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Fiber for Your Whole Body
Once upon a time our diet was made up mostly of whole foods loaded with fiber. While we may have fallen to a wild beast or infection, fiber helped keep our cholesterol and blood sugar levels low, and kept our bowels functioning smoothly.
Now in our frenzied lifestyle, we're more likely to grab fast food, or use prepared foods at home that have only a passing acquaintance with dietary fiber. It's a little known fact: Most of us should double the amount of fiber we eat if we want to reap its benefits.
"I don't think it would be a bad idea to flip the food pyramid and suggest 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables a day instead of the 5-7 we recommend now," says William Hart. "None of us eats enough fiber." The average American eats 12 grams of fiber a day; most health organizations recommend 20 to 35 grams.
Studies have shown that dietary fiber - including foods such as apples, barley, beans and other legumes, fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, oat bran and brown rice -- clearly lower blood cholesterol. High-fiber foods are also digested more slowly, so they don't cause spikes in blood sugar levels like white bread, potatoes and sweets do. Of course, everyone knows that fiber helps keep you regular, but so do laxatives. Fiber, however, has an added plus: High-fiber foods help us feel full, making it easier to control weight.
You get more nutritional "bang for your buck" with high-fiber food, says Hart.
Antioxidant "Superfoods" to Protect Your Cells and Heart
When you're thinking "superfoods," think color, says Beverly Clevidence, PhD, a research leader at the USDA's Diet and Human Performance Laboratory. That means foods that are deep blue, purple, red, green, or orange. The carotenoids and anthocyanins that provide the color for these foods contain health-enhancing nutrients that protect against heart disease and cancer, and also improve our sense of balance, our memory, and other cognitive skills.
Your "superfoods" color chart should include:
- Deep green -- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may help prevent colon cancer, while spinach and kale are good sources of calcium. And kale also helps fight against age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older Americans.
- Red -- Red tomatoes, especially when cooked, are beneficial sources of lycopeine, which helps protect against prostate and cervical cancer.
- Orange/yellow - Squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams promote healthy lungs and help fight off skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma.
- Deep blue/purple - Eggplant, plums, blueberries, blackberries (strawberries, raspberries, and cherries come under this category as well) lower your risk of heart disease by helping the liver "sop up" extra cholesterol, as well as improve your mental functioning.
"I've definitely been adding berries to my diet throughout the year," says Clevidence.
You don't have to limit your berry intake to in-season either. Fresh, frozen (without sugar), or dried...the benefits are the same.
Got milk? If you want to keep your bones strong and lessen your chance of fractures as you get older, add calcium-rich foods such as low-fat cheese and milk to your diet. Calcium also keeps teeth strong, helps your muscles contract, and your heart beat. Recent studies have even shown that calcium may lower your risk of colon polyps, and help you lose weight. Researchers at Purdue University found that women who consume calcium from low-fat dairy products, or get at least 1,000 milligrams a day, showed an overall decrease in body weight.
Dairy products are the best source of calcium. Choose skim milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese to avoid saturated fats. A single serving can provide you with 20% of the 1,200 milligrams a day you need. You can also add calcium to your diet with calcium-enriched cereals and orange juice. Foods such as dark green vegetables, dried beans, and sardines also contain calcium.
Won't taking a calcium supplement do the trick? Sure, says William Hart, but calcium-rich foods are also high in protein needed for bone and muscle strength.
While you're adding calcium to your diet, don't forget to exercise. Your bones will thank you later. "Calcium alone isn't enough. Add weight-bearing exercise as well," says Hart. Take the stairs, park at the far end of the parking lot, walk wherever you can. You'll help the calcium do its job."