10 Foods You Need

Add these health-boosting items to your grocery list

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Every day, researchers report the cutting-edge findings of their latest nutrition study. The media dutifully report on the news -- and consumers just shake their heads in exasperation. It's all so confusing: One day, coffee is good for you; the next day, it may cause cancer. What's a consumer to do?

To help you understand, I've compiled a top 10 list of foods we should all be eating, based on the latest and most scientifically relevant research. These foods made the list because each is a powerhouse of good nutrition, offering health benefits beyond the traditional nutrients they contain.

So do your best to incorporate these disease-fighting foods into your diet:

  • Tomatoes. These juicy, red fruits are loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who had seven or more weekly servings of tomato-based foods had a 30% reduction in their risk of heart disease, compared with those who had 1 1/2 servings per week. In addition, the carotenoids in tomatoes can help prevent prostate cancer and other cancers. So slice a tomato onto your sandwich and add a handful to salads, soups, sauces, and stews for an easy, fat-free health boost.


  • Low-fat proteins. More and more studies are shedding light on the promising effect of increased amounts of protein in weight-loss diets. In one recent study, University of Illinois researchers found that diets moderately high in protein (not Atkins levels, but 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight), and limited to 1,340-1,700 calories a day, enhanced weight loss and preserved muscle mass better than lower-protein diets. Good sources of lean protein include fish, seafood, skinless white-meat poultry, eggs, lean beef (tenderloin, sirloin, eye of round), and skim or low-fat yogurts, milk, and cheeses. Another benefit of a diet moderately high in protein is that it can keep hunger at bay and help you stick with your weight-loss diet.


  • Whole grains, oats, and fibrous foods. Fiber helps your digestive tract function properly and lowers your cholesterol levels while keeping your belly feeling full. Whole grains also contain antioxidants, are fat-free, and are easy to fit into your diet. A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people with the highest intake of whole-grain fiber had a 21% lower risk of heart disease. Another study, reported in The Lancet, suggested that a high-fiber diet can cut your risk of colon cancer. So why not start your day with a whole-grain cereal?


  • Berries (red and blue), including grapes. Yummy, nutritious berries are loaded with vitamins and minerals as well as phytochemicals with cancer-fighting properties. Red grapes in the form of one glass of red wine daily may reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. (If you are a non-drinker, check with doctor before starting.)


  • Nuts. A handful of almonds, cashews, pecans, or walnuts provides great fiber, lots of vitamin E, and healthful, monounsaturated fats. The evidence is so compelling that the Food and Drug Administration recently decided to allow food labels to proclaim that one ounce of nuts can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Sprinkle them on cereal, salads and mixed dishes, or eat them as is. Just watch your portion size, because these nutritious nuggets are high in calories.

"Legumes are underrated. The lowly bean is naturally fat free and loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, especially iron."

The Final Fabulous Five

  • Fish and fish oil contain omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce the risk of heart disease by protecting the heart against inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, or sardines at least twice a week. Men who eat fish one to three times per week may reduce their risk of stroke by 43%.


  • Unsaturated fats such as olive, canola, and soybean oils are the best kind of fats. You should still limit total fats in your diet, but when you have them, go for the unsaturated ones. One study found that older Americans who primarily ate fats from vegetable sources were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. And there is growing evidence that these polyunsaturated fats may also help prevent complications of diabetes and arthritis.


  • Low-fat dairy products provide plenty of calcium to help keep bones and teeth strong, are a great source of protein, and can even enhance weight loss. Research conducted at the University of Tennessee showed that eating three servings per day of low-fat dairy products could foster weight loss. Low-fat dairy, in the form of yogurt, cheese, or milk, could be your secret weapon to staying healthy and losing weight. If you have trouble digesting lactose, slowly introduce cultured yogurt or hard cheeses into your diet -- always along with other foods -- or try lactobacillus supplements.


  • Vegetables should be called man's best friend. All veggies, except avocado, are fat-free and loaded with disease-fighting phytochemicals. Veggies contain compounds that can stimulate enzymes that will get rid of cancer-causing free radicals in your body. Eating a rainbow of colorful vegetables will assure that you get plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These are the go-to foods when you're hungry; they fill you up without artery-clogging saturated fats, empty-calorie sugars, or unnecessary salt.


  • Legumes (pinto, garbanzo, kidney and black beans and lentils) are underrated. The lowly bean is naturally fat free and loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, especially iron. They can be the mainstay of a vegetarian diet. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, eating a serving of beans four times a week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 22%. You can add them to dips, salads, soups, stews, pastas, and side dishes. Here's more good news: They add few calories but keep you feeling full.

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