The Best Things You Can Eat

For Everything from Aches to Zzzz, the Definitive Guide to the Nutrition-Packed Foods that Energize, Heal, and Help You Look Great


By David Grotto, RD

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Is an orange or a guava the best source of vitamin C? Is farm-raised or wild salmon higher in omega 3 fats? If you’ve always wondered what foods to turn to when you need more fiber in your diet or which foods you can count on when you’ve got an upset stomach, The Best Things You Can Eat as the answers, and even a few surprises. Registered Dietitian and bestselling author David Grotto draws on the latest nutritional and scientific research to assemble the most authoritative compilation of food rankings ever produced.


Praise for The Best Things You Can Eat:
"Kudos to David Grotto! The Best Things You Can Eat is well-organized and loaded with food as medicine pearls. Your blueprint to good health is provided in this gem of a book."
—Gerard E. Mullin MD, author of
The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health
"Dave Grotto does it again! A master at making good nutrition easy to understand with a healthy serving of great foods and lots of fun."
—Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD, coauthor of
The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!
Praise for 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life:
"An encyclopedia of foods with lifesaving benefits."
Chicago Tribune
"For the millions of Americans tired of hearing about 'what not to eat,' this book is a refreshing and enlightening guide to improving your health by adding delicious foods to your diet. Dave's simple explanations for why these foods are potential 'life savers' makes the book enjoyable to read, and the recipes bring the science to life on your plate."
—Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Nutrition Director, Prevention Magazine
"Dave Grotto has written a book that is as fun and fascinating as it is practical. I heartily recommend 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life as a marvelous resource for anyone who cares about their health and loves food."
—David Katz, MD, Yale University School of Medicine
and author of The Flavor-Full Diet
"101 Foods That Could Save Your Life is a great book to have on the shelf."
—Brian Wansink, PhD, Cornell University Food and
Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating
"As a dietitian and food lover, I'd say this book should be opened in every kitchen."
—Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, Department of Pediatrics,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Praise for 101 Optimal Life Foods:
"You are holding a powerful book in your hands. David Grotto is one of the best authorities on health and nutrition in the United States today, and he has written a groundbreaking guide for you to live your ultimate, optimal life."
—Montel Williams
"This book gives you 'food for thought' about ways to use food to aide digestion, decrease inflammation and even improve your mood. Dave Grotto's simple nutritional solutions for common health conditions can easily become a part of your overall wellness routine."
—Robert Kushner, M.D., Clinical Director of the
Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity
and author of The Personality Type Diet
" . . . Bonus for mid-life women: A great outline of what foods keep your skin looking youthful . . . Favorite part: The comprehensive index; find exactly what you're looking for in seconds! . . . "
—More magazine
"The world needs more dietitians like David—he loves food and nutrition. Your copy of 101 Optimal Life Foods can be your best medicine."
—John La Puma, MD, director, Santa Barbara Institute
for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight, and co-author
of ChefMD's Big Book of Culinary Medicine and The Real Age Diet

To my father and to my second mom, Sandy
Thank you for always being there!

