10 Amazing Disease-Fighting Foods
Do your body a favor with these incredible edibles
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
They are a dietitian's dream foods, the cream of the crop, nutritious and delicious. They are foods that should be in everyone's kitchen because they contain such a wealth of disease-fighting substances.
So put these 10 readily available foods on your grocery list today -- but do keep in mind that it takes more than 10 foods (even 10 terrific foods!) to make a healthy diet. Experts are quick to point out that variety is the spice of life. And ideally, these nutritious nibbles should replace other, less healthful, foods, helping you to cut calories while boosting the nutrition in your diet.
"Super-foods are terrific, but what are more important to wellness are healthy dietary patterns that include a wide variety of nutritious foods that displace less nutritious foods," notes Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.
Top 10 Amazing Foods
Reach for berries for a powerful dose of health-protecting antioxidants. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, blueberries top the list of antioxidant-rich fruits, followed by cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. The color of berries comes from the pigment anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps neutralize "free radicals" (cell-damaging molecules) that can help lead to chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Berries, particularly cranberries, may also help ward off urinary tract infections.
Enjoy a cup of berries each day, as a snack; atop your cereal or yogurt; in muffins, salads, or smoothies; or as frozen treats.
Dairy foods are not only the best food source of dietary calcium, but also have plenty of protein, vitamins (including vitamin D), and minerals. The U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend having three daily servings of low-fat dairy products, as well as doing weight-bearing exercise, to help keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis. (If you can't tolerate dairy, other calcium-containing foods include legumes; dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and collards; and calcium-fortified soy products, juices, and grains.)
Beyond strong bones, dairy may also help you lose weight. Research is ongoing, but a few studies have shown that three daily servings of dairy -- as part of a calorie-controlled diet -- may help decrease belly fat and enhance weight loss.
Low-fat dairy foods make excellent snacks because they contain both carbohydrates and protein.
"Dairy foods are perfect snacks for diabetics and everyone else because [they help] maintain blood sugar levels," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Whip up a smoothie with low-fat milk or yogurt, a splash of orange juice, and a handful of berries for an energizing meal substitute or anytime snack.
3. Fatty Fish
The fat found in fish like salmon and tuna is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help protect your heart. The power of omega-3s appears to be their ability to lower blood fats and prevent blood clots associated with heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish (especially fatty fish) at least twice a week. "Eating a diet rich in fatty fish can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease," says Lichtenstein.
There's another benefit to eating meals containing salmon or tuna: you'll reduce your potential intake of saturated fat from higher-fat entrees.
Fire up the grill or put your fish under the broiler for a quick, tasty, and heart-healthy meal.
4. Dark, Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens -- everything from spinach, kale, and bok choy to dark lettuces -- are loaded with vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, carotenoids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. A Harvard study found that eating magnesium-rich foods such as spinach can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Make your next salad with assorted greens, including super-nutritious spinach or other dark-colored greens.
5. Whole Grains
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