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[A simple general rule is to do your shopping around the periphery of the grocery store to avoid processed foods.]
In the battle of good vs. evil, you should know which foods are on your side
No individual food can change your life - sorry, an apple a day probably won't keep the doctor away. But your everyday food choices can help prevent or encourage diseases such as cancer and heart disease and may even influence age-related vision loss and mental decline.
''It's well-proven that what you eat can influence major diseases,'' says Sandria Godwin, a dietitian and professor of family and consumer sciences at Tennessee State University.
Dietitians continue to recommend a diet that includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, lean meats and whole grains. But all foods aren't created equal, and the ''super foods'' below are true dietary heroes. And while most dietitians say no foods are so bad that they should be avoided entirely, there are some foods - ''super villains,'' if you will - that you should try to minimize.
The super foods
Broccoli and family. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussells sprouts and cabbage are in a group called cruciferous vegetables that are among the richest in nutrients and phytochemicals (a fancy name for plant chemicals). Eating more of them may help reduce your risk of certain cancers and stroke.
Deep orange and yellow fruits and veggies. The deep orange of carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes and the yellow in squash tells you they're rich in plant pigments known as cartenoids *. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant cartenoid that neutralizes cell-damaging free radicals in your body. The cartenoid lutein may help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Spinach and other leafy green vegetables. These are rich in several vitamins and appear to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Leafy greens also are rich in the cartenoid lutein, which may prevent age-related vision problems.
Oranges and other citrus fruits. Citrus fruits are well known for their abundance of vitamin C, and they appear to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Citrus fruits also contain antioxidant compounds that may protect against cancer.
Soy products (tofu, soy milk, edamame). [This article touts Soy as a high-quality protein that lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke, which commonly accepted. However, you should see Concerns over Soybeans.]
Yogurt and other low-fat dairy products. Getting enough calcium is essential to preventing osteoporosis, and recent studies have shown that dairy products may have an additional benefit: weight loss. A study published this month in the journal Obesity Research found that people eating three to four servings of dairy a day lost more weight than those who took calcium supplements, suggesting that something in dairy other than calcium aids in weight loss.
Salmon. Cold-water fish are rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and research suggests they also may help relieve depression and reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Farmed (or Atlantic) salmon has more contaminants than wild salmon, so Heather Pass, a dietitian at the Cool Springs Family YMCA, recommends choosing wild salmon.
Lean meats. Get your protein with less saturated fat by choosing skinless chicken, turkey or lean red meat. Pass recommends buffalo, which is lower in fat than beef, pork or chicken.
Garlic and friends. Research suggests garlic and other allium vegetables such as scallions, onions, leeks, chives and shallots can protect your heart, possibly by reducing the stickiness of platelets on your blood vessel walls. They also may protect against some cancers.
Nuts and whole grains. Nuts are relatively high in fat, but the good news is that they're high in the ''good'' fats known as omega 3 fatty acids that protect against cardiovascular disease. Flax seeds and oils are another good source of omega 3 fatty acids. Nuts are relatively high in calories, so remember that you don't need more than a handful of them to reap health benefits. [Almonds lower blood cholesterol. A class of phytochemicals (called polyphenols) from almond skins interact synergistically with the vitamin E in almonds to protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation. Individuals with high levels of oxidized LDL are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. The natural antioxidants in almonds have a synergistic effect that can help promote heart health.]
[Whole wheat, oat bran, rye, spelt and kamut are complex carbohydrates that provide your body with the energy, B vitamins and fiber it needs. Look for breads, cereals, pastas and crackers that say "good source of fiber" or "high fiber". e.g. cereals such as "all bran" and "old-fashioned" oatmeal. ]
Berries. Blueberries, cranberries, cherries and other berries are loaded with antioxidants that may protect against cancer. A study in rats found that blueberry extract appeared to reverse mental decline.
Mushrooms. These fungi, especially the shitake and reishi variety, have compounds that may boost the function of your immune system. They're also loaded with B vitamins and selenium, a vitamin that may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Avocado: The high fat content is mostly of the monounsaturated kind, which can actually improve cholesterol levels in the body and promote heart health. Avocados are also an excellent source of folate and potassium and contain fibre.
Green tea has been shown to prevent certain types of cancers, reduce blood cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss, strengthen immunity and increase energy. Green tea's protective effects appear to be due a powerful antioxidant called polyphenol.
Grape Juice - Purple grape juice tops other juices in antioxidant activity.
Red Wine - French research shows that drinking red wine in moderation increases longevity.
The super villains
Fried foods and hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils were once touted as a healthier alternative to the saturated fats found in butter, but in the past few years, researchers have found that hydrogenated oils are actually worse for your arteries.
Hydrogenated oils can be found in margarine and pre-packaged baked goods, snacks, sweets and fried foods. In 2006, the government will require manufacturers to label the amount of trans-fats in foods. Some manufacturers list trans fats on their ingredients, but until that labeling becomes mandatory, avoid foods with the words ''partially hydrogenated'' or ''hydrogenated'' on the ingredient label, says Heather Pass, a dietitian at the Cool Springs Family YMCA.
Refined carbohydrates. Dietitians and doctors overwhelmingly do not endorse low-carb diets such as Atkins. But it's clear that we Americans consume more calories today than 30 years ago, and large portions of carbohydrates share some of the blame. Dr. Sattar Hadi, assistant professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt Center for Human Nutrition, recommends trading refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and pasta with more whole grains and fruits and vegetables.
Soda and fruit-flavored drinks. Sodas are the empty calories your mother warned you about. You get a lot of sugar and calories, and that's about it. Drink water instead, Godwin says.
Follow the rainbow
A healthy diet should include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but not all fruits and veggies are created equal.
The most popular ones - corn, potatoes, iceberg lettuce, apples and bananas - aren't as rich in nutrients as other foods. Which is why you should think about color to get the most out of the fruits and veggies you eat, says Susie Nanney, a dietitian and acting director of the Obesity Prevention Center at Saint Louis University.
* White: Eat cauliflower more often than potatoes, onions and mushrooms.
* Green: Dark lettuces, such as romaine and red-leaf lettuce, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts have more nutrients than iceberg lettuce and green beans.
* Yellow/orange: Try carrots, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, oranges and grapefruit in addition to corn or bananas.
* Red: Select tomatoes, red peppers and strawberries in addition to apples.
© Copyright 2004 The Tennessean
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