The 16 Most Powerful Foods

Here they are: perhaps the most nutritionally potent, anti-aging, bang-for-your-buck super foods nature has to offer, as recommended by Mark. If you can shoot for getting these power foods into your diet on a weekly basis, you’ll be doing very well indeed. Bookmark the list or print it out and keep it on the fridge. There are dozens more powerful foods, of course, so be sure to add your favorite recommendations in the comments at the bottom of the post!

Grass-fed Beef

A six-ounce portion of grass-fed beef contains between 2 and 6 times the Omega-3 fats of regular beef and averages about 100 fewer calories. Grass-fed beef is a great natural source of protein and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Grass-fed beef is raised in superior conditions to regular factory-farmed steer. Here’s a great online resource.

Smart alternatives: naturally-lean grass-fed bison, organic or free-range pork, organic or free-range chicken; vegetarians can rely on nuts, tofu, tempeh, and a variety of beans

Wild Salmon

Wild salmon remains one of the world’s best sources of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats can only be obtained through your diet, and they help to nourish your brain, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve overall health. Tuna is another good source for Omega-3’s. In general, choose wild, cold-water, and fatty fish to farmed, warm-water, and processed fish. If you want to learn more, here is some important information about mercury, pollution, and farmed fish. If you’re concerned about consuming fish, period, then consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.


We’ve blogged quite frequently about the terrific nutritional choice that is the egg: read more here. Eggs are rich in protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. Choose the DHA (docosahexanoic acid) enhanced version available in most stores for an extra boost of Omega-3’s. Eggs are an especially great choice for vegetarians.


Though all berries (and most fruits) contain beneficial amounts of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, blueberries are nature’s most potent free radical scavengers thanks to high levels of anthocyanidans and ellagic acid. They’re also quite high in fiber and relatively low in calories (about 80 calories per cup). Aim to get this cancer-fighter into your diet on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Smart alternatives: cranberries, cherries, grapes, figs

Flax seeds

Flax seeds are exceptionally high in alpha linolenic acid, a form of Omega-3 (your body has to convert it). They are also full of manganese, magnesium, and fiber. If you can handle the taste, a daily serving of flax seeds in your protein fruit smoothie or atop your salad is a smart nutritional choice.


Plain, full-fat yogurt (organic, and preferably raw!) is a wonderfully dense source of energy, calcium, and beneficial bacteria. Yogurt makes a smart alternative to the chemical vats that are processed dressings, sauces, and spreads. Yogurt is wonderful with fruits and vegetables alike. Here are some of our favorite yogurt recipes for any time of day.


Aside from being delicious, garlic is beneficial for heart health (particularly for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels). Garlic may also reduce blood pressure and appears to possess antibacterial properties. Garlic is rich in antioxidants as well. But avoid the grocery store’s ready-to-go powdered, peeled, and chopped stuff: fresh is absolutely best.

Also smart: leeks, shallots, scallions, onions, ginger

Brussels Sprouts

These little “cabbages” are high in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. But what makes brussels sprouts special is that they’re nearly 25% protein – higher than most vegetables and pretty impressive, actually! Of course, in terms of calories, they’re quite low (only about 50 calories per cup), so don’t go eliminating other protein sources from your diet just yet. Still, when coupled with nuts and eaten generously, this little sprout offers a nice amino acid dose for vegetarians. Like their cruciferous cousins, brussels sprouts contain indole, a cancer-fighting phytochemical.


Most nuts and seeds are naturally quite healthy (but remember that a peanut is not a nut!). But almonds – particularly raw and organic – are among the healthiest, offering protein, fiber, vitamin E, and many other vitamins and minerals. Nuts are great for snacking on instead of high-sugar or trans-fat-filled processed junk!


Broccoli is a cruciferous cancer-fighting vegetable. It is incredibly rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, yet low in calories. This delicious, sturdy and versatile veggie goes with nearly everything and soaks up tasty sauces and healthy oils quite well. Top with cashew butter, toss with balsamic vinegar and almonds, or bake with chicken and a touch of organic butter. Broccoli also contains indole (also called indole-3-carbinol or I3C), a substance which may stimulate healthy hormone production.


Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that may reduce your risk of certain cancers. And certain heirloom and “purple” tomatoes happen to be loaded with them. But even regular red and orange tomatoes come packed with vitamin C and lycopene. Enjoy this low-calorie sweet vegetable several times weekly.

