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Eat superfoods and change your life

September 24, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Some foods stand out as superstars with many nutrients to enhance health and prevent disease. Here are some smart food choices to make every day.

o Spinach. This dark green veggie is full of nutrients and is one of the few foods rich in vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. It also contains vitamin A for healthy skin and vision, folate for red blood cell formation and iron for oxygen transport within the body. Spinach also contains calcium, potassium (which can help lower blood pressure) and fiber. Add spinach to casseroles or lasagna, or make a side salad from spinach with your meal.

o Blueberries. This fruit contains fiber and vitamin C - an antioxidant that aids in disease prevention, helps maintain bones and teeth and helps the body absorb iron. Blueberries also might play a role in brain health. Buy frozen blueberries when they are not in season and sprinkle onto cereal, desserts or oatmeal with this fruit.

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o Black beans. Black beans contain the same amount of antioxidants as blueberries. They also contain soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. Beans contain protein, making them a good substitution for other protein foods higher in fat. Beans are low in calories and fat, and are inexpensive. Try beans as a side dish by mixing black beans with corn and salsa.

o Walnuts. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help boost cardiovascular health, help decrease inflammation related to diseases, and might improve cognitive function. Walnuts also have monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat that can help lower blood cholesterol. Sprinkle on a salad or enjoy a handful as a snack.

o Oats. A bowl of oatmeal is a great start to the day, providing soluble fiber that can help lower blood cholesterol. This whole grain provides protein for muscle recovery and repairs and contains some antioxidants, which might have cardiovascular benefits. Try adding oats to some of your recipes, including casseroles, meatloaf, muffins, breads or cookies.

o Yogurt. Low-fat or fat-free yogurt can serve as a snack or even as part of dessert. Yogurt contains calcium and potassium, live cultures and good bacteria that might promote health, boost immunity and increase bone health. Top yogurt with blueberries and walnuts for a nutritious snack or breakfast. Use yogurt as the base for creamy dips or dressings.

o Tomatoes. Fresh and processed tomato products such as stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato juice contain the antioxidant lycopene, which can help prevent prostrate cancer and might improve bone health. Tomatoes also contain vitamin A and vitamin C. Add cherry tomatoes to a salad or eat them as a snack or add a can of stewed tomatoes to chili.

o Carrots. The beta carotene that gives carrots their orange color helps you maintain good eyesight. It also helps protect against some cancers and cardiovascular (heart) disease and can help protect your lungs, especially if you smoke. In addition, carrots contain vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber and potassium. Add carrots to soups and salads, or enjoy them as a side dish.

Try to add one or more of these foods to your healthy eating habits and enjoy the many health benefits from these nutritional all-stars.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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