By Lisa Lillien, a.k.a. "Hungry Girl"
For those of you who don't know me, I am better known as Hungry Girl, which is the name of my free daily email service dispensing tips, tricks, food finds, recipes and information about weight loss, dieting, making smarter food choices, and in general navigating eating in the real world. In addition to daily emails, I appear regularly on TV in my own show on Food Network & Cooking Channel and have a series of Hungry Girl books. I am also a TREMENDOUS fan of David Grotto. When I introduce myself, I often say, "I'm not a nutritionist, I'm just hungry." But when I need the advice and expertise of a top Registered Dietitian, I know where to go.
I first met Dave at an airport in Frankfurt, on the way to Italy for a food conference of sorts. That actually sounds a lot more glamorous than it was, but the meeting was quite memorable. Within minutes of being introduced to Dave, he was photographing our shoes side by side because he was amused at the size difference of our feet. Yes, Dave is easily entertained  . . . (and, as an aside, he does have enormous feet). I knew instantly that Dave and I would be friends. Good friends. He is warm and funny, genuine and entertaining, and one of the smartest, most knowledgeable people I have ever met. That combination of attributes also makes him unique in his field. Too often information about health and dieting and nutrition is presented in a way that is either too convoluted, too difficult to digest (a LITTLE pun intended) or—if I am being honest—just too darn boring. Dave manages to always deliver his messages with humor and light-heartedness while always maintaining authority.
Shortly after I met Dave, a dear, lifelong friend of mine was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes. My friend didn't want to start taking pills—he wanted to combat the disease by losing weight and through better nutrition.  When my friend asked me for help and advice, my first call was to Dave. He flew to Los Angeles and gave my friend a crash course in nutrition, took him grocery shopping, and made him feel better by showing him all the good things he could eat (as opposed to just creating a "You Can't Have This Anymore" list). Six months later, it was time for a new blood test. My friend and his doctor were shocked and thrilled by the amazing, positive results—just from eating the proper foods and losing weight. I credit Dave, along with the determination of my friend, with this great achievement.
This book is a fantastic example of Dave's amazing work. It is a lot like Dave himself. It is a book that cares, that entertains, that informs, and yet is totally relatable. We've all been told at one time or another that we needed to eat more of a certain mineral or vitamin—that we have some sort of health issue that could benefit from changing our diets. . . . Then, we often scour the Internet Googling everything possible and wind up confused, being hit with too much information and mixed messages at every turn. This book deciphers the clutter. Dave has done so much of the hard work for us and has broken it down into lovely little (dare I say!) portion-controlled bites. . . . Even those with the shortest attention spans will be able to benefit from Dave's no-nonsense approach and breezy writing style.
I know Dave, and if he could, he absolutely would personally go to each and every home and help nutritionally guide every single one of you. This book is the next best thing to making that happen.
Lisa "Hungry Girl" Lillien

