America's Healthiest Superfoods for Women
Superfoods for superwomen
You love to eat, but you also love to feel great. You can do both if you choose foods that make you smarter, leaner, stronger—and then use them in tasty new ways.
We’ve made that easy to do with Health’s top 10 superfoods for women. They were selected by our panel of experts for their mega benefits—from bone building and energy boosting to fat busting and disease fighting.
What’s even more delicious: When you mix and match these America’s Healthiest choices, you get super combos with even more power—a breakfast that’s good for your heart, a dinner that fights cancer, a sweet treat that helps keep your tummy calm and mind sharp. Plus, we’ve rounded up 15 delicious, benefit-packed runners-up, too. So read on (and start eating) for a super you.
Wild Alaskan salmon
“It’s all about omega-3s,” says health guru Andrew Weil, MD, explaining why fish like sockeye top his must-eat list for women. All of our experts agreed: wild salmon packs a wallop with two kinds of heart-healthy omega-3s, including DHA, a fatty acid essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Omega-3s also boost mood, fight depression, and may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Add in salmon’s lean protein and vitamin D (a critical nutrient many women lack), and you’ve got yourself a near-perfect food.
How much you need: Eat at least two servings of a fatty fish like salmon a week, the American Heart Association recommends. Can’t find it fresh? Canned wild Alaskan salmon is almost as good, says Steven Pratt, MD, author of SuperFoods Rx and SuperHealth.
If berries are nutritional treasures, wild blueberries are the crown jewels. “They’re truly one of nature’s ultimate antiaging foods,” says Kate Geagan, MS, RD, author of Go Green Get Lean. Research suggests the tiny gems not only help prevent memory loss but also may improve motor skills and help lower blood pressure. Another reason to love ’em: they’re high in antioxidants that help fight wrinkles.
Why choose wild? When scientists at Cornell University came up with a new way of testing the antioxidant activity in foods, wild blueberries scored the highest. They have compounds called anthocyanins, one of the most powerful forms of antioxidants. Another plus: at only 80 calories a cup, you can eat them without guilt.
How much you need: Aim for a half-cup to one cup of any kind of berries a day, but mix in wild blueberries as much as possible. Many supermarkets carry them frozen.
We all know that oats can help lower cholesterol. Now scientists say oats, rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, are also good for helping you feel full so you can control your weight. They keep you regular, too.
Which type of oats should you choose? If you’re making oatmeal, steel-cut oats take longer to cook than rolled oats but deliver more fiber, says Health Senior Food and Nutrition Editor Frances Largeman-Roth, RD. Always in a morning rush? Instant works, too.
How much you need: Add oats (and other whole grains) to your diet throughout the day. The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber a day—that’s about six times the amount of fiber in an average serving of oatmeal. So eat up!
This humble vegetable is a winner, thanks to research that suggests the chemicals in cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, may help prevent breast cancer by fighting excess estrogen. Rich in vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A, broccoli helps you feel full on less than 30 calories per serving. And it gets bonus points for fiber, folate (folic acid), calcium, iron, and potassium.
Cooked or raw, broccoli delivers a nutrient punch, says John La Puma, MD, host of What’s Cooking With ChefMD? and author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.
How much you need: Eat two or more half-cup servings of cooked broccoli per week.
"Protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s—what else is there to say?” asks David L. Katz, MD, MPH, associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine.
Eating just a handful of walnuts a day can help you lower cholesterol, boost brain power, sleep better, cope with stress, prevent heart disease, fight cancer, and more. In fact, a new study showed that walnuts appeared to lower the risk of breast cancer in mice.
How much you need: Have one ounce (about 12 walnut halves) daily.
Yes, they’re high in fat. But in this case that’s not a bad thing. “We shouldn’t be so fatphobic,” says Cheryl Forberg, RD, nutritionist for The Biggest Loser and author of Positively Ageless.
The heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in avocados can actually help you lose belly fat, a risk factor for heart disease and even some fertility problems. Avocados also pack high amounts of potassium, magnesium, folate, protein, and vitamins B6, E, and K. Add to that fiber and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, and you have one nutrient-dense food.
How much you need: Limit yourself to one-quarter to one-half an avocado a day.
Related video: Avocado Toast, 4 Ways
Beans of any kind are nutrition dynamos. But red beans made our top 10 list for several reasons: they’re rich in antioxidants and packed with protein, folate, minerals, and fiber, including resistant starch. “That’s the hot new thing in fiber research,” says Health Contributing Editor Maureen Callahan, MS, RD.
Resistant starch seems to have several important benefits, like boosting the body’s ability to burn fat, helping you feel full, controlling blood sugars, and even reducing cancer risk.
Don’t have time to cook a pot of dried beans? Canned beans are a good option, too, says Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis.
How much you need: Enjoy three cups of cooked beans a week. Worried about getting gassy? Build up slowly, David Grotto, RD, suggests. Start with one tablespoon of beans a day and double the amount each week. Rinsing canned beans before using also eases the problem.
We love its thick, creamy texture and tangy taste. But when it comes to yogurt, there are plenty more reasons you’ll want to go Greek. “It’s rich in calcium and good for our bones,” dietitian Kate Geagan says. In fact, one serving supplies nearly one-fourth of a woman’s daily calcium needs, and the fat-free variety is packed with twice as much protein as regular yogurt.
Fat-free Greek yogurt is also high in probiotics, cultures that can help ease irritable bowel syndrome, a condition that affects mostly women. And even though the evidence is inconclusive, some experts say probiotics help boost immunity—a plus during flu season.
How much you need: Have at least three servings of dairy a day; fat-free Greek yogurt is a good choice. “It’s a healthy swap for artery-clogging sour cream,” Geagan says.
