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6 healthy (but overlooked) foods to add to your diet this week

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Boost your health by eating one of these nutritious choices every day.

As you age, your needs change. That’s true for your diet too. Older adults need to eat more nutrient-rich foods. Making every bite count may help you improve chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, prevent muscle and bone loss, and boost your overall health.1  

A good place to begin is at your doctor’s office. Your primary care provider can connect you with helpful resources and help you learn healthier eating habits. That might mean cutting back on added sugar, sodium and saturated fat.1 And eating plenty of fiber and protein, for helping digestion and maintaining lean muscle mass. Think meals with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean sources of protein (fish or poultry) or legumes and whole grains. 

But it can be tough to overhaul your diet if you’re a meat-and-potatoes kind of eater most nights a week. So consider starting with minor tweaks, at least at first.  

“If something’s hard, you’re not going to do it,” says Lauren Spradling, RD, a Chicago-based dietitian and health coach who partners with Optum. You’re more likely to see success if you take small, manageable steps. With your doctor, you can come up with a plan to gradually improve your eating patterns.  

Variety is key. Why not get started by adding one nutritious, delicious food to your plate each day of the week? Here are six that Spradling recommends. 

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1. Chia seeds 

Chia seeds may be tiny, but don’t be fooled. “They’re such a fiber powerhouse,” Spradling says. Ask your doctor whether you could benefit from more fiber in your diet. 

Why they’re healthy: Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide about 10 grams of fiber.2  

Fiber isn’t just good for your digestive health. It may also help lower cholesterol (for heart health) and regulate blood sugar, which can prevent diabetes.3 Plus, fiber can help you maintain a healthy weight, because fiber keeps us fuller for longer, Spradling notes. 

Men ages 51 and older need 22 grams of fiber a day. Women ages 51 and older need 28 grams of fiber a day.4 Those 2 tablespoons of chia seeds can go pretty far toward getting you to that goal. 

Chia seeds are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart.5 

How to eat them: Chia seeds absorb liquid and plump up, making them a great choice for overnight pudding. Mix them into your milk of choice and let them sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Add chopped fruit and honey for a simple, filling breakfast or healthy dessert. Or sprinkle the seeds dry over oatmeal or a salad. 

2. Chickpeas 

The great thing about chickpeas, along with other beans? “Beans in general are high in fiber and are a decent source of protein,” Spradling says.  

Why they’re healthy: Plant-based proteins such as chickpeas, like other beans, don’t have the saturated fats that red meat does. And eating more chickpeas can lower cholesterol, which can help your heart. (Your doctor would approve.) Plus, the fiber fills you up.6  

In addition to fiber and protein, chickpeas are loaded with healthy fats, B vitamins and minerals such as iron.7 They may help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. And they’re good for the gut, by helping you become more regular and reducing inflammation.7 

How to eat them: Canned chickpeas tend to be affordable and long-lasting, says Spradling. Add a can to homemade soup to boost your fiber. Or roast them in the oven for a crunchy snack or salad topping. Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, is also a good snack. 

3. Dates  

Whether fresh or dried, dates are a chewy fruit with a sweet, caramel flavor, says Spradling.  

Why they’re healthy: Like many foods on this list, they’re packed with fiber.8 “Fiber is amazing,” Spradling says. “It helps us stay regular and can decrease our risk of cancer, heart disease, and all that good stuff.” 

Dates are also a great source of vitamin B6 and minerals such as magnesium, copper and potassium. And like most fruits, they are rich in antioxidants. 

How to eat them: Have them as a snack, or add them to smoothies. Or try one of Spradling’s favorite healthy treats: Layer a baking dish with dried dates and squish them flat. Then melt a tablespoon of peanut butter and drizzle it on. Finally, melt a few pieces of chocolate and add that over the peanut butter. Sprinkle with some sea salt and pistachios. Freeze and slice. 

Optum doctors can suggest healthier ways to eat and connect you with resources to improve your diet. Find an Optum doctor

4. Butternut squash 

Butternut squash is similar to sweet potatoes, but it’s creamier and has a slightly different flavor, Spradling explains.  

Why it’s healthy: Butternut squash, like all winter squashes, is a good source of fiber. But it also contains beta-carotene, vitamins B6 and C, potassium and magnesium. So it may be help with managing blood sugar and blood pressure.9 (Your doctor can suggest additional veggies that can help keep blood sugar levels steady, too.) 

How to eat it: Sweet, nutty roasted butternut squash makes a tasty addition to chili, stews, soups and tacos. Or just cut it into cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for a healthy side dish.   

5. Cabbage 

Cabbage is an unsung hero of the vegetable world, says Spradling. It’s packed with nutrients, and it’s tasty and crunchy. 

Why it’s healthy: “It’s got fiber, antioxidants, and great vitamins and minerals, and it’s an easy way to add a vegetable to something,” Spradling says. Adults need to eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables a day, and raw cabbage is a good way to reach the goal.10 

How to eat it: Slice up a head of cabbage, or make it easier by buying coleslaw mix. Either way, you’ll have a nutritious topping for pulled pork sandwiches, tacos and even pizza. Try charring the cabbage on a sheet pan and add a handful to a bowl of instant ramen, Spradling suggests. 

6. Salsa 

“For some reason, people don’t think salsa is healthy,” Spradling says. But it’s an easy way to sneak more vegetables (and even fruit) into your day.  

Why it’s healthy: Salsa can be contain a variety of vegetables and fruits, whether you make your own or buy it jarred. There’s the classic tomato salsa, of course. But there are also ones that add in pineapples, strawberries, mangoes, bell peppers, corn, black beans and carrots. That means a variety of antioxidants and vitamins. 

How to eat it: Add a heaping spoonful to tacos, scrambled eggs or pork chops. Salsa also makes a great soup base, especially for taco soup. Or scoop it up with whole-grain tortilla chips, sliced bell peppers, celery or baby carrots to get more fiber.  

Adding these six foods to your weekly meals could boost your health in many ways. But be sure to talk to your Optum doctor before making big changes to your eating habits. You provider can discuss the best way for you to eat healthier, based on your personal health goals. 


  1. Health.gov. Nutrition as we age: healthy eating with the dietary guidelines. Last updated June 8, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). FoodData Central: Seeds, chia seeds, dried. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  3. Mayo Clinic. Dietary fiber: essential for a healthy diet. Last updated November 4, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  4. U.S Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Accessed February 16, 2024. 
  5. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What are chia seeds. Published January 25, 2021. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  6. American Heart Association. The benefits of beans and legumes. Last reviewed October 27, 2023. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  7. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central: Dates, medjool. Accessed February 14, 2024. 
  9. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Winter squash. Accessed January 5, 2024. 
  10. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The beginner’s guide to cruciferous vegetables. Published August 13, 2020. Accessed January 5, 2024. 

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