Americans have a love affair with lists. Whether it's the annual Forbes list of the world's richest people, Consumer Reports' list of the safest family vehicles, the U.S. Social Security Administration's yearly and much-anticipated release of the top baby names in the United States, or a random blogger's list of his favorite songs of the year, we love poring over rankings. They're a constant presence in newspapers, magazines, and press releases, and on talk shows (think David Letterman's daily Top Ten List) and a favorite source of content in the blogosphere, where they spread virally through e-mail and social media, providing great fodder for cocktail parties, family dinners, and even spirited arguments. The enduring popularity of lists is driven by our insatiable curiosity to know what's on them. Who wouldn't want to have a peek at a list of the "1001 Places to See Before You Die"?
Food lists are no different. When the New York Times ran a list of the "11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating" in 2008, intrigued readers descended on the Times' website en masse, making the article one of the paper's most viewed stories of all of 2009. When U.S. researchers revealed that a diet high in beta-carotene can help prolong your life, lists of beta-carotene-rich foods started popping up in articles reporting the new findings. But while these lists are helpful, they can also be overwhelming. Dietitians (like me) and medical experts are constantly bombarding us with lists of important foods, from the best sources of fiber to the best foods to eat before a workout. Keeping all of these lists clear in your head requires a spreadsheet.
The Best Things You Can Eat is the first-ever book devoted to food rankings, drawing on the latest research on food and nutrition to provide you with an irresistible compendium of food knowledge—an authoritative, informative, and enlightening go-to resource that pits one food against another and reveals the most beneficial foods in a variety of categories. If you've always wondered what food is highest in vitamin C or which foods you should rely on when you've got an upset stomach, The Best Things You Can Eat has the answers, and even a few surprises.
The Best Things You Can Eat is organized into three main sections: "The Vital Nutrients," which contain chapters on vitamins, minerals, fats, fibers, and phytosterols; "Best Foods for Whatever Ails You," which features information on digestion, heart health, blood glucose, oral health, and what's best for inside and out; and "Best in Show," which showcases food superstars and answers the question, "Who reigns supreme?" in categories of grains, dairy, produce, nuts, protein, and snacks, and on the best foods for working out, memory, and sleep. All in all, you'll find three sections, ten chapters, and sixty lists.
Each list is content rich, packed with intriguing facts and statistics, the latest research findings, and helpful information for healthier living. Features for each list include:
Sneak-a-peek: I'm not going to make you wait to find out how the movie ends. Turn to the beginning of each list and bam . . . there it is! Here's your list of top foods in each category, with their respective common serving size and exactly how much of the featured nutrient is contained within a serving.
The serving sizes featured in the lists is directly from the recommendations. They may differ from serving sizes that you see on packages, in other books, or on websites, but these are the latest and greatest recommendations modeled after the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It also made sense to compare foods this way for establishing rankings. Other lists use a standard of 100 grams, presumably as the fairest way to make comparisons. However, if the food is light in weight, you may get an artificially high number, as in the case of ready-to-eat cereal. Let's say we wanted to compare the iron content of commonly eaten breakfast cereals, based on that 100-gram comparison. That amount would translate to about 2 cups of raisin bran and about 7 cups of puffed rice! See what I mean? Far more reasonably, the MyPlate guidelines call 1¼ cups of puffed cereal one serving; and for raisin bran, 1 cup is considered a serving. So, no worries—only common serving sizes will be featured here.
Honorable mentions: Don't you want to know which foods were at least in the running for the top spots in the list? What if you don't care much for some of the foods that made it to the Top 7? Maybe number 8 or 9 will do just fine for you. No worries—I've got you covered.
Best food groups: A theme may run throughout the list that you are interested in. For example, high-potassium foods generally fall within the fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy categories for foods.
What is this nutrient/condition and why is it so important? This section gives a basic overview of the nutrient or the health challenge. Deficiencies are noted and health conditions that may develop as a result of the deficiencies are addressed.
Did you know? These are great factoids, tidbits, or fascinating scientific findings about the nutrient, food, or health condition that is being featured.
How much is enough? This section takes all the guesswork out of what's recommended for your good health, whether it's an amount of a certain nutrient, or how many servings of fruit should you eat each day, sorted by age and gender.
Too much! When it comes to nutrients, more is not always better. More can be potentially dangerous if it exceeds an established upper level. This is generally more of an issue with dietary supplements than it is with overdoing a nutrient from food alone.
Supplement it? Are dietary supplements available that might help bridge the gap? What form do they come in? This section provides basic information and recommendations for supplements, but I recommend that you should always seek the advice of a registered dietitian or other qualified health professional when it comes to determining what supplement is right for you!
For each individual food featured in a list, you will find the excellent and good sources of nutrients the food or beverage supplies and study-based benefits the food offers, plus interesting information about the food itself, such as country of origin, varieties, and food lore.
Shocker food! This is the "Whoa . . . I wasn't expecting that" kind of a food. Some shockers include choices that are not the healthiest foods in the world, though they might be high in the featured nutrient. Case in point—chocolate! I think you will be surprised at how often chocolate appears throughout the book—I don't know about you, but I'm really happy about that! The cocoa powder in chocolate is amazingly healthy, but scarfing down a bunch of candy bars at one sitting wouldn't be. As with a good many things, moderation is the key!


I turned to the latest and greatest permutation of the USDA database number 24 as the authoritative guide for determining which foods reigned supreme for each of the thirty-three lists of vital nutrients. When I first began my research, I thought this section would be pretty easy to put together, as I assumed the USDA had already done the legwork and ranked foods in some sort of logical fashion. I had experience with lists of nutrient-rich foods found in other diet and nutrition books, and on the Internet, which were derived from the same database used for this book. So I thought that the only advantage of having a book like mine would be to have all of the lists together in a handy-dandy reference guide. But then I noticed something odd when I started putting together my first list on potassium. The number one highest potassium food featured on the USDA number 24 reference list was 1 cup of tomato paste! Huh? I thought, "Who sucks down a cup of tomato paste?" Maybe it was a glitch. I hurriedly skimmed to the second food on the list, only to find an equally useless recommendation for ¾ cup of frozen orange juice concentrate! Double huh?! "What do you do with frozen orange juice concentrate besides reconstitute it? I could see already that this was not a level playing field for the health professional or consumer.
I also observed that the USDA database included more than just foods in their original form—it also included man-made and fortified foods. For example, the number one source on the USDA list for choline was a slice of cake! (By the way, that's my "Shocker Food" for choline—I'm such a spoiler!) But seriously, what do you do with that information? So I realized I had my work cut out for me. I decided to filter the lists to contain only unfortified foods in realistic serving sizes and realistic forms of preparation (for example, cooked—not raw—liver), based on the USDA MyPlate guidelines. All I can tell you right now, because I do want you to read the rest of the book, is that this is not going to be your run-of-the-mill book of food lists.
I have nothing against fortification. In fact, fortifying breakfast cereals with folic acid, for one example, has had a huge positive impact on public health by seriously reducing the number of birth defects caused by folate deficiency. However, as a registered dietitian and all around healthy food guy, I'm on a mission to get my patients and readers to include more whole foods into their diet and celebrate them for their natural, unadulterated goodness. So I decided to pit foods mano a mano—standing on their own merits. Fortified foods may get an "honorable mention" in the lists but are not included in the rankings.