Sweet Potatoes

If you’re going to eat a starchy vegetable, this is a brilliant choice. Sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamin A (as beta carotene), vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, calcium, and iron. One serving of sweet potato has 7 grams of fiber.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are low in calories and provide plenty of vitamin C. But their real power comes in that you’ll get a generous serving of antioxidants each time you crunch (thanks to the colorful skin pigments). Don’t just go for green – mix it up! A red bell has nearly 10 times the beta carotene of a green bell.

Hot Peppers

Don’t be afraid of a little heat. Fight cancer with many of the wonderful varieties of spicy peppers available. Whether stewed, baked, charred, or chopped, check our guide to the many excellent and nutritious peppers you should enjoy frequently.

Swiss Chard

We’ve been reminding you about the importance of vitamin K lately. Swiss chard happens to be one of the best sources. This powerhouse green is chewy, substantial and richly flavored. You’ll enjoy this pungent leaf’s nutritional benefits, too: fiber, manganese, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, vitamin E, potassium, and plenty of other nutrients. It’s one of the most comprehensive greens, in terms of vitamins and minerals, so eat it regularly.

Smart alternatives: any dark, leafy green such as kale or spinach

Olive Oil

Of course you must know by now: olive oil is one of the healthiest fats on earth! Drench your vegetables, salads, meats and eggs in plenty of olive oil daily to improve your heart health, reduce your risk of certain cancers, and balance your ratio of dietary fats.

Further Reading:

Best Brain Foods

44 Finger Lickin’ Good Low Carb Recipes for Vegans and Carnivores Alike

Unusual, Tasty and Nutritious Food Combinations

Flickr Photo Credits (CC):

Salmon, Blueberries, Yogurt, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Sweet Potatoes, Peppers, Olives

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39 thoughts on “The 16 Most Powerful Foods”

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  1. Thank you so much for this list Mark!!! What about yams, are they as good as sweet potatoes?

    1. (1) Yams and sweet potatoes are two different vegetables – yams are typically much bigger – think a horseradish root on steroids — and are starchy rather than sweet.

      (2) Many years ago, those who distributed orange-flesh sweet potatoes started to market them as “yams” to distinguish them from white-fleshed sweet potatoes.

      (3) The orange-flesh sweet potatoes are still often marketed as “yams” but have little in common with true yams.

    2. Hello all. I’m new at this, and somehow lost the thread about periodic fasting.
      I’ve been a vegetarian/vegan for 36 years, and have fasted as long as 3 weeks on small amounts of vegetable juice, mostly green. Every day I drink one qt of homemade green drink which includes a few carrots and an apple too. Eat every day one huge salad which includes everything under the sun. That’s about all each day, unless I include fruit in the evening. I’ve never used super foods, and would probably die now if I ate meat.

    1. I too.

      A potato is Solanum tuberosum: what are sweet potatoes and yams?

  2. Yams and sweet potatoes are two different root vegetables. Usually, what people call yams are actually sweet potatoes…I think.

    I prefer butternut squash myself. My grandmother used to make a squash pie. Every bit as good as pumpkin pie.

  3. What A Great Variety!
    I Also Thought Sweet Potatoes Were Yams.
    I Don’t Like “No” Pie, But Love Butternut Squash.

  4. I’m curious, where does one buy grass fed beef and wild salmon? I mean do you have to go to a special meat and fish market to get these things? I’m skeptical of fish from the supermarket, but I thought I heard that Costco sells only fresh fish.

  5. Hi Jerry-
    Costco sells fresh and frozen/wild and farmed salmon. They have some organic beef and buffalo now but it’s not grass-fed.
    If you have a whole foods in your area, you’re lucky. Ask around, check out your health food stores and make sure it says grass-fed.

  6. Jerry,

    try this site or google grass fed. Most people have to order it as it is not available in local markets.

    As for salmon, most markets are “farmed” even if they say Wild Alaskan (it’s a type of fish…like a Golder Retriever is a type of dog). You want “WILD caught” not farmed. Farmed is usually fed grains to fatten them up and have little to no Omega 3s (anti-inflammatory) and may have higher Omega 6s (pro-inflammatory).

    When in doubt….stay away from anything grain fed as it will contribute to an overload of Omega 6s, mostly AA, and only lead to other health inflammation issues.

  7. Thanks Crystal. I’m not to knowledgeable on buying wild fish, but would like to be. So is there a way to tell if your buying wild or farmed fish? It’s hard to tell if you can trust stores these days, they may say it’s wild fish but is it truly? I live in San Diego so I can imagine finding wild fish here isn’t that difficult.

  8. We eat a lot of almonds, but often roast them in the oven first. Sounds like we may be losing some of the benefits by doing this. Anyone know if this is true?