No list would be complete without this flavorful oil. A staple of the Mediterranean diet, it has long been linked to heart health and longevity. But mounting evidence shows that olive oil may be good for your brain, too. A study from Columbia University suggests that sticking to a Mediterranean diet not only protects against Alzheimer’s disease but also helps with mild fuzzy thinking.
And that’s not all: findings from a 2008 study in Spain suggested that compounds in extra-virgin olive oil seem to fight certain kinds of breast cancer. Want to get more of this healthy staple in your diet? Substitute olive oil for other fats: use it on bread instead of butter and in the place of less-healthy cooking oils.
How much you need: Get two tablespoons a day; it may lower your risk of heart disease.
It’s “the food you love that loves you back,” Dr. Katz says. Rich in heart- protective antioxidants, dark chocolate can help reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. It’s loaded with magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, and phosphorus—all important for strong bones.
Studies suggest chocolate may also help hydrate the skin, lower blood pressure, and sharpen thinking. And then there’s the fun factor. “Chocolate is a sensual pleasure, something women often don’t get enough of in their food,” Dr. La Puma says. We say, let the pleasure begin.
How much you need: Eat just one-quarter ounce a day. And be sure to look for kinds made with at least 70% cocoa.
They lower cholesterol and may help you lose weight. In fact, in one study people who added almonds to a low-calorie diet were better able to lose weight and keep it off.
This beverage all-star may fight cancer and heart disease, and help prevent dementia, diabetes, and stroke. It hydrates like water, too, so it helps fight fatigue. Bonus: drink four cups a day, and you’ll kick up your calorie burn by 80 calories.
Organic milk (fat-free or low-fat)
It’s a rich source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D (a nutrient women are often low on).
Here’s a great snack with energy-boosting carbs, in addition to fiber, iron, and vitamin C. Raisins are high in natural sugar, yes, but their special phytochemicals help fight tooth decay.
High in cancer-fighting antioxidants, sweet potatoes are loaded with energy-boosting carbs, plus fiber, vitamins, manganese, and potassium.
This petite fruit contains about 70 milligrams of vitamin C—more than an orange and just 5 milligrams short of the daily recommendation for women. Research links C to improved eyesight, lower cancer risks, and better heart health.
How to enjoy: Peel and slice some kiwifruit, and mix it with bananas for a potassium-rich fruit salad; kiwifruit’s tartness complements the bananas’ mellow flavor. Or simply slice a kiwifruit in half and grab a spoon—the fruit creates its own bowl.
Pick whichever variety of mushroom suits your taste buds; all of them pack a healthy punch. But researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that two of the most commonly purchased mushrooms—crimini (the small, brown ones) and portobello—ranked as high in antioxidants as string beans, red bell peppers, and carrots.
How to enjoy: Saute a big portobello in heart-healthy olive oil, and sub for meat in burgers or enchiladas. Or slice raw button mushrooms, and toss them with chopped parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil for a simple side dish.
Raspberries are the main berry source of ellagitannins, a type of antioxidant that may have anticancer effects. They are also a good source of vitamin K, which helps increase bone-mineral density, reducing your risk of fractures.
One cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber, a big step toward the 25 grams of fiber per day that women need for protection against colon cancer, digestive disorders, and heart disease, says Kerry Neville, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
How to enjoy: Try Neville’s favorite: a spinach-and-raspberry salad.
Bored with spinach? Consider switching to Swiss chard. “It’s a fabulous brain food, helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s and improving mental function,” Dr. Jampolis says.
A Tufts University study found a strong association between a higher intake of B-vitamin-rich foods—like chard—and decreased risk of cognitive decline. Swiss chard is also a good source of vitamin E and folate, nutrients believed to protect the brain.
How to enjoy: Chop chard, and saute it in olive oil. Or add finely chopped Swiss chard to soups or omelets.
One cup of juicy, sweet watermelon serves up more than twice the lycopene (7.8 milligrams) of a fresh tomato. And watermelon offers healthy amounts of vitamins A and C, and it has just 40 calories per cup.
How to enjoy: Toss a watermelon-feta-and-arugula salad. Or sprinkle chile powder on chilled watermelon slices.
If your favorite dark chocolate treat boosts your mood—but you hate its fat and calories—have a handful of pumpkinseeds instead, Dr. Jampolis says. “Like chocolate, they’re a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is a mood elevator—nature’s healthy Prozac.”
How to enjoy: Buy pumpkinseeds in bulk, and toss them into salads and soups. Or add unsalted, raw seeds to the tops of muffins before baking.
Long underappreciated, eggs are a high-quality protein that’s rich in vitamins D and A and low in saturated fat. They also have choline, recently in the news for its importance in brain function. And they deliver two kinds of carotenoids essential for healthy eyes.
The zinc in lean beef may help build immunity, while its high iron content fights fatigue and iron-deficiency anemia.
An excellent source of protein, quinoa is also high in bone-boosting minerals like copper, phosphorous, iron, and magnesium. Plus, it’s a good source of PMS-fighting manganese.
Think of it as a smoothie that’s good for your gut. Rich in calcium and protein, the tangy drink has probiotics that help with digestion and can soothe intestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome.
A great source of energy, lentils deliver protein, fiber, and antioxidants.
This leafy green is loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, and lutein—an essential nutrient for healthy eyes.
One of the highest-antioxidant foods around, they help fight memory loss, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
They’re a terrific vegetarian source of protein. And eating moderate amounts of natural soy foods may lower the risk of breast cancer and keep bones strong after menopause.
You can’t beat ’em as a source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may help protect against cervical and breast cancers. The lycopene in tomatoes act like a sunscreen; eating them cooked can quadruple the SPF in your skin. And the polyphenols in tomatoes thin your blood naturally, so they’re good for your heart. Cook them with broccoli for even greater benefits.