Here’s good-food news: The more you munch on healthy eats, the less you need to worry about Friday night’s fat burger and fries. Who says? Harvard. Its medical school has found that women who routinely nibble nutritiously slash their risk of dying from the usual culprits, including heart disease and cancer.
To up your odds of living a long and healthy life–despite occasional blow-outs at TGIF–make sure you regularly include these 7 nutritional powerhouses in your diet. “They’re the cream of the healthy-foods crop,” says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Age-Proof Your Body.
Why: Ounce for ounce, berries have more protective plant antioxidants than almost any other food. “These compounds not only lower your disease risks, they help prevent memory loss,” says Somer.
How Much: Aim for a cup of berries–any berries, fresh or frozen–at least three times a week (berry researchers say eat a cup daily). Since berries are high in fill-you-up fiber, they may also help curb weight gain.
Toss them in salads
Snack on them one by one, like healthy potato chips
Add them to yogurt, cereal, and smoothies
Stir them into anything you bake
Why: Sure salmon is a prime source of omega-3s, the healthy fats that fend off heart disease and maybe more, but are you aware that a mere 3 ounces of the fish serves up 170% of your daily vitamin B12 and more than 80% of your D
How Much: Aim for two servings a week (and if one’s tuna, that’s okay).
Broil, bake or poach it with dill
Toss it into pasta dishes and salads
If you’re vegetarian or just not a fish-eater, get the key omega-3 fat called DHA in:
Silk Plus Omega-3 DHA Soymilk
Horizon Organic Milk Plus DHA
Oh Mama Nutrition Bars
Gold Circle Farm Eggs
Rachel’s Wickedly Delicious Yogurts
3. LEAFY GREENS
Why: It’s almost impossible to meet your nutritional needs without eating dark leafy greens, from spinach and romaine to collard greens and chard. They’re huge sources of fiber; vitamins C and K; folic acid (a B vitamin that guards the heart and memory and fights birth defects); lutein, a vision protector; and four essential minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium.
How Much: Two servings a day, and the darker, the better.
Add arugula to your sandwich
Layer chard into lasagna
Fold spinach into omelets
Add any green to stir-fries, pasta dishes and soup
4. WHOLE GRAINS
Why: They have up to 96 percent more fiber, magnesium, zinc, chromium and vitamins E and B6 than refined grains. This nutritional powerhouse helps prevent the same health problems that refined grains help cause: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and even obesity.
How Much: Ideally, all of the six daily grain servings you need should be whole, unrefined grains, but aim for at least three.
Start your day with oatmeal or whole-grain cold cereal
Use 100% whole-wheat bread for toast and sandwiches
Switch to whole-wheat couscous and pasta
Opt for brown rice (instant is fine), whole-grain pretzels, even whole-wheat tortillas
Why: They’re excellent sources of protein, magnesium, B vitamins and E–trusty fighters in the war against heart disease and cancer. Yes, nuts are high in fat calories, but their fat is the heart-healthy kind. Replace junky snacks with them and you won’t gain an ounce.
How Much: Up to five small fistfuls a week (roughly 1/4 cup or about 15-20 almonds, cashews, walnuts or pecans).
Sprinkle plain or toasted nuts on salads instead of croutons
Mix them into cooked cous cous and brown rice
Stir them into cereal and yogurt
Use them to garnish a stir-fry just before serving
6. GOLDEN VEGGIES
Why: Just one serving of fiber-filled, deep-yellow-orange vegetables supplies five times the beta carotene you need daily to lower your cancer risk, defend against colds and other infections, and protect your skin from sun damage. The potassium in these veggies also keeps your heartbeat in sync and your blood pressure down.
How Much: Aim for two half-cup servings a day, the equivalent of one sweet potato, 12 canned apricot halves or a cup of butternut squash or carrots.
How: Try this sweet potato quickie from Somer’s The Food & Mood Cookbook:
Cajun Sweet Potatoes
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch thick slices and toss with olive oil, Cajun seasoning and freshly ground pepper.
3. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly brown and cooked through, but still slightly crunchy.
Why: Low- or no-fat plain yogurt is a terrific source of B vitamins, protein, calcium and –if it has active cultures–the healthy bacteria known as probiotics, which crowd out disease-causing germs.
How Much: Four or more cups a week, if this is your main dairy source.
How: Cut back on sugar and calories by choosing plain yogurt and adding fruit, especially berries, and some granola. Or be more inventive:
Mix a dash of vanilla and chopped mint into yogurt and dollop on fruit
Use yogurt instead of sour cream for dips, sauces and salad dressings
Top baked potatoes with yogurt and chives
Thicken sauces and make soups “creamy” with yogurt