Looking for a recipe for good health and long life? The right foods provide powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help you ward off serious illness. Click on foods in the WebMD Healthy Refrigerator to see how much you should eat to reap health benefits.
One cup of milk contains up to 316 milligrams of calcium. That's around 30% of the 1000 milligrams women need each day to keep their bones strong. One half cup of nonfat yogurt contains 244 milligrams of calcium. Since the average American woman gets only half the recommended daily amount of calcium, an additional glass of milk or serving of yogurt each day could help many women ward off osteoporosis. Milk also has added vitamin D, which works with calcium to strengthen bones. The best choice, of course, is skim or low-fat milk. Lactose intolerant? Not to worry. There are plenty of other great calcium sources, including:
Calcium-fortified orange juice (one cup) 330 mg
Dried figs (one half cup) 286 mg
Collard greens (one cup) 226 mg
Great northern beans (one cup cooked) 120 mg
English muffin 98 mg
And there are other reasons to fill up on calcium-rich foods. Recent research has shown that these foods can ward off colon cancer. Another benefit of this bone-building nutrient is that it may help with weight loss. Although the final vote is not in, some research supports this as another reason to "Get Milk."
SOURCES: Nutrition Review, April 1999; vol 57(4). Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2004; vol 96, No. 13: pp 1015-1022. Obesity Research, April 2004; vol 12: pp 582-590; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower
Add a couple of servings of vegetables to your daily menu and you'll go a long way toward lowering your risk of many forms of cancer. Crunch for crunch, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts pack the biggest bang: They're loaded with cancer-fighting substances. A recent study published in The Lancet showed that people with a certain genetic mutation who ate the most broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts were about a third less likely to develop lung cancer. Cruciferous vegies also appear to lower stroke risk. A study of more than 75,000 nurses showed that each additional daily serving of vegetables resulted in a 7% decrease in the incidence of stroke.
SOURCES: Nutrition and Cancer, 2001; vol 41, No. 1&2: pp 17-28. The Lancet, Oct. 29, 2005; vol 366: pp 1558-1560. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 6, 1999; vol 282: pp 1233-1239; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Because they're cold-blooded, fish had to evolve a form of oil that doesn't turn solid at the ocean's frigid temperatures. That's good news for us. The omega-3 oils in fish are also much less likely than other oils to turn gummy in our arteries. Omega-3 oils have been shown to fend off arterial blockages, open up constricted blood vessels, and reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the so-called "bad" cholesterol. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of eating fish. Eating fish oil has been shown to reduce sudden cardiac death. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of oily fish a week. The best choices are oily fish like salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, and mackerel.
SOURCES: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2000; vol 71 (1 Suppl). The Lancet, Aug. 7 1999; vol 354. Circulation, 2003; vol 107. American Heart Association; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
First the experts told us to give up butter for margarine. Then they warned that trans fatty acids in margarine can raise cholesterol levels and may be almost as bad for the heart as butter. Well, take heart. Two new margarines, Benecal and Take Control, actually lower cholesterol. That's because they contain sterol and stanol esters -- substances derived from plants that prevent the body from absorbing as much cholesterol as it normally would. They also keep the cholesterol produced by your body from gumming up arteries. Together, the two ingredients have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 10%: That's impressive. Because research as shown that for every 10 percentage points that cholesterol was reduced, the risk of death from heart disease dropped by 15%.
The big news of the past decade is that fruits and vegetables are packed with phytochemicals -- nutrients that can fight cancer, clear out clogged arteries, and slow the aging process. Experts at the National Cancer Institute recommend heaping helpings of orange and dark green vegetables, which are richest in disease-fighting nutrients. Spinach, for instance, is loaded with antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, which have shown promise in protecting against macular degeneration, a disease that damages the retina. Orange and yellow vegetables are powerhouses of beta-carotene, which lowers cholesterol and helps keep arteries clear. Tomatoes are abundant in lycopene, another important antioxidant. Eating tomatoes has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. In a study of nearly 40,000 women, women who ate seven to 10 servings a week of tomato products had 29% less risk of heart disease compared with women who ate only 1.5 servings or less a week. Eating tomatoes has also been shown to lower the risk of many cancers, including prostate and pancreatic cancers.
