Imagine a choice of foods that were tasty, nutritious and good for your health – i.e. they helped you maintain a healthy body weight, improved your overall mood, and reduced your risk of developing diseases. According to several sources and surveys in North America and Western Europe, the following ten foods are considered overall to be the most healthy. They are not listed in order of importance.

1) Apples

Apples are an excellent source of antioxidants, which combat free radicals. Free radicals are damaging substances generated in the body that cause undesirable changes and are involved in the aging process and some diseases.

Some animal studies have found that an antioxidant found in apples (polyphenols) might extend lifespans. Tests on fruit flies found that polyphenols also help them to preserve their ability to walk, climb and move about.

Another study found that adult females who regularly ate apples had a 13% to 22% lower risk of developing heart disease.

2) Almonds

Almonds are rich in nutrients, including magnesium, vitamin E, iron, calcium, fiber, and riboflavin. A scientific review published in Nutrition Reviews last year found that almonds as a food may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

The authors wrote: “The message that almonds, in and of themselves, are a heart-healthy snack should be emphasized to consumers. Moreover, when almonds are incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet, the benefits are even greater.”

Almonds have more fiber than any other tree nut.

The fatty acid profile of almonds, which is made up of 91-94% unsaturated fatty acids, may partly explain why it helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

3) Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, folate and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds which reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Broccoli also contains vitamin C, as well as beta-carotene, an antioxidant.

Boiling broccoli for too long can destroy much of its vital nutrients

Overcooking can destroy myrosinase – if the enzyme myrosinase is not destroyed during cooking, broccoli can also reduce the risk of developing cancer. The best way to cook broccoli and to preserve the myrosinase is to steam the vegetable lightly – if it is overcooked, the vegetable’s beneficial effects can be seriously undermined, researchers from the University of Illinois wrote in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition and Cancer.

Myrosinase converts some of the sulfur-based chemicals found in broccoli (called glucosinolates) into isothiocyanates (other sulfur-containing chemicals), which are known to have anticancer properties. The researchers said that adding broccoli to a meal can often double its cancer protection properties.

Another ingredient, sulforphane, which exists in broccoli, is also said to have anti-cancer as well as anti-inflammatory qualities. However, overcooking can destroy most of the benefits.

4) Blueberries

Blueberries are rich in fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals found in plants. Unlike minerals and vitamins that are also found in plant foods, phytonutrients are not essential for keeping us alive. However, they may help prevent disease and keep the body working properly.

According to a study carried out at Harvard Medical School, elderly people who eat plenty of blueberries (and strawberries) are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline, compared to other people of their age who do not.

Blueberries were found in another study carried out by scientists at Texas Woman’s University, to help in curbing obesity. Plant polyphenols, which are abundant in blueberries, have been shown to reduce the development of fat cells (adipogenesis), while inducing the breakdown of lipids and fat (lipolysis).

Regular blueberry consumption can reduce the risk of suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) by 10%, because of the berry’s bioactive compounds, anthocyanins, scientists from East Anglia University, England, and Harvard University, USA reported in the American Journal of Nutrition.

Blueberry consumption has also been associated with a lower risk of artery hardening, and/or intestinal diseases. The fruit has also been linked to stronger bones in animal studies.

5) Oily fish

Examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies. These types of fish have oil in their tissues and around the gut. Their lean fillets contain up to 30% oil, specifically, omega-3 fatty acids. These oils are known to provide benefits for the heart, as well as the nervous system. Oily fish are also known to provide benefits for patients with inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

Oily fish also contain vitamins A and D.

Scientists at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that prostate cancer progression was significantly slowed when patients went on a low-fat diet with fish oil supplements.

6) Leafy green vegetables

Studies have shown that a high intake of dark-leafy vegetables, such as spinach or cabbage may significantly lower a person’s risk of developing diabetes type 2. Researchers from Leicester University, England, said that the impact of dark green vegetables on human health should be investigated further, after they gathered data from six studies.

Spinach, for example, is very rich in antioxidants, especially when uncooked, steamed or very lightly boiled. It is a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, as well as selenium, niacin, zinc, phosphorus, copper, folic acid, potassium, calcium, manganese, betaine, and iron.

Boiling spinach can significantly reduce its levels of good nutrients.

7) Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber, beta carotene, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B6, as well as carotene (the pink, yellow ones).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, USA, compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. The sweet potato ranked number one, when vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, protein and complex carbohydrates were considered.

Sweet potato roots are rich in fiber and several important nutrients

8) Wheat germ

Wheat germ is the part of wheat that germinates to grow into a plant – the embryo of the seed. Germ, along with bran, is commonly a by-product of the milling; when cereals are refined, the germ and bran are often milled out.

Wheat germ is high in several vital nutrients, such as vitamin E, folic acid (folate), thiamin, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, as well as fatty alcohols and essential fatty acids. Wheat germ is also a good source of fiber.

9) Avocados

Many people avoid avocados because of its high fat content; they believe that avoiding all fats leads to better health and easier-to-control body weight – this is a myth. Approximately 75% of the calories in an avocado come from fat; mostly monosaturated fat.

Weight-for-weight, avocadoes have 35% more potassium than bananas. Avocados are also very rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin K and vitamin E. Avocados also have a very high fiber content of 25% soluble and 75% insoluble fiber.

Studies have shown that regular avocado consumption lowers blood cholesterol levels.

Avocado extracts are currently being studied in the laboratory to see whether they might be useful for treating diabetes or hypertension.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that nutrients taken from avocados were able to stop oral cancer cells, and even destroy some of the pre-cancerous cells.

10) Oatmeal

Oatmeal is meal made from rolled or ground oats, or porridge made from ground or rolled oats. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the term “porridge” or “porridge oats” are common terms for the breakfast cereal that is usually cooked.

Interest in oatmeal has increased considerably over the last twenty years because of its health benefits.

Studies have shown that if you eat a bowl of oatmeal everyday your blood cholesterol levels, especially if they are too high, will drop, because of the cereal’s soluble fiber content. When findings were published in the 1980s, an “oat bran craze” spread across the USA and Western Europe. The oats craze dropped off in the 1990s.

In 1997, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) agreed that foods with high levels of rolled oats or oat bran could include data on their labels about their cardiovascular heart benefits if accompanied with a low-fat diet. This was followed by another surge in oatmeal popularity.

Oats is rich in complex carbohydrates, as well as water-soluble fiber, which slow digestion down and stabilize levels of blood-glucose. Oatmeal porridge is very rich in B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium.