Consider celery, for example—forever the garnish, never the main meal. You might even downgrade it to bar fare, since the only stalks most guys eat are served alongside hot wings or immersed in Bloody Marys. All of which is a shame, really. Besides being a perfect vehicle for peanut butter, this vegetable contains bone-beneficial silicon and cancer-fighting phenolic acids. And those aren’t even what makes celery so good for you. You see, celery is just one of six underappreciated and undereaten foods that can instantly improve your diet. Make a place for them on your plate, and you’ll gain a new respect for the health benefits they bestow—from lowering blood pressure to fighting belly fat. And the best part? You’ll discover just how delicious health food can be.
This water-loaded vegetable has a rep for being all crunch and no nutrition. But ditch that mindset: Celery contains stealth nutrients that heal. Why it’s healthy: “My patients who eat four sticks of celery a day have seen modest reductions in their blood pressure—about 6 points systolic and 3 points diastolic,” says Mark Houston, M. D., director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital, in Nashville. It’s possible that phytochemicals in celery, called phthalides, are responsible for this health boon. These compounds relax muscle tissue in artery walls and increase bloodflow, according to nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph. D., author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. And beyond the benefits to your BP, celery also fills you up—with hardly any calories. How to eat it: Try this low-carbohydrate, protein-packed recipe for a perfect snack any time of day. In a bowl, mix a 4.5-ounce can of low-sodium tuna (rinsed and drained), 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion, 1/4 cup of finely chopped apple, 2 tablespoons of fat-free mayonnaise, and some fresh ground pepper. Then spoon the mixture into celery stalks. (Think tuna salad on a log.) Makes 2 servings Per serving: 114 calories, 15 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber), 1 gram fat
While this algae is a popular health food in Japan, it rarely makes it into U. S. homes. Why it’s healthy: There are four classes of seaweeds—green, brown, red, and blue-green—and they’re all packed with healthful nutrients. “Seaweeds are a great plant source of calcium,” says nutritionist Alan Aragon, M.S. They’re also loaded with potassium, which is essential for maintaining healthy blood-pressure levels. “Low potassium and high sodium intake can cause high blood pressure,” Bowden says. “Most people know to limit sodium, but another way to combat the problem is to take in more potassium.” How to eat it: In sushi, of course. You can also buy sheets of dried seaweed at Asian groceries, specialty health stores. Use a coffee grinder to grind the sheets into a powder. Then use the powder as a healthy salt substitute that’s great for seasoning salads and soups.
Despite the Cannabis classification, these seeds aren’t for smoking. But they may provide medicinal benefits. Why they’re healthy: “Hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Cassandra Forsythe, Ph. D., a nutrition researcher at the University of Connecticut. What’s more, a 1-ounce serving of the seeds provides 11 grams of protein—but not the kind of incomplete protein found in most plant sources. Hemp seeds provide all the essential amino acids, meaning the protein they contain is comparable to that found in meat, eggs, and dairy. How to eat them: Toss 2 tablespoons of the seeds into your oatmeal or stir-fry. Or add them to your postworkout shake for an extra dose of muscle-building protein.
Perhaps these mollusks are considered guilty by association, since they often appear in decadent restaurant meals that are overloaded with calories. (But then again, so does asparagus.) Why they’re healthy: Scallops are more than 80 percent protein. “One 3-ounce serving provides 20 grams of protein and just 95 calories,” says Bowden. They’re also a good source of both magnesium and potassium. (Clams and oysters provide similar benefits.) How to eat them: Sear the scallops: It’s a fast and easy way to prepare this seafood. Purchase fresh, dry-packed scallops (not the “wet-packed” kind) and place them on a large plate or cookie sheet. While you preheat a skillet on medium high, pat the scallops dry with a paper towel and season the exposed sides with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil to it. Being careful not to overcrowd, lay the scallops in the skillet, seasoned-side down, and then season the top sides. Sear the scallops until the bottoms are caramelized (about 2 minutes), and then flip them to sear for another 1 to 2 minutes, depending on size and thickness. Now they’re ready to eat. Pair the scallops with sauteed vegetables, or place them on a bed of brown rice.
Sure, dark meat has more fat than white meat does, but have you ever considered what the actual difference is? Once you do, Thanksgiving won’t be the only time you “call the drumstick.” Why it’s healthy: “The extra fat in dark turkey or chicken meat raises your levels of cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that makes you feel fuller, longer,” says Aragon. The benefit: You’ll be less likely to overeat in the hours that follow your meal. What about your cholesterol? Only a third of the fat in a turkey drumstick is the saturated kind, according to the USDA food database. (The other two-thirds are heart-healthy unsaturated fats.) What’s more, 86 percent of that saturated fat either has no impact on cholesterol, or raises HDL (good) cholesterol more than LDL (bad) cholesterol—a result that actually lowers your heart-disease risk. As for calories, an ounce of dark turkey meat contains just 8 more calories than an ounce of white meat. How to eat it: Just enjoy, but be conscious of your total portion sizes. A good rule of thumb: Limit yourself to 8 ounces or less at any one sitting, which provides up to 423 calories. Eat that with a big serving of vegetables, and you’ll have a flavorful fat-loss meal.
It’s no surprise that these hearty legumes are good for you. But when was the last time you ate any? Why they’re healthy: Boiled lentils have about 16 grams of belly-filling fiber in every cup. Cooked lentils also contain 27 percent more folate per cup than cooked spinach does. And if you eat colored lentils—black, orange, red—there are compounds in the seed hulls that contain disease-fighting antioxidants, says Raymond Glahn, Ph. D., a research physiologist with Cornell University. How to eat them: Use lentils as a bed for chicken, fish, or beef—they make a great substitute for rice or pasta. Pour 4 cups of chicken stock into a large pot. Add 1 cup of red or brown lentils and a half cup each of onion and carrot chunks, along with 3 teaspoons of minced garlic. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the lentils until they’re tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the lentils from the heat, add a splash of red-wine vinegar, and serve.