By Hallie Levine Sklar
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.
Related: 6 Recipes for a Whole-Grain Dinner
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.
Related: Easy Ways to Add More Color to Your Diet
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.