6 Underrated Health Foods That Deserve a Spot in Your Grocery Cart

If you're like most folks, grocery shopping is usually done on autopilot. This is especially likely if you often consume the same foods—from the same stores—in the same meals. But what if you're on a mission to eat healthier? If you're new to the game, this type of shopping can unfortunately pose a roadblock.

Before your next grocery trip, check out this dietitian-recommended list of lesser known health foods. Compared to the trendy kale and hip avocado, these nutritional all-stars are often overlooked even though they pack a nutritional punch. Who knows—you might discover a new favorite!

1. Beets

This colorful root veggie is packed with nutrients like folate, potassium and iron. "[It's] also high in inorganic nitrates," explains Lauren Bickford, M.S., R.D., a virtual registered dietitian in Florida. "In the body, they turn into nitric oxide, which has been shown to decrease blood pressure."

Not sure how to eat beets? "Think of how you'd use other root vegetables, such as carrots," recommends Bickford. She suggests adding roasted beets to your favorite slaw or grating a raw beet and adding it to your salad. You can also get fancy and mix pureed beets into a chocolate recipe.

2. Lentils

"Lentils are super nutritious," says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in the New York City area. "In one cup [of cooked lentils], you get 18 grams of protein." The same serving also offers eight grams of fiber, a nutrient known for reducing constipation and increasing satiety.

You can find lentils canned, steamed or dried in the rice or soup aisle. "If you choose canned [lentils], go for a no-salt-added version," Gorin recommends. Try pairing lentils with eggs, experimenting with a lentil soup or making lentil burgers.

3. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Wait—cocoa powder? Yes, you read that right. Gorin shares that cocoa powder is a stellar source of antioxidants, which help the body prevent or slow down certain types of cell damage. Frontiers of Immunology shares that cocoa's active compounds can benefit intestinal bacteria and inflammation, as well.

Of course, no all cocoa powder is created equal. The key is to use unsweetened, 100-percent cocoa powder. "It's a great way to get that chocolate taste we all crave in a healthy way," notes Gorin.

4. Eggplant

The next time you're in the produce section, buy an eggplant or two. According to
Zubaida Qamar, Ph.D., R.D., a registered dietitian and assistant professor at San Francisco State University, it's a rich source of fiber and antioxidants. In fact, a 2019 study in Mutation Research shares that eggplant is one of the top vegetables for preventing oxidative stress.

Don't just limit yourself to eggplant Parmesan, though. "[Eggplant] can be roasted to make baba ganoush, or pan-fried with some salt and pepper for a snack," Qamar suggests. Feeling adventurous? Make eggplant "pulled pork" burgers for a unique plant-based meal.

5. Farro

"This ancient grain has been around for thousands of years," says Bickford. "It's packed with many micronutrients, including magnesium, zinc and niacin." Farro is also full of fiber, which most Americans don't get enough of.

Farro's nutty, rich flavor is perfect for a variety of meals. Bickford suggests tossing cold farro with citrus vinaigrette, or mixing the warm grain with roasted veggies.

6. Edamame

For the average American, edamame is usually enjoyed in Japanese restaurants, but according to Gorin, it also has a place in your homemade meals. "Edamame is a terrific plant protein, providing 19 grams protein per cup along with eight grams of fiber," she says.

It's surprisingly excellent in smoothies, too. "Edamame has [a] somewhat neutral taste, so it picks up the flavors it's surrounded [by], such as vanilla," explains Gorin. While it makes a great snack on its own, you can also try it in a high-protein vanilla smoothie, or make an edamame salad.

Nervous about trying new foods? "You never know if you're going to like something until you try it," encourages Gorin. "[Plus,] as we get older, our taste buds actually get less sensitive. So, if you tried something when you were younger and didn't like it, give it another chance now." You never know what foods you'll end up loving.