Ten of the Healthiest Foods on the Planet

January 19, 2011

Woman shopping for fresh vegetables

Did you know there really are such things as super foods? Even better, they're right on your grocer's shelves! With the start of a new year, now is the time to make a resolution to add more of these healthful and delicious foods to your diet.

Two words you will see often as you read about these foods are "antioxidants" and "cholesterol."

Antioxidants help protect your body from free radicals, which are made when your body breaks down food and when you are around things like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can harm cells and may be linked to heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Many of the following foods have a very high level of antioxidants.

Cholesterol is a waxy material found in the fats in your blood. Your body needs some cholesterol to build healthy cells, but if you have too much, especially of the bad kind of cholesterol, or LDL, it can raise your risk of heart disease. Quite a few of the following foods can play a big role in lowering bad cholesterol.

  1. Almonds

    Almonds may be the world's healthiest nut. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that as part of a diet rich in heart healthy foods, almonds can reduce LDL cholesterol as much as the first generation of cholesterol-lowering medicines, called statins. Eating just an ounce of raw almonds every day – that's about a handful – is enough to help start lowering your cholesterol in just two weeks.

    Almonds also give you a big helping of nutrition per calorie. And a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that a low-calorie diet with almonds worked better for weight loss and heart health than a low-calorie diet without them.

  2. Apples

    The old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," isn't far from the truth.

    Apples have many vitamins and minerals, including a lot of vitamin C. But the most important nutrient may be pectin. That's a type of fiber that helps lower cholesterol, keeps blood sugar levels healthy and helps people lose body fat. Recent studies at Cornell University show that apples may even help protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

    When you eat an apple, be sure to eat the skin, too. It is very high in antioxidants that have been linked to healthier lungs and the prevention of type II diabetes.

  3. Avocados

    Avocados are rich in healthy fats that can help lower cholesterol. They have more than half the fiber you need every day and a big portion of a nutrient called folate that can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Adding avocado to your salad makes the salad more filling and helps your body use the other nutrients, including some antioxidants, three to five times better.

  4. Blueberries

    Blueberries are very low in calories, yet full of nutrients and flavor. And when researchers at Tufts University studied 60 fruits and vegetables to find their antioxidant level, blueberries came out on top! Research at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center has shown that certain berries, including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and black raspberries, may help protect against breast and lung cancer.

    Blueberries also have lots of fiber. And they can help slow diseases brought on by aging. SeniorArk.com tells us that if you want to help your body stay young, there may be no better food than blueberries.

  5. Broccoli

    Broccoli is loaded with vitamins A and C and antioxidants, as well as calcium and iron. And more than 20 years of studies have shown it is a powerful cancer-fighting food as well.

    People who eat a lot of broccoli have fewer cancers of the colon, breast, lungs, bladder, prostate, and several other organs. Richard Mithen, a biologist at Britain's Institute of Food Research, says that what broccoli seems to be doing is turning on genes that stop cancer from developing and turning off others that help it spread.

  6. Garlic

    Garlic has been called a miracle food. It helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol. It helps prevent the growth of germs. A study at Rutgers University, as reported on howstuffworks.com, showed that garlic helped some common antibiotic medicines work better. And more studies are showing that garlic may lower your risk of some cancers, such as stomach cancer. Garlic helps kill a germ found in the stomach that is known to cause cancer there.

  7. Oats

    The FDA allows foods with oats in it to use a label that talks about the link between a diet high in oat fiber and lower cholesterol. Research has proven that the fiber in oats lowers total and LDL cholesterol. And with every one percent that LDL cholesterol is lowered, the risk of heart disease is lowered one to three percent. To top it off, oats also give you the benefits of antioxidants.

  8. Red Beans

    With their high fiber, pinto and kidney beans help keep hunger under control when you're trying to lose weight. The fiber helps lower the level of bad fats in your blood. The beans also keep blood sugar from rising too fast after a meal, making them a good choice for people with diabetes.

    And there's more. "The World's Healthiest Foods," a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that eating high fiber foods such as kidney beans helps prevent heart disease. One ingredient helps lower a risk factor for heart attack and stroke while another improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body.

  9. Salmon

    Salmon is one of the healthiest kinds of animal protein you can eat. It's high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and depression. Just a three-ounce serving has almost half of your daily dose of a B vitamin that, says the Mayo Clinic, can help lower LDL cholesterol.

    It's better to eat wild salmon than farm-raised salmon, which may have high levels of mercury and other toxins.

  10. Sweet Potatoes

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls sweet potatoes one of the best vegetables you can eat. They're full of vitamin C, potassium and fiber and pack a big helping of beta-carotene, which is the antioxidant that gives sweet potatoes their color.

    One tasty way to cook sweet potatoes is to bake them and then mix in unsweetened applesauce or crushed pineapple for extra moisture and sweetness.

There are so many good reasons to add these foods to your diet! Each one has something special to offer. Of course, if you have a problem with any of them, such as an allergy to nuts, leave that one off your shopping list. You still have plenty to choose from.

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