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A Food Lover's Guide

Drum roll, please. Here's your guide to the best foods to nourish you—body and soul. Here, too, are those foods best left for that occasional need to indulge in guilty pleasures. What follows is not a subjective guide; it's based on research showing that eating certain foods may help prevent heart disease and certain cancers and that eating other types of food may contribute to disease. Use this guide to help you replace less healthy foods with these classics.

Food classics

Pulp fruit. All fruits contain healthy nutrients, but some offer unique health benefits. Citrus fruits contain a phytochemical called limonene that may help prevent cancer. Berries have come into their own recently. They are high in fiber and vitamin C, and contain phytochemicals that are potent antioxidants. These are just examples—all fruits contain nutrients that are good for your health. 

It's a wonderful tomato. Fruit or vegetable? Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, they deserve special recognition. Tomatoes are loaded with nutrients, including vitamins B and C, iron, potassium, and beta-carotene. They also contain an important phytochemical called lycopene, which may help lower the risk for heart attack and prostate cancer, as well as other cancers. Cooked and canned tomatoes contain even more available lycopene than fresh tomatoes do. 

All the cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower contain a phytochemical called indoles that may help prevent some cancers. They are also high in fiber, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. And don't forget about the lesser-known members of this family, including arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, rutabaga, and watercress. 

Citizen grain. Not sure if your bread or cereal is made from whole grains? Check the label. Whole wheat, barley, or oats should be listed as the first ingredient. Also, look at the fiber content. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eating whole-grain foods may help lessen your risk for heart disease and some cancers. 

Soy luck club. You might know it only as tofu, but soy is one of the most versatile foods around. You can sprinkle soy powder on your cereal, try a soy-based burger for lunch, or add tofu to a stir-fry. No matter how you eat it, soy is good for your health. Eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol that includes 25 grams of soy per day may help reduce your risk for heart disease. (Soy sauce, however, is not a good source of soy; in fact, most soy sauces don't contain any soy.) 

Cast away. Fish is a great heart-healthy choice. It is low in saturated fat but high in heart-healthy, omega-3 fatty acids. Experts recommend consuming two servings of low-mercury fish per week. Fish with the highest amount of omega-3s include salmon and mackerel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns, however, that nearly all fish contain traces of mercury. For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish is not a health concern, but for women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children, some fish and shellfish contain levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. The Food and Drug Administration and the EPA advise people in these groups to avoid some types of fish and eat fish that are lower in mercury. The risks from mercury in fish depend on the amount of fish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish. Fish with the highest amount of mercury include swordfish, King mackerel, tilefish, and shark. Mercury levels vary, depending on where the fish lived and was captured. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to six ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week. 

Food noir

Whether you buy the fried chicken from your grocer's freezer or the fish and chips from your favorite seafood haunt, if they're fried, they're dripping in saturated fat and calories—two big no-no's for heart health. Of course, the added fat is what makes fried foods taste so good. Try to limit meals containing fried foods to once or twice per week. Instead, eat food that is baked, broiled, steamed, boiled, or microwaved. 

All about red meat. Most red meat is high in saturated fat, which has been shown to increase your risk for heart disease and possibly cancer. Most experts recommend that you limit your intake of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your total calories. Although it is fine to eat red meat occasionally, try to eat leaner cuts of meat such as tenderloin and cut off the fat before you cook it. 

The big sweet. Do you know how many calories are in a super-sized nondiet soda? A 64-ounce cup has about 800 calories. What's worse, these drinks don't provide your body with healthy nutrients. Water is a better choice if you are thirsty. 

The next time you are at the grocery store, fill your cart with disease-fighting, classic foods. Knowing how powerful these foods are in protecting your health can inspire you to indulge in "food noir" only occasionally.

Online Resources

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion  http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp
U.S. Department of Agriculture  http://www.choosemyplate.gov/mypyramidmoms/food_safety_fish.html
American Dietetic Association  http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/home_4026_ENU_HTML.htm
American Dietetic Association  http://www.eatright.org/nutritiontipsheets/
USDA  http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/fruits_why.html
USDA  http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/grains_why.html
USDA  http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/meat_why.html#fish
USDA  http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/vegetables_why.html

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