes slow digestion and discourages you from eating foods that might further irritate your gastrointestinal system. Use mung beans to create homemade falafel, a bean-based salad, or put a unique spin on traditional hummus.
Need a pinch of bitter spice in your life? Fenugreek is used as both an herb and as a legume. Today it’s most commonly used in European and South Asian dishes for curries and teas, and 100 grams of fenugreek yields about 323 calories, 6 grams of fat, 23 grams of protein, and 25 grams of fiber, making it a heart-healthy addition to any dish.
Foods native to the Mediterranean, including this one, are among the healthiest you can eat. The Mediterranean Diet has the power to decrease your risk of dying from heart disease and other related conditions, so eating foods that fit in with these recommendations — healthy fats, plus plenty of fiber — just makes sense. Add fenugreek to a spicy stew, or use it as a powder in your favorite homemade curry dish.
Turnips, carrots, and potatoes aren’t the only vegetables that grow underground. The most unfamiliar is probably the yacon. It looks like a potato, but is full of complex sugar compounds that promote slow digestion and may help regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and your liver due to its high fiber content.
This vegetable grows underground like a potato, but tastes slightly sweet (different than a sweet potato, though). You can cook yacon and incorporate it into other recipes or eat it raw. Yacon powder and syrup are also often used as healthy alternative sweeteners (not the synthetic artificial sweeteners you’re thinking of) especially for controlling blood sugar. Make it a substitute for extra sugar in baking for a sweet treat that doesn’t go overboard.
If you’re at all familiar with Japanese cuisine, arame isn’t a complete stranger to you. You’ve most likely seen it on a mixed salad or used as a garnish. Though it looks inedible, arame — long brown seaweed-like strands — have a sweet taste and plenty of nutritional benefits. A 50-gram serving will give you about half of your daily calcium intake and a quarter of your daily recommended iron intake. Since the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences says iron is lost daily as your body gets rid of waste, consider adding arame to rice or a stir-fry diet to prevent iron deficiency.
Goldenberries, also called peruvian ground cherries, aren’t easy to find fresh in the U.S., but their health benefits are worth the effort. These berries are native to South America, where they are harvested, dried, packaged, and sold. According to Livestrong, goldenberries contain 80 calories per ounce, and they have zero fat, 3 grams of fiber, and plenty of antioxidants.
These berries taste a little sweet and sour, and you can eat them raw or add them to any recipe that calls for fruit. Bake them into a pie or a pancake, put them in your yogurt — you could even try adding them to a smoothie.
Native to Ethiopia, teff is a versatile grain with a variety of health benefits. One cup of teff yields 255 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates, less than 2 grams of total fat, and about 10 grams of protein. Unlike many other flours you’ll find at your local grocery store, teff flour from The Teff Company has exactly one ingredient: teff. No added or missing ingredients.
According to Organic Facts, teff is heart-healthy, good for digestion, and contains minerals essential for bone health. Unlike wheat, teff is considered gluten free, and can be used to make everything from pancakes to homemade energy bars to pie crust.
Often seen as the dark outer layer keeping your sushi roll in one piece, Nori is a Japanese favorite. Like other veggies, nori is low in calories and extremely nutritious — you can eat an entire sheet of Nori and consume less than 10 calories.
Nori is most notorious for its supply of the antioxidant vitamin C, which according to Mayo Clinic, can help protect your cells from free radical damage — something that happens naturally as you age. You don’t have to limit yourself to sushi if you want to eat more nori, either. Add it to your salad, create your own salad dressing, or bake it into veggie chips like you might do with kale.
The reason so many people shun grains is because many of the products we eat are made with refined grains — less healthy than their whole counterparts. But grains, especially lesser-known varieties like amaranth, are full of nutrients you don’t want to miss out on. Eating 1 cup of amaranth will give you 9 grams of protein, 46 total carbohydrates, and 5 grams of fiber. It’s a little bit sweet if you cook it just right — no added sugars necessary.
