Foods to Enjoy
Many foods can have a positive, health-enhancing effect on you. Olive oil has been shown to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while raising HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Onions and garlic may fight cancer and have other health benefits. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Many fruits and vegetables, especially those with bright coloring like beets, berries, and dark leafy greens, contain substances called antioxidants that fight cancer. Whole grains and beans contain fiber, B vitamins, and other important nutrients like selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Oily fish are high in omega-3 fats that can help keep your blood from clotting, keep your arteries healthy, and prevent heart disease.
Foods you should eat include:
- Olive oil
- Onions and garlic
- Fruits and vegetables, especially beets, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale)
- Whole grains
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas)
- Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, and swordfish
Why are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and other foods derived from plants so good for you? In recent years, researchers have discovered that plants contain thousands of chemicals called "phytochemicals." "Phyto" is Greek for "plant," so a phytochemical is simply a chemical found in a plant.
Just as your immune system protects you from illness, phytochemicals protect plants from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. But phytochemicals do wonders for you, as well. Phytochemicals act to protect you from many diseases, including cancer and heart disease, and fortify your immune system.
Phytochemicals act in many different ways, and many of them are related to heart health. Some inhibit the formation of clots and so help prevent heart attack. Others affect cholesterol absorption, raising your levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowering your levels of LDL ("bad") Phytochemicals can act like scavengers and remove cancer-causing compounds from your cells, and some can even prevent those compounds from forming in the first place.
Literally thousands of phytochemicals have been discovered in plants. Some important ones for health include:
- Allicin (garlic)
- Lycopene (tomatoes, red peppers)
- Resveratrol (grapes)
- Flavonoids (soy beans, berries, citrus fruits, apples, grapes, and onions)
- Sulforaphane, indoles, and isothiocyanates (cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts)
- Protease inhibitors (whole grains, beans)
The list of the benefits of eating vegetables is long and getting longer. Studies have shown that eating plentiful amounts of vegetables every day lowers your blood pressure, reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers your risk of eye disease and digestive problems, stabilizes your blood pressure, and probably helps prevent many forms of cancer.
Why Are Vegetables So Good for You?
Vegetables contain large amounts of antioxidant compounds, including vitamins C, E, and beta carotene (the precursor to vitamin A). Antioxidants combat cancer-causing free radicals released by the body in the course of metabolizing energy and using oxygen. Yellow and green vegetables are particularly rich in antioxidants. Most vegetables contain large amounts of fiber as well.
How Many and What Kind?
You should aim for at least nine servings (about 4.5 cups) of vegetables and fruits a day, not counting potatoes. It's good to eat a number of different of vegetables instead of the same ones all the time, because your body thrives on a variety of nutrients. The best vegetables to eat are the most colorful ones. Eat foods of several different hues during a meal: research shows that antioxidants work together like a team, each boosting the others' effects. Go for dark leafy greens and anything that's a rich red, yellow, or orange color, like cooked tomatoes, beets, carrots, and squash.
Like vegetables, fruits contain many important antioxidants and nutrients, and many are rich in fiber as well. Bananas, prunes, peaches, apricots, and melons all contain large amounts of potassium, which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, guava, papaya, strawberries, kiwis, and cantaloupe, helps with tissue growth and repair. Folate (folic acid), found in strawberries, grapes, and oranges, helps to form red blood cells. Fruits, like vegetables, contain phytochemicals that have been shown to help prevent cancer and are rich in fiber to protect your heart health.
Eating many different kinds of fruits, in a rainbow of hues, will ensure your body gets the array of nutrients it thrives on. Especially good are the reds, blues, and purples of berries. Berries contain flavonoids, a group of phytochemicals thought to have strong antioxidant and heart-protective properties. Fruits are a delicious, sweet treat that you can feel good about eating every day. Try to eat at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Nuts are one of the healthiest and most satisfying foods you can eat. Nuts lower LDL-cholesterol and raise HDL-cholesterol levels. They reduce your risk of developing blood clots and improve the health of the lining of your arteries.
Nuts are thought to be so good for you in part because they contain so many healthy unsaturated fats, in fact, they're up to 80% oil. Many nuts are also rich in heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids, also found in oily fish. Nuts contain large amounts of arginine, a chemical that increases production of nitric oxide in your body. Nitric acid may improve the health of your artery walls and make them more flexible and less prone to blood clots. The vitamin E and fiber nuts contain may also protect the health of your heart.
Which nuts should you eat?
All nuts appear to be good for your heart and blood vessels, but walnuts in particular have been studied and found to contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts are other nuts that appear to be quite healthy for your cardiovascular system. Even peanuts, which are technically not nuts, but legumes, seem to be relatively good for your heart. Nuts are high-calorie foods, however, so don't go overboard in your consumption of them. A handful a day is all you need. And bear in mind that eating nuts covered in candy or salt can cancel out their heart-healthy effects.
Understanding Wellness (VIDEO)
What Is Wellness?
Smoking & Your Arteries
Foods to Avoid
Foods to Enjoy
Fiber Helps Lower Cholesterol
Good Fats: Omegas 3 & 6
The Daily Nutrition You Need
Speed Up Your Metabolism
Benefits of Exercise
Related Health Centers:
The 9 Visual Rules of Wellness, Wellness and Prevention Part I, Wellness and Prevention Part II, Reverse Aging