You hear all too often these days about foods that are bad for you. You're not supposed to eat this. You're not supposed to eat that. And the taboos go on. Well, here's a list of 10 foods you can happily enjoy, knowing that they're more than just a pretty taste.
These healthy edibles have long been considered to support specific systems in the body, and even to help it heal. While some of these associations originated in traditional medicine, contemporary scientific studies continue to prove what your great-grandma "just knew."
Blueberries. They're good even without muffins. These tiny spheres are a powerhouse of antioxidants, with among the highest levels of any fruit. Anthocynanin, the compound that makes blueberries blue, may also be the main source of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries have been associated with lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes, slowing the aging process, improving motor skills, and supporting urinary and vision health.
Serving suggestions: Sprinkle on your morning oatmeal, or blend with lemon juice, honey, and olive oil for a fresh vinaigrette dressing.
Broccoli. Though it wasn't President Bush, Sr.'s favorite veggie, broccoli deserves a nutritional medal of honor. It's rich in vitamins A, B6, K, folic acid, and minerals such as calcium and potassium. Moreover, it packs potent cancer-fighting compounds that help detoxify carcinogens in the body, and may help prevent healthy cells from morphing into cancerous ones. If you like broccoli, meet its cruciferous cousins—cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens—which provide similar benefits.
Serving suggestions: Cut into bite-size pieces, steam, and enjoy with a splash of soy sauce or sesame oil. Stir-fry with lean protein for a healthy dinner, or by itself for use in a salad.
Salmon. High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, yet low in calories and saturated fat, salmon is worth swimming upstream for. In addition to the great cardiovascular support salmon offers, research has shown it may have a role in diabetes and Alzheimer's prevention, as well as impressive anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties. Choose wild salmon instead of farmed, to avoid contaminants such as PCBs. Soon you may also have the option of GMO. OMG!
Serving suggestions: Brush filets with a marinade of soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and ginger, then grill or broil.
Beets. Bring on the borscht! Beets are a good source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and C; minerals; fiber; and the amino acid betaine, which has significant anti-cancer properties. Their rich red color comes from the phytochemical betacyanin, which significantly reduces blood homocysteine levels, thus lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Beet greens are an excellent source of chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus, and they contain more iron than spinach does. Their high nutritional value should encourage you to acquire the slightly bitter taste. Both beets and beet greens are excellent sources of iron, which helps regenerate red blood cells, thus supplying the body with fresh oxygen.
Serving suggestions: Tear beet greens into bite-size pieces, then sauté with garlic, onion, and olive oil until wilted and tender. Roast fresh beets at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until easily sliced. Rub cooled beets with a towel to remove skins. Slice into salads, or dice and toss with vinegar, horseradish, and mustard for a sweet and tangy side dish. These days, some markets sell cooked beets.
Green tea. First poured in China more than 4,000 years ago, green tea has since been consumed as both a beverage and as part of traditional medicine in most of Asia. It's now popular around the world. Recent scientific studies suggest that, among other benefits, it can help reduce the risk of cancer and potentially decrease the incidence of stroke and heart disease. Green tea may even help prevent type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Serving suggestions: Green tea tastes better brewed with water cooled for 2 to 5 minutes after boiling. Add it to tea in your teapot and steep for no longer than 1 to 3 minutes. Try it chilled, for refreshing and delicious iced tea.
Walnuts. They don't just resemble your brain—they feed it, too. Walnuts are remarkably rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help fight cancer, aid immune function, and support heart health by reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Including walnuts and walnut oil in your diet can also help decrease blood pressure responses to stress.
Serving suggestions: Sprinkle walnuts on a salad to add protein and crunch, or sauté with vegetables and toss with whole-grain pasta.
Spices. Studies have shown that numerous spices offer health benefits as well as increased flavor, without adding calories.
Ginger supports digestive health, reduces nausea, decreases inflammation, and may help prevent cancer. It also contains compounds called phenols and gingerols, which may relieve muscle pain.
Cinnamon has been shown in studies to help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
Turmeric has long been used as an antiseptic and antibacterial agent in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Currently, numerous U.S. studies are exploring its possible beneficial effects on Alzheimer's disease, cancer, arthritis, and other clinical disorders.
Garlic is a staple of many traditional medicines, used to cure hoarseness, coughs, infections, and digestive disorders. Lab studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, as well as possible cardiovascular benefits.
Oregano's high thymol content makes it an excellent topical antiseptic, while its abundance of phenols makes it a powerful antioxidant. It's a popular herbal infection-fighter, taken to treat colds, flu, and indigestion.
Serving suggestions: Seek out Indian, Italian, or Mexican dishes that call for them, or experiment with your favorite recipes.
Honey has been used since ancient times to treat rashes, wounds, coughs, and sore throats. Recent chemical analysis has proven its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, leading to the approval of wound gels containing raw honey for treating drug-resistant MRSA strains.
Serving suggestions: Mix into marinades to flavor meat, or stir into salad dressings to add extra body.
Yogurt. In addition to protein, calcium, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12, the fermentation process that transforms milk into yogurt adds probiotics, "good bacteria" that provide digestive and immune support. Eating low-fat yogurt has been found to help promote weight loss. Strained, or Greek, yogurt contains twice the protein of regular yogurt but is lower in sodium, carbohydrate, and sugar. Its thicker texture even makes it a convincing substitute for ice cream.
Serving suggestions: Try your tuna salad with plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise, or use thick Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
Dark Chocolate. If you really need a reason to eat chocolate, health research offers several great ones. Chocolate has high levels of flavonoids, an antioxidant which can help prevent cell damage and perhaps prevent degenerative diseases. A study found that a diet high in flavonoid-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate reduced the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Other research shows that cocoa can help improve blood flow in a way similar to aspirin. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which elevates mood, and phenylethylamine, which can raise levels of pleasure-giving endorphins in the brain. And a 2007 UK study found that chocolate melting on the tongue caused a longer and more intense "buzz" than a passionate kiss.
Serving suggestions: Even dark chocolate still contains calories and fat, so please watch your portion size.
Expand your menus to include these healthy foods, and find more that you enjoy. Eating wisely, and taking pleasure from your plate, is some of the best medicine there is.