11 Nutritious Foods That Are Super Versatile

by Isadora Baum, CHC

You know the saying, "you are what you eat," right? Well, it's can be true in some ways. What we put in our bodies can definitely determine how well they can function. Thus, eating versatile and nutritious foods can get us healthier and happier, as our bodies and minds benefit from such nutritional value and energy.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on bringing some variety into their standard diet, by choosing signature healthy staples, such as lean protein, beans and legumes, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and whole grain, complex carbohydrates, as well as an abundance of tasty spices, herbs and seasonings to amp up flavor and create a "new recipe" off of old, mundane items. An easy way to incorporate added nutritional value into your everyday dishes is to take a closer look at your spice cabinet. For instance, I love the Spice Cave line which is actually Certified Paleo and Whole30 Approved," says Pete Taylor, herb & spice expert and founder/CEO of Spiceologist, over email with me. By doing so, it's easy to enjoy different types of cuisine and tastes, while still utilizing leftovers and your budget to your greatest abilities and to keep your diet full of healthy, clean and nutritious foods. When food are versatile, there's so much more room to experiment with them and to still reap health benefits. Here are eleven foods that are both nutritious and diverse and that you should definitely add to your shopping list now.

1. Almond Butter

While other forms of nut butter work too, such as peanut, cashew, hazelnut and sunflower, among others, almond butter has a mild, nutty taste and texture and is a very versatile ingredient, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of, author of "Read It Before You Eat It" and U.S. News Eat+Run blogger, in interview with U.S. News. Add to smoothies, sandwiches, oatmeal or baked goods.

2. Whole Grains

Whole grains, which can be found in bread, rice and grain products, breakfast cereals and oatmeals, are incredibly versatile and they can boost your mood to make you feel happier and more mentally alert during the day, says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, and spokesperson for America's Better Sandwich over email with me. "Eating carbohydrates, preferably 100 percent whole grains, with protein-rich foods may boost the amount of tryptophan in your brain. Tryptophan is then converted into serotonin, also known as the 'feel-good' hormone," she advises.

3. Cilantro

"Cilantro is a powerful, healing herb that extracts heavy metals and other neurotoxins from your body. You can add it to a salad or even make a cilantro pesto sauce. This healthy herb can become the star ingredient of your dinner or be used as a garnish, all while naturally detoxing your system," says Carolyn Harrington, founder of Maty’s Healthy Products, over email with me.

4. Turmeric

"Turmeric is a powerful spice that promotes healing. It can be added to soups and smoothies or sprinkled on eggs and roasted veggies. Turmeric boosts the immune system, fights off anxiety, reduces inflammation and much more," says Harrington. Add to chicken, meat, fish or tofu, or mix with liquids and lemon for a refreshing, cleansing beverage.

5. Watermelon

I love watermelon! Eaten fresh, as a salad with some feta, onion, mint and EVOO, in a smoothie or juice, or featured in a dessert, there are endless possibilities. It can keep the body chronically less inflamed and agile, says Kate Weiler, accomplished triathlete, author of Real Fit Kitchen and co-founder of DRINKmelon, over email with me. "Organic watermelon water packs electrolytes and an amino acid by the name of L-Citrulline that reduces muscle soreness and boosts performance. Organic watermelon water is also an excellent source of potassium, an electrolyte that helps to prevent muscle cramping after a long workout," she says.

6. Tacos

As long as you pick a healthy tortilla and taco filling ingredients, such as lean meats, tofu, beans, or fish, paired with lots of delicious vegetables and greens, the possibilities for #tacotuesday or #tacothursday (or both, right?), are endless. "From quick grain free sandwich wraps to authentically delicious tacos, the tortilla provides just the right amount of awesome to every meal," says Miguel Garza, CEO of Siete Family Foods, over email with me.

7. Salmon

Salmon contains omega 3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce inflammation and promote proper heart and brain health and to boost performance and proper recovery, says Garza. Plus, fish is incredibly versatile, as it can be in smoked, raw, cooked or supplement form, and it can be made into sandwiches, tacos, salads, patties and more. Garza recommends "fish oil and fermented cod liver oil," as "they’re a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and high in vitamin A and vitamin D.”

8. Nuts

Loaded with healthy fats and tons of other benefits, nuts are incredible versatile, as they can be eaten raw, added to smoothies and shakes, add to yogurts, oatmeal and breakfast cereals, tossed in salads, and sprinkled on top of meats and fish, among others, advises Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director, Be Well Medical Group, over email with me. Plus, "nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contain healthy fat that slows the body's absorption of sugar and can help prevent blood sugar spikes," she says.

9. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods, such as Greek yogurt and vegetables, are incredibly versatile and boast tremendous benefits, advises Bridget Lancaster, co-host of the Emmy-nominated show AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN (ATK), over email with me. "Health experts have recently linked fermented foods to gastroenterological efficiency. In fact, fermented vegetables have a higher level of lactobacilli that enhance digestibility, increase vitamin levels and produce helpful enzymes, all of which promote healthy intestinal flora," she says. Eat plain or add to salads, soups, meats and slaws.

10. Avocado

According to Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, in interview with Shape, avocados are loaded with healthy fats and vitamins, such as vitamin E and potassium, to better the heart, brain and body overall. You can add to sandwiches as a sub for mayonnaise, spread on toast, add to desserts (like chocolate based ones!), combine with ingredients for a smoothie, or use as a boat for other ingredient fillings, among other uses.

11. Spinach

Sass also recommends eating spinach, as this leafy green is packed with calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins to better our health and to act as a versatile ingredient for casseroles, sides, pasta dishes, smoothies and juices, salads, desserts, burgers and more! However, she recommends frozen spinach, as it lasts longer, is cheaper and contains more nutritional value, as fresh can degrade over time.

Eating foods that allow for different flavors and textures, while keeping leftovers and eating within budget, is awesome, as it creates new dishes that can be enjoyed and not make you feel as though you're bored and settling for "basic" meals. Plus, you'll be rewarded with tons of nutritional points, so it's a win-win!

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