by Sally Winstein
Cucumbers are one of the all-time best foods for fighting uncomfortable bloat because they’re loaded with water and naturally low in sodium (taking in extra water while halting salt reduces water retention). Plus, they’re a terrific calorie bargain; you can gobble up an entire cuke for just 45 calories. When you get the urge to munch between meals, slice one up into “chips” to squelch your appetite in a hurry.
Did you know that much of the power of blueberries lies in their color? That deep-blue hue is a by-product of flavonoids — natural compounds that protect the brain’s memory-carrying cells (neurons) from the damaging effects of oxidation and inflammation. Since blueberries are one of the best sources of flavonoids you can find, it’s no surprise that this superfood has been shown to help preserve memory function. Blueberries, like other berries, also have a high water content, which makes them hydrating for your skin and other cells of the body.
Popeye was definitely on to something — eating spinach even before we knew about superfoods! Spinach is filled with antioxidants, including vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin — a duo that acts like sunscreen for your eyes and guards against macular degeneration. One cup of fresh spinach leaves also provides almost double the daily requirement for vitamin K, which plays an important role in cardiovascular and bone health. And of course you can’t forget that spinach is a great vegetarian source of iron, which keeps your hair and nails strong and healthy. Use fresh spinach leaves as a base for salad or sauté it and add to an omelet.
Cherries are a skinny solution to sugar cravings. Snack on these deliciously sweet gems right out of the freezer bag — they’re like a healthy version of cherry Italian ices. You can enjoy ¾ cup of these treats for just 110 cals. Cherries have gained fame as one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories, which means they’re beneficial for many different conditions. This is due to the anthocyanins in cherries that researchers have found prevent free radical damage and inhibit cyclooxygenase enzymes better than many anti-inflammatory drugs. Cherries are high in beta carotene, containing 19 times more than blueberries or strawberries.
Nuts offer a nutritious package of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy unsaturated fat, making them one of nature’s perfect foods. Pistachios are especially rich in phytosterols and soluble fiber — two natural plant compounds that have been shown to lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Pistachios are my nut of choice when it comes to weight loss. Twenty-five pistachios will cost you only 100 calories (per nut, they’re the least caloric of all) and because they’re in a shell, eating them will slow you down!
Believe it or not, chocolate is a healthy treat, as long as you choose wisely. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and boost overall heart health. Choose chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao or cocoa to optimize the antioxidant power and health benefits. Dark chocolate may even boost your mood. While there’s no scientific explanation for why, the rich taste and sensuous mouth-feel of a decadent piece of dark chocolate may be to thank. Just be sure to keep your portions in check — one ounce of dark chocolate has about 150 calories.
Red Bell Peppers
A little known fact: one red bell pepper has twice as much vitamin C as an orange. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps clear your body of free radicals and keeps your skin and blood vessels healthy and strong. The vitamin C in bell peppers may also help prevent arthritis or slow the progression of the disease. Red bell peppers also deliver beta-carotene and lycopene, two more antioxidants that have been associated with decreased risk of eye diseases like cataracts. And, thanks to their high water content, bell peppers of all colors are a high-volume, low-cal food that’s very figure-friendly.
Beans are a fabulous source of vegetarian protein and fiber, two nutrients that help you stay full and satisfied. The protein and fiber in beans also tempers the rise in blood sugar that occurs after a meal, which can help stabilize mood. The fiber in beans also helps keep you regular (every half cup serving adds another 7 g of fiber to you daily total) Beans are low in fat and a good source of magnesium and potassium, nutrients that work together to lower blood pressure and keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Added bean bonus: They’re inexpensive! So stock up on canned, no-salt added varieties and add them to soups, salads, stews, and more!
You’ve probably heard that it’s good to eat oats if you have high cholesterol. That’s because whole grain oats are one of the best sources of soluble fiber, which, in addition to lowering cholesterol, helps keep blood sugar levels under control. Trade in your cream of wheat or sugary breakfast cereal for a bowl of wholesome oats topped with berries and chopped nuts for extra nutrition!
Pumpkin is good for a lot more than carving jack-o’-lanterns on Halloween — it’s loaded with nutrients that will help your heart, bones, eyes, and skin. Beta-carotene and potassium are the two standouts here: Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that helps rejuvenate skin, protect your vision, and may even reduce risk of arthritis. Potassium is a mineral involved in lowering blood pressure and maintaining healthy bones. Use fresh or canned (no-sugar-added) pumpkin in stews, soups, pies, or pureed as a side dish — or add a scoop to some nonfat vanilla yogurt for a yummy snack.
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