Why write such a book? Is this compendium just for those list junkies out there who crave to be the first among their friends to know who the real food winners and losers are? Well, if this describes you, get ready for some disappointment. Let me be clear. There is no such thing as a "loser" in these lists. What separates first place from first runner-up in the first thirty-three lists is a bit of subjectivity amid the objectivity of the hard numbers. As I discovered during the research process, such factors as soil condition, growing season, time of harvest, and how long foods are stored can all affect the nutrient content of foods. Also, first place and first runner-up may be separated by as little as a tenth or even a hundredth of a milligram. I also chose to feature seven top foods of each category just to give you some choice. What if beef liver comes up as the number one source of vitamin B12 but you hate liver? Wouldn't you be happy to know that a 3-ounce piece of salmon would more than meet your daily needs for this nutrient? Well, of course if you hate salmon, too, you still have five more foods, plus the honorable mentions. When you come to the "Best Fruits" and the "Best Vegetables" lists, you will find that they are a bit more robust than the other "Best" lists—in fact, there are twenty top foods in those lists, to be exact. Reason? It truly is impossible to narrow down produce lists to a top three or five, due to their extensive nutrient content of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
My hopes are that this book will inspire you to eat healthier . . . not only because you will discover that a particular food is a superior source of a nutrient that you feel that you need more of, but also because the science supporting the health benefit of eating that food is so compelling that it becomes part of your dietary arsenal. So don't feel bad if you don't like a food that may be ranked first—more important, don't get so caught up in the numbers that it interferes with you eating other healthy options.


It is important for you to know that besides being an author and a clinician in private practice, I also do paid spokesperson work for commodities and brands that are in line with my nutrition philosophy. It is also important for you to know that no one has paid directly or indirectly for placement in this book. Foods sank or swam based on their own natural talents and I let science be the judge.
Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional when taking dietary supplements.

Abbreviations Used in This Book
Abbreviation Meaning
AIAdequate intake is a recommended average daily nutrient intake level, based on mean intake levels by a group (or groups) of apparently healthy people that are assumed to be adequate.
DRIsDietary reference intakes refers to a set of nutrient-based reference values based on the estimated average requirement (EAR), the recommended dietary allowance (RDA), the adequate intake (AI), and the tolerable upper intake level (UL), which can be used for planning and assessing diets. The DRIs replaced the recommended dietary allowances, which have been published since 1941 by the National Academy of Sciences and are intended to be applied to a healthy population.
DVDaily value includes two sets of reference values for reporting nutrients in nutrition labeling: daily reference values (DRVs) and reference daily intakes (RDIs). DRVs are provided for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, and protein; while RDIs provide for vitamins and minerals and for protein for children less than four years of age and for pregnant and lactating women. To limit confusion, nutrition labels on packaging use the single term daily value (DV) to represent both RDIs and DRVs, which are listed as a percentage of a specific nutrient that a serving of food or beverage supplies.
gGram is a metric unit of weight measurement equal to 15.432 grains, or one-thousandth of a kilogram.
IUInternational unit is an internationally agreed-upon unit of measure defined by the International Conference for Unification of Formulae, which quantifies the activity or biological effect of substances such as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), enzymes, and drugs.
mgMilligram is a metric unit of weight measurement equal to onethousandth of a gram.
mcgMicrogram is a metric unit of weight measurement equal to onethousandth of a milligram.
RDAsRecommended daily allowances are recommended daily levels of nutrients established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences for specific gender and age classifications, for which there is scientific consensus. In 1995, The RDA was replaced with DRI to address the needs of groups as well as individuals.
ULTolerable upper intake level is the highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely not to pose risk of adverse health effects to most individuals. ULs could not be established for vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and carotenoids. In the absence of a UL, precaution is suggested for not consuming levels above recommended intakes.

