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Maintaining a wholesome diet is vital to your health, but there are so many diets, trends and fads with conflicting recommendations that it can be hard to know what’s actually best for you and your family. These fresh foods are jam-packed with vital nutrients and have scientifically proven health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, lowering cholesterol and more. These ingredients are essential building blocks to a healthy diet and can easily be incorporated into your favorite recipes for breakfast, dinner and everything in between.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t satisfy your sweet tooth. There are a lot of surprising health benefits of dark chocolate when eaten in moderation. On top of mood enhancement, improved brain function and reduced stress levels, dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure, prevent or combat diabetes, lower the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease and decrease the risk of stroke.
Avocado toast was one of the hottest food trends of the 2010s for good reason: Avocados are nutrient-dense fuel to kick-start your day. They’re full of fiber, making them great for digestion, and monounsaturated fat, which can reduce your risk of heart disease. Avocados also help the body to absorb other fat-soluble nutrients, so they’re great for pairing with other vitamin-rich foods or eaten with supplements such as fish oil.
The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish — particularly fatty fish — per week. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are the best source of two of the three most important omega-3s, reduce the risk of developing eye disease, reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Fatty fish are inflammatory-fighting foods that are a great replacement for processed meats, red meats and other inflammatory foods in your diet.
Although they are rich in dietary cholesterol, eggs contain nutrients that may actually help lower the risk of heart disease, making them a protein-packed, heart-healthy food. Full of essential nutrients that support vision and help preserve memory, eggs can be prepared a wide variety of ways at any time of day. They’re also a great base for using up leftovers.
Hopefully a life lesson you learned from your parents is to eat your broccoli. This cruciferous vegetable in the cabbage family is rich in vitamins, fiber and antioxidants as well as a compound that greatly increases the body's ability to ward off cancer.
Using seasonings to spice up your food every day can also have health benefits. Cinnamon is a popular spice that can be incorporated in everything from at-home coffee drinks to baked goods to cozy chili recipes. Cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes as well as reduce high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
A great way to incorporate cinnamon into your daily diet is by sprinkling it on some hearty, heart-healthy breakfast oatmeal. Oats can help lower cholesterol and are high in fiber, which helps keep you feel full. You can also dress up oatmeal with your favorite in-season produce, such as berries or bananas.
Another common seasoning in dishes from around the world, garlic has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides and help protect against heart disease. Benefits include protection against certain infections and the common cold, and garlic can even reduce swelling and inflammation from acne. It also has cancer-fighting properties that may slow its progression.
Olive oil is a pantry staple that is anti-inflammatory, can help control blood sugar and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer or other chronic illnesses as well. Cooking with olive oil has also been associated with combating the decline in brain function from aging.
Strawberries, blackberries and raspberries aren’t technically berries — but these superfoods have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fresh fruits. They are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals and can protect against cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases. To save at the grocery store, go for frozen instead of fresh. They’re less expensive but just as nutritious and have a longer shelf life so you can easily incorporate them into smoothie recipes.
Citrus such as lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges are almost synonymous with vitamin C, which is vital to healthy skin and bones as well as a healthy immune system. Citrus is also one of the best foods for your eyes, preventing or delaying certain eye conditions. They are also abundant in other nutrients that can improve digestive health, protect against diabetes and prevent or delay heart disease, arthritis and some types of cancer.
While citrus is known for its high vitamin C, kiwis and oranges actually have similar amounts of the vitamin. A medium kiwifruit has almost the same milligrams per serving of vitamin C as a medium orange, so ounce for ounce, they pack more of a punch. Kiwis also provide many benefits to digestive, immune and metabolic health. They can help the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders, making them one of the best foods for your gut.
Black beans are a great source of fiber and help lower cholesterol. They’re also filled with many other essential nutrients like zinc and copper, which are great for eye health. Black beans are also associated with a reduced risk of many health issues such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Carrots being great for eye health isn’t just a food myth. Carrots — as well as other orange produce like sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and pumpkin — are packed with vitamin A, an essential nutrient for good eyesight. They are also rich in compounds that can reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. This versatile veggie makes the perfect side to your favorite dip recipes.
