My dad is really healthy. Like, really healthy. And when I say he's healthy, I don't just mean physically, but also mentally. For starters, he's a 60 year-old college professor, entrepreneur, and editor-in-chief of a journal, yet he still has time to go to the gym three days a week. Additionally, he has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a six-pack, which is decidedly abnormal for someone his age. Did I mention he's also a Tai Chi teacher? Basically, the energy he puts into doing all the things he does in a day is grounded in an aura of unwavering self-awareness.

Though my dad exercises a lot, a big part of what keeps him healthy is the food he eats (he hasn't been sick in years)! To him, being healthy is a lifestyle. Over the past 20 years of my life, I've witnessed how the deliberate food choices he makes contribute to his long-term well-being. Being of Taiwanese descent, my dad also manages to eat a unique blend of the healthiest foods from both Eastern and Western cuisine — a exciting and sometimes strange combination.

In celebration of dads everywhere (and of health and longevity in general), here are some of the more interesting food my dad has eaten over the years and still eats. As mentioned, he's in great shape — so these following food items just might make you super healthy, too.

1. Purple Rice

Before I dive in, I want to mention dad's number one food philosophy: try to eat the pure, unprocessed versions of food as much as possible. For example, instead of eating canned corn, eat corn on the cob; instead of eating cereal, eat raw oats.

My family stopped eating white rice about five years ago, and we'll only occasionally go back. Not only does purple rice contain more nutrients (such as protein) than white rice and brown rice, it has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve digestive health.

Additionally, purple rice gets its color from a pigment called anthocyanin, an antioxidant found in many red, purple, and blue fruits such as berries. Anthocynanin work to protect cells from harmful free radicals.  

2. Sweet Potatoes

vegetable, tuber, pasture, potato, sweet potato, carbohydrate, yam
Lily Allen

Although less popular than the regular potato, sweet potatoes are good for more than just fries to complement your burger. Sweet potatoes have 400% of the daily suggested intake of vitamin A and contain lots of fiber and potassium. Potassium is naturally found in foods such as bananas, and helps reduce cellulite, strengthen bones, and even lessen menstrual cramps!

As if those benefits aren't compelling enough, sweet potatoes have fewer calories and are a more complex carbohydrate than white rice or bread, so your body will experience less of the sugar spike that comes with eating empty carbs.

3. Onions in Red Wine

coffee, red wine, liquor, alcohol, wine
Alex Frank

I still remember opening the fridge one day and seeing a mug of chopped onion bits bathing in murky red wine. Horrified, I asked my dad what it was, and he offered a vague explanation that "it's healthy."

More common in parts of Japan, onions in red wine has been shown to stabilize (and even lower) blood pressure, lower blood sugar in diabetics, cure insomnia, and treat constipation. Additionally, it's been said to relieve eye strain from reading and even allow patients with low prescriptions to read without glasses over time. If you're curious, try the recipe here

4. Mackerel (and Other Small Fish)

Mackerel (not to be confused with king mackerel) are small fish high in essential oils, vitamins, and minerals. Healthy fats common in fish, such as omega-3, as well as calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium are also abundant in mackerel.

Like other small fish such as anchovies, sardines, and smelt, most species of mackerel have lower mercury content than larger fish and are typically cheaper than, say, tuna or salmon. My dad likes to eat his mackerel pan-fried in a bit of oil and dipped in soy sauce paste, making for a simple main course that's clean and healthy.

5. Cocoa Powder

cream, candy, cake, coffee, sweet, chocolate
Kevin Kozlik

While unsweetened cocoa powder is typically used for baking, it contains many heart-healthy antioxidants also found in berries and naturally energizes the brain by being a mild, natural stimulant. Additionally, cocoa powder contains some amino acids that function the same way animal protein does in helping build muscle in our bodies.

After my dad convinced me that cocoa powder is "better than caffeine," I tried it for myself. Now, I add a tablespoon to my protein shakes in the morning for a quick breakfast on-the-go everyday. (If you're interested in other caffeine-free coffee alternatives, check out my article here). 

6. Kefir

dairy, sweet, cream, yogurt, milk
Sarah Silbiger

Though you may have never heard of it, kefir is a fermented dairy drink made from cow or goat's milk that originated in the Caucasus Mountains and is recently gaining publicity in the health community for its benefits.

