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Healthy Eating 8 Nutrition-Packed Foods

Does your approach to nutrition focus on the negative: eat less fat, avoid salt, reduce calories, watch out for pesticides, lower cholesterol, and absolutely no dessert? Well, it may be time to make some adjustments to your depriving way of thought. Change that attitude; eating and health should take a positive approach.

There are actually many foods with a big "yes" written all over them -- foods you should eat more of, more often. The following eight foods may already be part of your diet. If they are, it never hurts to eat them more often; if they aren't, make an attempt to start including them. Their health benefits are coming to light in scientific and epidemiological studies, proving that these eight foods are powerhouses of good nutrition and disease prevention.

Tea: In this category, we are referring specifically to non-herbal, green teas and, to a lesser extent, black teas. These teas contain an antioxidant compound known as polyphenol. While studies are still incomplete, they do show that the polyphenols can help prevent cancer from forming, may stabilize or shrink present cancers, and prevent cancers from spreading. Why? It appears that the polyphenol prevents the oxidation that causes damage to DNA, turning normal cells into cancer cells.

There is also evidence suggesting that tea may protect against heart disease. It may be that tea polyphenols reduce blood cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. It may also prevent the formation of clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Both regular and decaffeinated tea, as well as iced tea have comparable levels of polyphenols -- so pick your favorite brew, and begin to enjoy your daily tea time.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain a good amount of vitamin C, an important antioxidant. Tomatoes also contain abundant amounts of lycopene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red, and early studies demonstrate a link between a reduced risk of particular cancers, especially prostate cancer, with the consumption of lycopene. Good news for the pizza fan: the lycopene in cooked, processed tomatoes, such as tomato sauce, salsa, and tomato paste, is more readily absorbed than that in raw tomatoes, and the presence of a little fat even enhances its absorption, so sprinkle on the cheese or olive oil. Few other foods contain lycopene, so keep Wednesday night spaghetti night.

Sweet Potatoes: Don't relegate sweet potatoes to the holiday table. Sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which is an anti-oxidant that reduces cancer risk. And if you worry about losing your youthful complexion, your body converts carotene into vitamin A, which protects the skin from wrinkles and aging. And, unlike carrots, sweet potatoes also contain significant amounts of vitamin C. Don't confuse sweet potatoes with yams, however, as yams are another vegetable entirely. Sweet potatoes spoil easily, and one bad spot will ruin the whole potato, so throw the whole thing out. Choose medium to small potatoes that have no white stringy beard attached. Store them for up to four weeks in a cool dry place, but not in the refrigerator. Try a baked sweet potato instead of a regular white one next time. Make a delicious sweet potato soup or get adventurous with our own recipe for Sweet Potato and Avocado Sandwiches with Tahini-Poppy Seed Spread.

Papaya: If you could only eat one fruit, the papaya should be it. Why? Because it tastes wonderful and is high in vitamins A and C. Pound for pound, papayas contain more vitamin A than apricots, more vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than a banana. All of those nutrients serve to help reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and cataracts. The best way to enjoy the refreshing, sweet papaya is to cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the shiny black seeds, and then cut it into wedges. Serve it like a melon, with a slice of lemon on the side. Or choose these serving options:

  • make papaya balls (like melon balls) and add them to fruit salad
  • bake a papaya half with a sprinkling of sugar; serve it with non-fat frozen vanilla yogurt
  • fill a scooped out papaya half with cottage cheese, garnishing with a sprinkling of cracked pepper and a coriander leaf for lunch

Soy protein: Soy products contain phytochemicals called isoflavones, which are chemicals found in plants. While the isoflavones are not considered nutrients, studies indicate that they play a protective role against blood cholesterol and certain cancers, particularly breast cancer. Recent research even suggests that soy protein isoflavones actually increase bone mineral content and density in post-menopausal women. That's big news. Getting soy into your diet can be challenging, since many of us are unaccustomed to its beany flavor.

Tofu, which tends to be bland and absorbs the flavor of the food it is mixed with, can be blended with ricotta next time you make lasagna, mashed in with the tuna salad, or added to vegetable stir fry.

Flavored soy milks make a refreshing drink if you don't try to pretend it's milk. Use it instead of milk on your cereal or for making fruit smoothies in your blender.

Be adventuresome and try soy-based hot dogs, frozen patties and sausages. Or add textured soy protein to spaghetti sauce, chili, meat loaf, or other ground meats. Roasted soy beans make a nutty snack food and are great added to trail mix.

Wheat Germ: Sound like a throwback to the '60s? Wheat germ was once as popular as the peace sign, but its earthy image has caused it to be left behind in these days of gourmet foods and fast food restaurants. As it turns out, wheat germ is packed with folic acid (which is proving vital for women of childbearing years), and is a great source of vitamin E (a beneficial antioxidant), iron, thiamin, protein, and fiber. One ounce (only three small tablespoons) contains 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 100mg of folic acid (women should get 400mg/day), 2 1/2 grams of iron, no cholesterol, and only 1mg of sodium. Get wheat germ into your diet with these easy-to-follow tips:

  • use 1/2 cup of wheat germ to replace 1/2 cup of flour in your muffin and quick bread recipes
  • sprinkle it on yogurt along with a little brown sugar and nuts
  • use instead of bread crumbs in meat balls, meat loafs and healthy spa burger recipes
  • add it to hot cereals, pancakes, waffles, and sprinkle it in with your cold cereal
Because wheat germ is stripped from the grain when refining wheat into white flour, make sure you use whole wheat flour instead of white and buy whole wheat products whenever you can.

Nuts: Common belief has you thinking you need to avoid nuts because of their high fat content. Recent studies point to the contrary. While you are right that nuts are high in fat, their fat is mainly in the form of the healthier monounsaturates. A study in Loma Linda, California found that those who consumed nuts at least five times a week (two ounces a day) had a lower risk of heart disease. It is most likely because the nuts were substituted for a fattier counterpart, such as meat. Thus, the trick is to substitute nuts for some other food item. So, instead of a roast beef sandwich for lunch, a sandwich made from natural peanut butter would be a good substitute. Secondly, nuts, and walnuts in particular, contain rich amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. This fatty acid is known for its positive protective effect against cholesterol on blood vessels. Omega-3 may also help relieve arthritis, and is important in the diets of pregnant women. Use nuts as a healthy snack, or in place of meat in your diet. As an added bonus, nuts contain other important nutrients including protein, folic acid, B2, B6, iron, zinc, potassium, and copper.

Wild Game: This one may seem a stretch. But wild game shouldn't be hard for most of you to get more of, since you probably eat none at all. When dining out, occasionally choose the venison steak over beef, or wild boar instead of pork. Like meat from domesticated animals, wild meat is an excellent source of protein and minerals, but it is significantly lower in fat. Venison gets only 15 percent of its calories from fat, compared to 20 percent to 70 percent in conventional beef. A typical three and a half ounce serving of venison contains 160 calories and only three grams of fat. It also has 50 percent of your daily need for iron. Game is a healthy way to keep meat and its benefits in your diet. If you're an unadventurous diner, choose grass-fed beef, which, believe it or not, is an even healthier option than chicken breast.

You don't have to be a hunter to enjoy wild game. There are wild game farms that distribute their meat to restaurants, supermarkets, and gourmet food stores. If you've never eaten wild game before, first try some cooked by a chef experienced in its preparation. It is slightly tougher because of its leanness, and it has a unique flavor that needs to be treated correctly.

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