Ever wonder if your diet is missing something? Add our expert-approved, eat-right picks to stay lean, healthy, and strong.
The Cancer Fighter
Don't let brussels sprouts' signature scent turn you off. "The smell is a compound called allyl isothiocyanate that causes precancerous cells to self-destruct," Jonny Bowden, PhD, author of 'The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth' says. "It's entirely possible that eating them every few weeks could help greatly reduce the incidence of colon cancer."
Bonus benefits: These mini-cabbages are packed with fiber and immune-boosting vitamins C and A.
The "Skinny" Steak
Red meat has a bad rap. The thing is, it really is good for you. Ideally, go for a cut that is both lean and grass-fed. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that meat from grass-fed cows usually has more conjugated linoleic acid (which has been shown in animal studies to combat cancer) and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than the grain-fed variety. Plus, meat from grass-fed cows is lower in total fat and calories. As long as your serving is a lean cut, such as tenderloin, feel free to make this smart choice two or three times a week, says Bowden.
Bonus benefits: Beef is a great source of protein, iron (a mineral that one in five women are deficient in), and heart-healthy B vitamins.
The "It" Spice
Curry may very well be the spice of life: Curcumin, the antioxidant that gives the condiment its color, has been shown to halt tumor growth and destroy cancer cells in lab tests. "Our research revealed that this ingredient may help prevent a variety of diseases, including multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers," says Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. At this point, it's still unclear exactly how much curry you should eat to help avoid disease, Aggarwal says. Experts simply recommend using the spice liberally to reap the rewards. For recipes, check out the book 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, by Ruta Kahate.
Bonus benefits: The antioxidants found in curry may also help break up plaques in the brain that cause Alzheimer's disease, say UCLA scientists.
The Next Nut
Pistachios are the new health nut. Why is that? New research from the University of Toronto shows that they may reduce the risk of diabetes by decreasing the effect of carbs on blood sugar levels. "Pistachios are high in protein, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fat," explains study author Cyril Kendall, PhD, "all of which contribute to the slowing of carbohydrate absorption in the body."
Bonus benefits: Other recent research has shown that eating two to three ounces of pistachios a day can help significantly raise your level of good cholesterol (HDL). Pistachios are full of vitamin B6 and copper, too, which help increase energy.
The Java Junkie's Dream
Rejoice! Your morning cup of joe is healthy. Experts on an American Society for Nutrition panel recently concluded that drinking three to five eight-ounce cups a day lowers your risk of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and colon and liver cancers. "Among other things, the antioxidants in coffee protect your cells and DNA from damage," Bowden says. "Coffee seems to increase antioxidants in the blood, too."
Bonus benefits: Women who drink at least six cups a day are less likely to develop high blood pressure, revealed a 2005 study by Harvard scientists.
The Heart-Smart Whole Grain
One of the easiest ways to significantly lower your cholesterol is to eat whole-grain oatmeal daily, reports a British review of 10 studies. The fiber in oatmeal forms a gel that slows down your body's absorption of cholesterol.
Bonus benefits: "People who eat oatmeal for breakfast tend to stay full all morning and consume less at lunch, due in part to the protein and fiber," says Dave Grotto, RD, a nutritionist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
The Fit Fish
"Shrimp is about 90 calories per three-ounce serving, it has virtually no fat, and it's packed with protein, making it the ultimate diet food," says Ellie Krieger, RD, host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger. It may even help prevent heart disease, thanks to astaxanthin, the antioxidant that gives the shellfish its red tint. "People shy away from shrimp because it's high in cholesterol, but cholesterol in food is much less likely to raise your blood cholesterol than, say, trans fat," says Kathy McManus, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Moreover, eating about a cup of shrimp daily can raise your good cholesterol level, found a Rockefeller University study.
Bonus benefits: Shrimp is also rich in cancer-fighting selenium and bone-building vitamin D.
