#1 Antioxidant Food

You may be surprised by which food tops the charts in antioxidant content. Have you ever heard the song, “Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat them, the more you’ll toot; the more you toot, the better you feel, so eat your beans at every meal?” You guessed it – beans! More specifically, small red beans are loaded with so many antioxidants that they top the chart. These small red beans are similar in color to a kidney bean, but are the size of a black bean. They can be found in Cajun, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. These beans are also loaded with nutrients – carbohydrates, protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Beans are nutrient power houses and with their reported antioxidants they are definitely one super food that should be on every one’s plate. Antioxidants are famous for protecting all of our body’s cells from damage that, if left unchecked, can lead to inflammation and chronic disease. Other foods that are bursting with antioxidants include kidney beans, pinto beans and blueberries, just to name a few.

#1 Good Mood Food

Dark chocolate is the perfect good mood food. Aim for greater than 60 percent cacao to provide a hearty dose of antioxidants, energy and endorphin stimulating compounds. Endorphins are best known for their ability to create the feeling of pleasure which in turn can help improve our mood. If that isn’t enough, dark chocolate also contains essential vitamins and minerals along with a chemical called serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter with anti-depressant like attributes. If you are down in the dumps or just need a little pick me up, make room for this potent super food – but remember to pay attention to portion size. In the case of dark chocolate, and with any chocolate confection, a little goes a long way.  Chocolate contains a very concentrated source of energy with its high fat content.  Chocolate also contains carbohydrates from added sugars during processing.  The type of fat in chocolate is a mix of mono-unsaturated or heart-healthy fat and saturated fat, otherwise known for its cholesterol raising ability. However, one of the main forms of saturated fat in dark chocolate does not raise cholesterol levels like the type found in animal and dairy fat. The bottom line – chocolate, in moderation, can be a perfect ending to your meal with its sweetness sealing the deal and leaving you with a smile, healthy heart and a happy mind.

#1 Long-lasting Food

This is a category where just one single food item was not going to do it. For long-lasting energy you need a blend of protein, carbohydrates, fat and micronutrients to set the stage for all day. The winner goes to the simple, yet complex yogurt parfait. Start with plain Greek yogurt. Mix in your favorite whole grain cereal, oats or granola and top with a handful of nuts and fresh fruit. This award-winning combination provides a great source of complex carbohydrates to fuel your body over a long period of time. The yogurt parfait also contains simple carbohydrates from milk and fruit sugars which are beneficial for jump-starting our engines by providing instant energy. Vitamins, minerals, fiber, water content, cost and convenience are a few more reasons why the yogurt parfait topped the list for #1 long-lasting food.

#1 Muscle Building Food

Again, this is another category where a single food item is almost impossible to choose as #1. In order for muscle building to occur you will need to focus on two very important areas – training and eating. You need calories to gain mass, but this should not be a free-for-all to eat all the fast food and junk you want. This is because your goal is muscle gain, not a gain in your fat mass. What and how much you eat all day will all play a role in your body’s ability to gain muscle, but one of the most important times to fuel for muscle growth is after a workout. Your body needs calories to repair muscle tissue that was broken down during your training session. The best fuel post-workout is a combination of carbohydrates and protein. You can get this in a simple peanut butter or turkey sandwich on whole grain bread or to kick it up a notch try blending low-fat milk, protein powder, frozen fruit, veggies and add a sprinkle of chia seeds. This smoothie combination will give you plenty of good quality protein, quick-acting carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and even omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be an anti-inflammatory and aid in recovery.

#1 Quick Pick Me Up Food

Once your body senses thirst, you are usually already dehydrated. One of the main causes of fatigue is a lack of water. Fatigue can also be due to a lack of energy. Dehydration coupled with a lack of available energy will definitely put you in a slump. Foods that contain carbohydrates, proteins and fat contain the materials our bodies use to make energy. Carbohydrates specifically are known for their ability to supply the body with energy quickly. The energy from carbohydrates is what many of our organs demand for their non-stop work. What we are looking for here is a food that can supply both fluid and fuel. Next time you are feeling a little sluggish reach for a bowl of melon. This quick pick me up food will boost energy levels with its high-carbohydrate content while flooding your body with water. Any kind of melon such as cantaloupe, honeydew and/or watermelon will do the trick. All of these melons have a high carbohydrate and water content – not to mention vitamins, minerals and fiber.

#1 Slimming Food(s)

It was definitely hard to choose just one specific food in this category too, so I have opted to award the #1 slimming food to two broad food categories – lean proteins and leafy greens.

Lean proteins include fish, egg whites, white meat chicken and poultry, lean beef, beans, tofu and even skim milk. Protein happens to be the most satisfying of the energy-yielding nutrients – meaning protein fills you up and keeps you happy. In other words, protein keeps you from stuffing your face again an hour after eating. Choosing egg whites versus a whole egg will save you around 45 calories per egg.

Leafy greens are another #1 slimming food due to their low-calorie and high-nutrient content. Four cups of raw baby spinach leaves is a whopping 30 calories, but it’s packed with potassium, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron – not to mention fiber, carbohydrates and protein. Fibrous foods are a definite plus when it comes to slimming down. Similar to protein, fiber keeps you fuller longer and even when super-sizing you will barely put a dent in your calorie counting.

Catherine Wallace, MSH, RD, LD/N is a local Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She works as a Clinical Pediatric Dietitian at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and teaches Nutrition and Food Science at the University of North Florida.