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Be smart with food choices

September 08, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

The basis for a healthy eating plan should be fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish and beans, lentils and other legumes.

In all of these food categories there are foods that stand out as because they have many nutrients to enhance health and prevent disease. Here are some smart food choices to make every day:

Spinach. This dark green veggie is full of nutrients. Spinach provides us with vitamin K to help with blood clotting. It contains vitamin A for healthy skin and vision, folate for red blood cell formation and proper cell division and iron for oxygen transport within the body. Spinach also contains some calcium, potassium (which can help lower blood pressure) and fiber, just to name a few other nutrients. Add spinach to casseroles or lasagna, or make a side salad from spinach to enjoy with your meal.

Blueberries. This tasty 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 contain antioxidants called anthocyanidins, which give them their blue-red color. These antioxidants appear to help neutralize damage to cells that can lead to many negative health conditions and diseases. Blueberries may also play a role in brain health. Buy frozen blueberries when they are not in season and top cereal, desserts or oatmeal with this fruit.

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Black beans. All beans can promote health but black beans contain anthocyanidins, the same antioxidant in blueberries. Black beans contain soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. Beans contain protein, as well, making them a good substitute for other protein foods that may be high in fat. In addition to being low in fat, beans are also low in calories and inexpensive. Try beans as a side dish by mixing black beans with corn and salsa.

Walnuts. These nuts contain the most omega-3 fatty acids of all of the tree nuts and peanuts. 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 walnuts on a salad or enjoy a handful as a snack.

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

Yogurt. Low-fat or fat-free yogurt can serve as a snack or even as part of dessert. Yogurt has live cultures and good bacteria that promote health, boost immunity and increase bone health. Some of the nutrients in yogurt include calcium and potassium, which are important for good bone health. Plus, as a dairy product yogurt contains protein, which helps you stay full longer. Top yogurt with blueberries and walnuts for breakfast or serve as a nutritious snack. Yogurt can also used as the base for creamy dips or dressings, replacing mayonnaise or sour cream.

Tomatoes. Flavorful fresh tomatoes might not always be available, however processed tomato products such as stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato juice can be found any time. The red color of tomatoes comes from lycopene, a pytochemical the body absorbs better from processed tomato products. Lycopene can help prevent prostate cancer and might improve bone health. Tomatoes also contain vitamin A and vitamin C, two antioxidants. Add cherry tomatoes to a salad or eat them as a snack or add a can of stewed tomatoes to chili.

Carrots. You have probably heard that eating carrots is good for your eyes. The beta carotene that gives carrots their orange color helps prevent night blindness and other eye problems. In addition to helping your eyesight Beta carotene helps protect against some cancers and cardiovascular (heart) disease. This compound can also help protect your lungs, especially if you smoke. In addition, carrots contain vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber and potassium. Add carrots to soups, salads, or enjoy 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 smart food choices.

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

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