Interestingly, the drink used to be fermented in goatskin bags hung in a doorway, where it was knocked by people passing through to help mix its contents. Kefir has a more sour taste than yogurt due to its unique blend of bacterial cultures. It's high in protein and calcium, helps boost digestion and immunity, and also has more species of good bacteria than regular yogurt. My dad has been drinking Lifeway Kefir for as long as I can remember, and if you can stomach the plain, lowfat variety, you get the benefits of not adding excess sugar to your diet, too. 

7. Sweet Fermented Rice (jiuniang)

More popular in East Asian countries like China and Taiwan, sweet fermented rice, or jiuniang, has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries to help people stay warm during the winter.

Jiuniang consists of partially fermented grains of rice soaked in a sweet liquid that contains up to 2% alcohol content as a result of fermentation (think a slightly acidic, sweet rice soup). Jiuniang is often eaten to help the body better withstand cold weather by raising internal temperatures a safe degree, and to reduce the frequency of nighttime urination.

In the surprisingly cold bouts of winter in West Texas, my dad likes to eat jiuniang to naturally stay warm. Although low in calories, be careful of serving sizes, however, as overeating can raise inflammation levels, making the body more prone to nose bleeds, cracked lips, and sore throats (though you don't have to worry about getting drunk). Recipe here, for the adventurous. 

8. Avocados

In this day and age, who doesn't love a good avocado? Though strange at first, my dad began eating a bowl of avocado with salsa as a replacement for rice a few years ago, and the whole family has followed suit ever since. Avocados are heart healthy, free of sodium and cholesterol, and have about 6 grams of "good fat" per serving (good fats don't raise levels of "bad" cholesterol, or LDL).

However, keep in mind that the recommended serving size is about one-eighth of an avocado, although nobody that I know eats so little of an avocado at a time.

9. Corn

hazelnut, maize, straw, vegetable, cereal, pasture, corn
Jenny Georgieva

While corn is not a common carb to eat with dinner on a regular basis, it is a healthier alternative to dinner rolls, bread, and white rice. Corn is a staple food that is used to make many cereals and snacks in the U.S., but on its own, corn provides essential calories for healthy metabolic activity. Additionally, corn is high in fiber to aid in digestion, high in vitamins, and may control diabetes, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease over time.

Corn is another alternative to rice that my family has adopted over the years, and it tastes great with both Western and Eastern cuisine as a carb base. Replace your next meal of rice or bread with corn, and you'll be surprised at how much less bloated you feel after your meal.

10. Unsalted Nuts

nut, cereal, pasture
Hannah Beaver

Nuts are underrated as power-snacks, perhaps because of their small size that seemingly does a poor job of filling you up. However, nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans, and pistachios are all high in unsaturated fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein, much like tuna, making them perfect fistfuls of nutrition that can be easily consumed throughout the day.

Nuts are also heart-healthy and contain fiber to aid in the digestive process. My dad has a container of Brazil nuts, almonds, pumpkin seed, pine nuts, cashew, macadamia nuts, and peanuts that he keeps in the fridge at all times and whips out to munch on with breakfast or even dessert. Opt for unsalted nuts that give you a protein boost, but don't add sodium to your daily diet. 

Sweet Endings

Just because my dad eats healthy 99% of the time doesn't mean he doesn't treat himself to the deliciously sweet foods in life. And when I say treat himself, I mean he eats dessert, like, everyday. That's right — even my super-healthy dad doesn't believe in depriving himself of foods like tiramisu, blueberry pie, cheese danishes, custard, ice cream, and Taiwanese sweet breads. The key is that he eats them in tiny portions, and only once a day.

Like a tried-and-true routine, my dad takes out cake, pie, or ice cream every night after dinner and takes a few bites. He does this because he truly loves sweets (where I get my sweet tooth from), and also because healthy eating needs to be rewarded with some of indulgent stuff.

In his words, he allows himself about "one pastry every 3-4 days" or "half of a pie in a week." Keep in mind, though, that eating healthy most of the time is what makes eating the unhealthy stuff more rewarding in the long run, so it's all about having a balanced diet that's mostly good, with little of the bad.

In the end, no single diet works for everyone's palate and lifestyle, but it's worth it to explore new foods in search of the health benefits they provide. There is no final destination in the quest for health, because what's ultimately important is the daily journey of taking care of yourself.