What’s most surprising about this grain is, like quinoa, buckwheat, and several other varieties, it’s safe to eat if you’re gluten-free. The Celiac Disease Foundation notes that people with this condition have an autoimmune reaction to wheat, rye, and barley products, which all contain gluten. Since amaranth isn’t that closely related to these grains, everyone is free to prepare it like oatmeal or add a unique flavor to their soup.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, and can be used as a meat alternative in a number of dishes. According to Livestrong, 1 cup of tempeh gives you about 31 grams of protein. A diet rich in protein — from both plant-based sources like beans or animal sources like eggs, dairy, and meat — isn’t just good for weight loss and making you feel full. Research shows protein and strength training go better together. To incorporate tempeh into your protein-rich diet, consider adding it to your stir-fry or making a soy-based tempeh burger.
10. Black garlic
Did you know there’s more than one type of garlic? The fresh, white garlic you know and love has plenty of health benefits on its own. However, exposed to humidity and left to age for a number of weeks, it transforms into black garlic — which is more nutritious than traditional garlic, with a completely different texture and taste.
Black garlic has more protein, calcium, and antioxidants than fresh garlic. You can make black garlic yourself, but The Huffington Post suggests buying it online or seeing if your local grocery store carries it — it takes more than a month before it’s ready to use in cooking.
Celeriac takes some work to peel open, but once you do, the benefits are worth the effort. It is a low-fat food perfect for a quick afternoon snack. Celeriac also contains vitamins C and B6. According to LiveScience, vitamin B6 is water-soluble — it isn’t stored in the body for later use, and any excess you have, you excrete. Including a variety of sources in your diet ensures you’re getting this vitamin along with a number of other vitamins and minerals your body does not produce on its own. You can use celeriac in cooking to make soups, sprinkle over salads, or eat it raw.
Kohlrabi (in German: “cabbage turnip”) is the vegetable you never knew you wanted. This member of the cabbage family is almost fat-free. One cup is only 36 calories, and has 27 milligrams of sodium, 8 total carbohydrates, and a little less than 3 grams of protein. Like other veggies, it’s full of fiber — almost 5 grams per serving.
This vegetable is unique — it consists of a bottom bulb with a stem and leaves, and you can store, cook, and eat both. You can peel off the bulb’s outer layer and eat it raw or cook both the leaves and the bulb separately or together. Add it to your salad, a vegetable soup, or put it on the grill. The farmers market is your best bet for finding kohlrabi with stems and leaves still intact.
Koreans love kimchi — a picy fermented cabbage — as much as Americans love cheese. They put it on pizza, burgers, even on top of rice. Kimchi is an excellent source of lactobacilli, a healthy bacteria that’s good for your gut. According to Harvard Health Publications, fermented foods like kimchi are beneficial for many digestive issues and easing symptoms of related diseases. Adding kimchi into your diet is easy — just add it in wherever you’d usually add cheese. Kimchi omelet, anyone?
Freekeh is wheat that’s harvested earlier than the grain you’re used to eating. Roasted once harvested, it tastes sort of like barley, but smokier. Like other grains, it’s packed with fiber and healthy carbohydrates. In one ¼-cup serving of freekeh, you get 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 28 grams of carbs.
Freekeh has a low glycemic index compared to foods like white rice, potatoes, and white bread, which means it has less of an effect on blood sugar levels. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests a diet rich in these foods contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, so reach for freekeh.
Spelt is a variation of wheat that’s high in fiber and protein and low in fat. Because it’s so closely related to wheat, it’s not considered a gluten-free alternative for people with celiac disease. However, 1 cup of this grain provides 10 grams of protein and about 7 grams of fiber per serving.
Research suggests diets high in fiber are associated with reduced appetite and calorie intake. Eating more high-fiber foods like spelt can help you lose weight and fight off junk food cravings. Use spelt in recipes that call for rice or potatoes to add an extra dose of fiber to your dinner.