The Sweet Surprise
Enjoying a small amount of flavonoid-filled dark chocolate may prevent clogged arteries and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Also, eating up to 3.6 ounces daily can be as effective as beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors at lowering blood pressure, notes a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study.
Bonus benefits: Studies have shown that eating chocolate releases serotonin, the feel-better brain chemical.
The Red Wonder
Take two tart cherries and call me in the morning. While your doc may not say that yet, she might soon: A new animal study from University of Michigan shows that consuming a powdered version of tart cherries can lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as decrease the body's ability to store fat in the liver. It's not yet known if cherry-rich diets will have a similar effect on people, but University of Michigan researchers are hopeful.
Bonus benefits: People who exercised and drank two 12-ounce glasses of tart cherry juice daily for eight days reported less muscle pain than those who sipped a placebo, finds a 2006 study.
The Trendy Tomato
Red tomatoes are full of lycopene, a substance that helps lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. But orange tomatoes offer two and a half times more. Apparently, they contain a form that the body can more easily absorb.
Bonus benefits: One cup of orange tomatoes provides 338 percent of the RDA for vitamin A.
The 10 Best Power Foods for Women
No matter your age, you can benefit from these foods!
1. Parmesan cheese for strengthening bones:
Calcium is key for preventing osteoporosis (especially in your 20s). Yogurt and nonfat milk help, but who wants them three times a day? Work Parmesan cheese into your diet; its 340 mg of calcium per ounce - compared to about 200 mg in cheddar or Swiss - goes a long way toward your 1000 mg/day quota.
2. Apples boost your immune system:
Smart and sweet, apples are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that can bolster your body's disease-fighting abilities. In one study from Appalachian State University, just 5 percent of people who ate more quercetin came down with a respiratory infection over a two-week period, compared to 45 percent of those who didn't.
3. Lentils build your iron stores: Low-calorie lentils pack about 30 percent of your daily iron per cup cooked. About 12 percent of young women have low iron stores - at the extreme, that leads to anemia. But one study found that even women who were iron deficient (not anemic) had poorer performances on skill tests than those with normal levels.
4. Broccoli fights wrinkles:
"A cup of broccoli has 100 percent of your vitamin C-crucial for production of collagen, which gives skin elasticity," says Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D. It's also rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. This vitamin assists in cell turnover, so old skin cells are replaced with fresh (read: younger-looking) ones.
5. Potatoes pack healthy carbs:
Potatoes contain a fat-fighting compound called resistant starch that can help keep weight in check. One medium spud with the skin will run you just around 100 calories, and with more potassium than bananas, potatoes also help fight heart disease by keeping blood pressure low.
6. Spinach is dense with key nutrients:
This leafy green is high in vitamin K and also contains calcium and magnesium - a combo that may help slow the breakdown of bone that occurs as you get older - as well as folate, a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects. And it packs just 7 calories per cup raw!
7. Dark chocolate stops stress and fights disease:
European researchers found that people who ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate - about 200 calories worth-every day for two weeks produced less of the stress hormone cortisol and reported feeling less frazzled. Cortisol causes a temporary rise in blood pressure; consistently high levels up your risk for depression, obesity, heart disease and more.
8. Mushrooms deliver cancer-fighting antioxidants:
One study showed that women who ate just one third of an ounce of raw mushrooms a day (that's about one button mushroom) had a 64 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Other research suggests that mushrooms reduce the effects of aromatase, a protein that helps produce estrogen - a major factor in some breast cancers.
9. Sardines fight heart disease:
These pungent little fish are good sources of omega-3 acids, which decrease inflammation that can lead to blocked arteries. They also prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes, and keep blood vessels smooth and supple. Three ounces of sardines have about 1.3 grams of omega-3s (you need about 1 gram a day).
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to help you drop weight, including from your troublesome middle. In one study, people who got the most monos (about 23 percent of their daily calories) had about 5 pounds less belly fat than those who ate a high-carb, lower-fat diet.