You’re nuts if you’re not incorporating nuts into your daily diet. Nuts are great sources of healthy fat, protein, potassium, magnesium and several other required minerals. High nut consumption has also been linked to avoidance of weight gain and obesity. Walnuts and almonds both support eye health and are anti-inflammatory, while almonds, walnuts, peanuts and other nuts lower cholesterol and protect your heart.
Carbs are often demonized, but eating too many carbs or too few could both be harmful to your health. Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa and select breads and pastas, provide nutrients like fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that are vital to digestive health, help lower cholesterol, maintain steady blood sugar levels and help prevent the formation of small blood clots. They also contain phytochemicals and essential minerals that may protect against some cancers.
Leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, are packed with vitamins A, C, E and K, fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. They help protect bones from osteoporosis, decrease the risk of heart disease, prevent inflammatory diseases and lower the risk of stomach, breast and skin cancer. They aid in digestion and are low in calories, making them one of the best foods for weight loss.
The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has some truth to it. Regardless of the variety of apples you prefer, the fruit is a good source of fiber, vitamin C and other nutrients that can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, lower risk of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of various cancers.
Mushrooms have been used as medicine for thousands of years. A good source of B vitamins, minerals, potassium and antioxidants like selenium, mushrooms are fat-free and low in sodium. They can help control high blood pressure and are being researched for their various antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.
Ginger can be ingested in a variety of forms, including fresh, dried or in tummy-calming teas, to treat upset stomach, diarrhea, motion sickness, nausea and osteoarthritis. Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant properties and is being researched for its ability to treat arthritis, respiratory ailments and more.
Cayenne is a staple spice in a variety of cuisines, including Mexican, Cajun and Creole. While they’re not the spiciest in the world, cayenne peppers contain capsaicin, which not only gives them their heat but also can help relieve pain. Capsaicin helps reduce ulcers by restricting the growth of ulcer-causing bacteria, reducing excess stomach acid and increasing blood flow. It also acts as an antioxidant and can help prevent bacterial infections as well as help to prevent or treat emphysema.
If you love curry and other hearty comfort foods, you’re in luck. The vibrant yellow-colored spice turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that can help against Alzheimer's, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, acid reflux and other diseases.
Another good source of omega-3 fatty acids is flaxseed, which is also high in fiber. Flaxseed can improve digestive health and relieve constipation. It may also help lower total blood cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol levels, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Ground flaxseed can be mixed into yogurt, cereal, baked goods and more, and also makes a great baking substitute if you’re out of eggs or looking to make a recipe vegan.
Sesame oil is another healthy cooking oil option made from sesame seeds. It has antioxidants and strong anti-inflammatory properties and has been linked to decreasing high cholesterol, lowering risks of atherosclerosis and delaying the onset of cardiovascular diseases.
Yogurt is high in protein and one of the best sources of both calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt also makes it easier for the body to absorb nutrients including calcium, zinc and magnesium. Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in yogurt, may also help control weight, decrease inflammation and prevent conditions like type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a legume related to peanuts and kidney beans. They’re an excellent source of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and B vitamins, making them a great foundation for delicious vegetarian recipes. Chickpeas may help prevent the development of many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Starbucks lovers and Dunkin’ fans can rejoice, because drinking coffee is good for your health — as long as you steer clear of tons of extra sugar and unhealthy creamers. Coffee contains antioxidants and other substances that may reduce internal inflammation and protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson's, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
Whether you prefer green, black or oolong, tea has anti inflammatory properties and is high in antioxidants that may help counteract heart disease and dementia. There are also plenty of varieties with low or little caffeine, perfect for sipping at night or for calming an upset stomach.
Some studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, including raising "good" cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of diabetes. Red wine in particular has antioxidants including resveratrol, which is found in the skin of grapes. It helps prevent damage to blood vessels, prevent blood clots and protects your cells from damage that could lead to cancer. However, organizations like the American Heart Association don’t recommend starting to drink just for the potential benefits.
While this technically isn’t a food, water should be your beverage of choice. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends 15.5 cups of fluids for men and 11.5 cups for women a day for proper hydration. If water is too plain for your taste, try adding citrus juice, fresh herbs or sliced cucumbers for flavor. Here are the signs and symptoms that you’re not drinking enough water.
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