  9. Jerry-
    Good question. Wild salmon does not always mean wild caught. You just need to read the small print. It should say farmed or wild caught. Wild caught is typically darker. San Diego? You shouldn’t have a problem. At a fish market, just ask. Salmon, tilapia, shrimp are commonly farmed. I don’t think halibut, tuna are farmed(I hope not anyway).

    Kevin-I prefer raw(tastes better to me) and my husband likes roasted. We eat both. Raw is probably best but roasting them yourself is better than what’s on the market.

  10. I was going to mention Eat Wild, but you beat me to it, Mike. That website has a very comprehensive list of farmers and vendors of meat, eggs, and dairy from pastured animals. I located two local suppliers through the website. A great online resource for finding local farmers’ markets, farms, and CSAs is

    Mark is right that when it comes to garlic, fresh is best. Proper handling of garlic, onions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and other sulfurous vegetables is necessary to maximize absorbtion of antioxidants. These plants all contain enzymes that break down the sulfur compounds into forms readily absorbed by the body. Heat destroys the enzymes, so the trick is to mince the raw garlic finely and let it sit for ten minutes while the enzymes do their work. The resulting compounds are fairly stable and will survive quick cooking at low to medium heat. The same holds true for other sulfurous vegetables. I think I mentioned this on another thread, but it’s worth mentioning again.

  11. Some helpful information, I thank you again Crystal and Mike I thank you for the information you provided me as well. I’m becoming more and more educated on these things and it’s helpful people such as yourself that will allow me to make better choices with my health, particularly diet and nutrition.

  12. One more question about the salmon-
    Here, it says to look for “fatty fish,” but at the link given it says to “trim the skin and the visible fat as PCBs are stored in the fat portion.”
    What to do?

  13. Hi Mark:

    I see you recommend eggs as one of the 16 best foods. Did you know that Eggland’s Best eggs are better than ordinary eggs. They have more Vitamin E, more Omega 3 and less saturated fat and cholesterol and they taste better than an ordinary egg. They are a bit more expensive but well worth it, I mean we are talking about eating healthy .Check them out in your supermarket and if you agree pass this tip on to your readers.

  14. I’m coming a bit late to this but… how does pumpkin rank versus sweet potatoes? Re wild salmon (GREAT tip on the “wild caught” fine print) – I worry that choosing wild over farmed will contribute to the depletion of wild fish populations. Are there controls in place to protect wild stocks *that I can have confidence in*?

  15. Mike/Mark,

    Any links to “Wild Alaskan Salmon” not being wild? I’ve searched for something to verify this and I’ve had no luck. You mentioned “fine print,” but what if you’re at a restaurant or meat market? How do you know if wild is wild?

  16. Randy, I know most restaurants serve farmed salmon. You have to ask them. In the store it will say clearly (or should) if it is wild or farmed – if it is wild it is definitely wild! 🙂 But it’s good to ask if it’s wild-caught in Alaska. Usually it’s not hard to find out if you ask the grocer.

  17. There are reasons to believe that chia seeds are a better choice vs. flax seed and also provide large amounts of omega3 (a-LA).

  18. The 16 foods listed here is probably for those of you in the US.
    When you can’t get flax seeds, use chia seeds, sesame or sunflower.
    It all depends on where you are on the planet.
    When I was in China, I used sesame and pumpkin seeds.
    When in Thailand, its insects if necessary. Same in India or even Mexico.
    Your location on the planet will determine your sources of food.
    People in all cultures manage with what they have. EAT LOCAL.
    I see Swiss Chard mentioned in this group of 16. Other substitutes are kale, turnip or mustard greens. Even the “weeds” are most nutritious than most greens such as purslane, chickweed, lambs quarter, amaranth, wild leeks, ramps, nettles,etc. Garlic and onions are everywhere. Eat fish when possible locally.
    Having lived and worked in the jungles of Borneo back in the 1990’s we ate a variety of shoots, nuts, berries, seeds and roots from the jungle.
    For protein there was the forest rat, monkey and fruit bats. It was delicious.
    You eat what there is where you are.
    In Vietnam, I recall having dog many times over the years. I have had various snakes in Central America during a period of work there in the 1980’s.
    My grandfather lived on lambs quarter and rye berries during World War One in Yugoslavia for several weeks during hard times.

    This list of 16 from what I see applies to those in the US most likely.

    When I’m home, the one food I like is sprouted lentils. I tend to sprout a variety of seeds(alfalfa, mung, flax, almonds, turnip, radish, fenugreek and cabbage).
    I have spent well over 14 years of my nearly 62 years overseas in over 80 countries. I work in the area of tropical medicine and toxicology. I am also a chef graduating from the Culinary Institute of America back in 1973.