For all those who’ve sat at their desks wondering: What should I eat for lunch? What would be the healthiest, most nutritious food that is also good for the waistline? David Grotto, a registered dietician and author of the forthcoming book The Best Things You Can Eat, hopes to settle the question once and for all.
Using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, he uncovered the top 10 best foods by their quantity and richness of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (fats and protein). They’re also low in calories per recommended serving size, and some may surprise you.
Grotto says all dry beans, including lentils, are incredibly nutrient-dense, and the best among them is the kidney bean. They’re full of vitamins and minerals that are good for the heart, bones and organ functioning, and will satiate hunger with a low number of calories.
Calories: 200 per cup
Nutrients: Rich in folate, vitamin B1 or thiamine, magnesium, molybdenum, soluble fiber, iron and potassium.
Yogurt or Kiefer
Plain, low-fat yogurt and kiefer, which is like a liquid yogurt, are full of healthy probiotics, vitamins and minerals. The pantothenic acid helps energy metabolism, and the high concentration of iodine is particularly good for the thyroid. Grotto says that Greek yogurt is also a good protein source.
Calories: 140 per cup
Nutrients: Rich in pantothenic acid, vitamin B2 or riboflavin, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iodine.
“This is the shocker,” says Grotto. “Beef liver is a gold mine of nutrition.” Because it’s full of iron, it is especially good for menstruating women. It also has choline for memory and chromium for regulating blood sugars. It’s low in fat but does have cholesterol, so he recommends eating it a couple times a week and not every day.
Calories: 137 per 3 ounces
Nutrients: Rich in iron, vitamin A, biotin, choline, vitamin B12, vitamin B3 or niacin, vitamin B6, chromium, copper and phosphorus.
Tasty and low-cal, salmon has healthy omega-3 fatty acids that your body needs for brain function and development but can only get through certain foods. It’s also high in niacin, which works to lower cholesterol.
Calories: 157 per 3 ounces
Nutrients: Rich in biotin, vitamin B12, vitamin B3 or niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin D, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids and choline.
Grotto notes that this category encompasses a variety of types, including oyster, button, shiitake and Portobello mushrooms, and all are incredibly low in calories and full of nutrients. A high density of vitamin B2 means they are especially helpful for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
Calories: 15 per cup
Nutrients: Rich in biotin, vitamin B2, copper, chromium and pantothenic acid.
This should give you an excuse to treat yourself more—but not every day. Lobster is one of the best sources of selenium and zinc, but it is also very high in naturally occurring sodium. Grotto recommends eating it two to three times a week.
Calories: 65 per 3 ounces
Nutrients: Rich in pantothenic acid, copper, selenium and zinc.
Soybeans are so jammed full of healthfulness that they rank as a top source of 10 different nutrients, including both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps digestion and lowers blood sugar and cholesterol. Because they are so dense, Grotto recommends a half cup rather than the typical suggested serving size of a cup.
Calories: 150 per half cup
Nutrients: Rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, insoluble and soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats and protein.
Particularly good for those with a vitamin B12 deficiency or who don’t eat much meat, oysters help boost critical processes like red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis.
Calories: 85 per 3 ounces
Nutrients: Rich in vitamin B12, copper, iron, selenium and zinc.
Spinach is—by far—the best bang for your calorie, says Grotto. The vitamin K is good for blood clotting, which a healthy person needs, and the manganese supports bone health, muscle strength, fertility and insulin production.
Calories: 14 per two cups
Nutrients: Rich in folate, vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese.
Because it’s chock-full of B vitamins, it’s good for healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver, as well as the nervous system. Grotto recommends a lean cut like a center cut pork chop.
Calories: 196 per 3 ounces
Nutrients: Rich in biotin, choline, vitamin B3 or niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B1 and zinc.