Section 1

The Vita-man Can


SOURCE: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24
Honorable mentions: Beets, turnip and mustard greens, winter squash, dandelion roots (A 3½-ounce serving provides 14,000 IU, but don't eat any sprayed with weed killer!)
Best food groups: Meat (especially liver), orange and green vegetables, fortified foods
What is vitamin A and why is it so important? Vitamin A refers to a group of nutrients called retinoids that support healthy vision, skin, mucous membranes, bone growth, reproduction, and cell growth and maintenance. Vitamin A is stored mainly in the liver so, not surprisingly, the liver is a good source.
Did you know? Two forms of vitamin A are found in the diet: preformed, which comes from animal sources, and provitamin A (carotenoids), which comes from plant sources. Of the 563 identified carotenoids found mainly in orange, yellow, and red fruits and vegetables, fewer than 10 percent can be made into vitamin A in the body. Night blindness is one of the earliest symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. Long-term deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Vitamin A deficiency can also cause increased susceptibility to infections.
The DV for vitamin A is 5,000 IU, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for Vitamin A
SOURCE: Food and Nutrition Board, Institutes of Medicine, National Academies
Too much!


  • “Whether you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or you're simply fighting the common cold, Grotto has sifted through the science to recommend top food picks based on sound science to help you heal.”

    Tampa Bay Tribune, 2/23
    “Ever so infrequently, a nutrition book comes along that's accurate, simple to understand and serves as a handy reference. The Best Things You Can Eat…is one of those books…In very little time, the book will educate and empower you to take control of your own health.

    Bookviews, March 2013
    “An interesting and informative look at common foods and their benefits…Much of what [Grotto] relates is quite surprising in a good sort of way. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about what they eat daily.”, 3/1
    “This isn't just an awesome food and nutrition resource, it's also a fun and relaxed read, thanks to the author's clever, down-to-earth writing style…This tome definitely won't end up collecting dust on your bookshelf—you'll find yourself consulting it with all your food-related questions.”

    Publishers Weekly, 3/4/13
  • Library Journal, December 2012
“Comprehensive and fun for foodies.”

Truth Magazine, 1/11/13
“A quick and informative read that does all of the legwork for you, The Best Things You Can Eat makes it a bit easier to take care of yourself in 2013.”

Joy Bauer, MS RD CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC's Today show
“Dave has created the ultimate nutrition dictionary – he's boiled down all the confusing science into a handy, compact health resource that's incredibly easy to navigate. This book enables you to feel top of your game by helping you choose the very best foods to meet your specific health goals!”

Ellie Krieger, Host of Food Network's Healthy Appetite and author of Comfort Food Fix
The Best Things You Can Eat is like a Fortune 500 for food—a who's who in nutritional wealth that celebrates the healthy bounty delicious real food provides. It's chock-full of smart, useful information written in an engaging, fun way that makes you want to pick it up for pleasure as well as knowledge.”, 2/1/13
“An excellent reference book to have around the house.”, 2/14/13

On Sale
Jan 8, 2013
Page Count
336 pages

David Grotto, RD

About the Author

David Grotto, RD, LDN, graduated with honors with a degree in medical dietetics and nutrition from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Formerly the national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, he is now the founder and president of Nutrition Housecall, LLC, a nutrition consulting firm that provides nutrition communications, lecturing and consulting services, and also offers personalized at-home dietary services.

He is the author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and 101 Optimal Life Foods.

Learn more about this author