SOURCES: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 6, 1999; vol 282(13). Journal of the American Optometric Association, January 1999; vol 70(1). Journal of Nutrition, July 2003; vol 133(7): pp 2336-2341. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, March 2004; vol 13(3): pp 340-345. Journal of Nutrition, March 2005; vol 135(3): pp 592-597; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Fresh Herbs and Garlic
Fresh herbs add plenty of flavor to a meal without racking up calories. A simple bean or lentil soup simmered with seasonings -- a bay leaf, finely chopped sage and marjoram, for instance -- is low in fat and brimming with rich flavor. Who needs a heavy sauce over chicken when you can spice it up with fresh tarragon or rosemary? Some herbs and spices have their own medicinal properties. The superstar is garlic, which has been shown to detoxify potential cancer-causing chemicals and to slow the development of cancer cells, according to the National Cancer Institute. To keep fresh herbs fresh longer, keep them in a cup of water, like cut flowers. Keep fresh garlic in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight and moisture.
SOURCE: National Cancer Institute: Garlic and Cancer Prevention; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Carrot Sticks, Celery Sticks, Jicama
Before your next snack attack strikes, stock up on munchies that are good and good for you, too. Your best bet: crunchy vegetables like carrots, celery sticks, jicama, or sliced sweet peppers. They're low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with healthful antioxidants. Several studies have shown that eating carrots can lower the risk of breast and lung cancer. A recent study from England showed that the compound falcarinol is responsible for the cancer-protective effects of carrots. What's more, the fiber in all these vegetables helps keep cholesterol levels down and fills you up with fewer calories, which can help you keep off the weight.
SOURCES: Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Prevention, 1997, vol 6, Issue 11: pp 887-892. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2000; vol. 72, No. 4: pp 990-997. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, March 2005; vol 53: pp 1823-1827; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Carbohydrates are getting a bad rap these days. Advocates of high-protein diets such as the Atkins, Zone, and South Beach diets warn that the carbs in pasta -- like those in potatoes and white bread -- make blood sugar levels soar. That, in turn, increases appetite and eventually makes people fat, the anti-pasta brigade says. Most nutritionists aren't convinced. For starters, pasta is a lot easier on blood sugar levels than starchy foods like potatoes or white bread. And half a cup of cooked pasta contains only 99 calories. What's more, it's the foundation of a truly delicious, high-fiber, low-calorie meal -- as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. Go easy on creamy sauces in favor of tomato sauce and you'll keep the fat grams down. Add at least one vegetable and you'll balance the carbs with fiber, which helps keep blood sugar from peaking. Better yet, when preparing a pasta dish, combine it with cooked chickpeas or beans - a classic combination the Italians call pasta e fagioli. Beans are especially fiber-rich. And since they contain complete protein, they're a great alternative to meat.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, vol 76, N0. 1: pp 55-56; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Whole Grain Bread
Loaded with nutrients and fiber, whole grains have many of the same disease-fighting substances found in fruits and vegetables. Eating whole grains has been shown to reduce strokes, heart disease, and diabetes. Whole grains also lower the risk of some cancers, including pancreatic, stomach, and colorectal cancer. In one study of more than 2,000 people, a high-fiber diet including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains reduced rectal cancer by as much as 66%. Luckily boutique bakeries around the country are rediscovering the art of great bread-making, which means all kinds of whole-grain breads--including those pumped full of oats or sesame seeds or other healthful grains and seeds -- are showing up on grocery store shelves.
SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Sept. 27, 2000; vol 284(12): pp 1534-1540. Archives of Internal Medicine, February 2004; vol 164: pp 370-377. Diabetes Care, February 2004; vol 27: pp 538-546. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2004; vol 79: pp 274-281; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Even the most healthful salad can go wrong if it's smothered in a high-fat, high-calorie salad dressing. And it's easy to pour on the calories. A tablespoon of salad oil packs a whopping 130 calories. With the cheese that's added to some bottled dressings, you've got enough calories and saturated fat to bring down a Caesar. Instead, choose a vinaigrette dressing made with olive oil. It's still high in calories, but the monounsaturated fats in olive oil are friendly to the arteries. If you don't like the flavor of olive oil, use a salad dressing containing canola, which is also high in monounsaturates. To keep calories down, drizzle on just enough vinaigrette to add flavor.
SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, June 26, 2003; vol 348(26): pp 2595-2596; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
It's easy to get dehydrated, especially if you're physically active. Run low on H20 and you'll feel tired and run-down. Unfortunately, you can't depend on feeling thirsty to know when you need water. By the time you're parched, your body is already far short of the water it requires for peak performance. Drinking plenty of water is especially important if you're over 60. Medications like blood pressure drugs can impair your ability to regulate fluid balance. What's more, thirst sensation decreases with age. How much is enough? At least six 12-ounce glasses of water a day, experts say. If you're exercising in hot weather, you'll need even more. You can sweat as much as half a gallon an hour, says David Nieman, an assistant professor of health promotion at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and author of "Fitness and Your Health." Research has shown that you don't need to worry too much if you and your family members are not fans of water. Any beverage, including caffeinated ones, work for maintaining hydration. Even so there are other good health reasons to limit the amount of sugar and caffeine, but all liquids count toward your total hydration goals. The best guage of hydration is urine color, which should be very pale yellow. if yours is darker than that, it's time to hydrate.
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2003; vol22(2): pp 165-173; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Blueberries and Grapes
All fruits are loaded with vitamins, but blueberries, strawberries, and red grapes offer something special: antioxidants called anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid), which may protect brain cells. In a study published in the May 2005 issue of Experimental Neurology, blueberries were shown to lessen brain damage and hasten recovery from strokes in rats. In addition to anthocyanins, these food are packed with pterostilbene, a powerful antioxidant, which may help lower cholesterol. So you can rev up your cholesterol-burning engine by eating more blueberries, grapes, and cranberries. Eating fruits has also been shown to prevent vision loss. People who ate three or more servings of fruit per day lowered their risk of age related macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by one-third compared to people who ate few fruits.
SOURCE: Experimental Neurology, May 2005; vol 193(1): pp 75-84. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2005; vol 53(9): pp 3403-3407. Archives of Ophthalmology, June 2004; vol 122(6): pp 883-92; Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Frozen Juice Bars
Cool and refreshing, frozen juice bars make a great low-calorie summer snack. Low calorie? That's right. The typical Popsicle contains only about 70 calories. One of the tastiest brands around, Fruitfull frozen juice bars, lives up to its name with chunks of real peaches, oranges, pineapples, and other fresh fruit. Or, take your favorite fresh juice, pour it in one of the specially designed trays sold for the purpose, and make your own. If chocolate is your weakness, help yourself to an old-fashioned Fudgsicle. Amazingly, this chocolaty delight contains only 90 calories, a scant 10 of them from fat. And get this: One bar packs 8% of most women's daily calcium requirement.
SOURCE: Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD.
Sausage? Nutrient-rich lean meat can improve the overall quality of the diet by providing essential nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Today's beef is leaner than ever before, making it easy to choose cuts of meat that are lean and low in fat. Skip monster-sized steaks and keep portions small to control fat and calories. The 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend on average 5 1/2 ounces of lean protein daily. Trim all visible fat, especially before grilling, to avoid flare-ups and charring. Burgers or anything with ground meat should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F; medium rare meat can be safely cooked at 145 degrees F. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure meat is cooked to the proper temperature.