Plant-based foods are full of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, but they also offer natural chemicals called phytonutrients that improve health. While these plant nutrients are not essential for normal body function, they are powerful in disease prevention -- making plant foods an important part of a nutritious diet. Enjoying a variety of foods will help you maximize your intake of these phytonutrients.
How it helps: A disease fighting phytonutrient. Research shows that ellagic acid may promote the death of cancer cells.
What to eat: Blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranates, pecans, and walnuts
How it helps: These anti-inflammatory compounds may help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What to eat: Ginger root
How they help: Glucosinolates breakdown into active compounds when vegetables are chopped or chewed. These compounds may fight cancer by preventing DNA damage from carcinogens or the creation of cancer cells.
What to eat: Arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and radishes
How it helps: This flavonoid has been found to reduce the inflammation associated with chronic disease reducing risks for cancer.
What to eat: Citrus fruits
How it helps: This phytonutrient has been found to reduce the risk for chronic disease by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.
What to eat: Broccoli, beans, endive, grapes, kale, leeks, strawberries, and tomatoes
How it helps: Some studies suggest that lycopene can reduce the risk of cancer by blocking the growth of cancer cells. It is also associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and age-related vision problems.
What to eat: Tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, and papaya
How they help: These compounds may protect against gastric and colorectal cancer. They may also reduce the the inflammation that is associated with cardiovascular disease.
What to eat: Chives, garlic, leeks, onions, and shallots
How it helps: Research shows that this flavonol may reduce the risk for asthma, cancer and heart disease.
What to eat: Apples, berries, grapes, and onions
How it helps: This antioxidant has been linked to the prevention of blood vessel damage, reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduced risk for cancer.
What to eat: Blueberries, cranberries, red grapes, peanuts, and pistachios
Health experts recommend eating more fish, but choosing the right fish goes well beyond nutrition. There are several things to consider when deciding what healthy fish to add to your eating plan.
Concerns about mercury.
Fish is full of nutrients, but some fish are also high in mercury. Mercury is not a major health concern for most people, but high levels of mercury can damage developing nervous systems.
According to the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, women who may become pregnant, who are currently pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children should avoid high mercury fish.
Larger fish tend to have higher mercury levels because they feed on smaller fish. Health agencies recommend that high-risk groups avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Up to 12 ounces of low mercury fish and shellfish can be enjoyed each week such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and catfish.
Making sustainable choices.
Fishing and farming methods influence the population of fish and the ecosystems that are important for healthy marine life. The popularity of fish as a health food has put some species at risk for overfishing, which has decreased the population to dangerously low levels. To solve issues with overfishing, many fish are now farm-raised. While farm-raised fish can be a healthy choice, some are raised in unhealthy environments, spreading disease and parasites.
All of these factors make choosing a truly healthy fish a difficult task, but there are resources to help. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® program provides a guide for selecting fish based on human and environmental health as well as the health of the fish species. Types of fish are divided into “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and “Avoid.” This guide is updated every six months and serves as a reliable resource for making healthy, sustainable fish choices. (See the Seafood Watch® Seafood Recommendations.)
Best cooking methods.
Fish and seafood are full of lean protein, but when battered and deep fried, the added saturated fat and sodium quickly turn a healthy choice into an unhealthy meal. There are plenty of flavorful ways to prepare fish without canceling out all of the nutritional benefits. Bake or broil fish fillets with fresh herbs and finish it off with a squeeze of lemon or lime before serving. Steam whole fish or fish fillets with fresh greens and add spices like curry or chili powder. Marinate large fish fillets for a few minutes in olive oil, herbs, and citrus zest and grill over high heat. You also don’t have to give up breaded, crispy fish. Use cornmeal, whole wheat bread crumbs, or almond meal to coat fish fillets and then bake or skillet fry in a small amount of olive, avocado, or virgin coconut oil.
Opening the fridge to find your fruits and vegetables have spoiled is not only frustrating, it’s like tossing your food budget into the compost pile. Learning how to select and store fresh fruits and vegetables will help you increase the shelf life so you can enjoy them longer.
Selecting the best produce
Everyone has tips and tricks for picking the right melon or apple, but there are a few general guidelines to follow to ensure you get the freshest produce possible.
Pass on fruits and vegetables that have visible bruising or damage. This may cause them to spoil more quickly.
The fruit or vegetable should be heavy for its size, which signals that it is fully mature and ripe.
The produce should be tender to your touch, but it should not be mushy or soft.
Sniff it. A pleasant aroma indicates ripeness. This is especially true when selecting melons.
Talk to the produce manager at the supermarket and the vendor at the farmers market to find out when the food was harvested. The most delicious fruits and vegetables are those that ripen on the vine and those that are eaten soon after harvest.
Some fruits are climacteric, which means they ripen after they are harvested. Apples, avocados, bananas, kiwis, mangoes, pears, and tomatoes are some examples. These fruits release ethylene gas as they ripen so it’s important not to store them near non-climacteric fruits and vegetables because they can cause them to spoil. They need warm temperatures to speed ripening and they will ripen over time when stored at room temperature. You can speed ripening by placing them in a paper bag for a day or two, which concentrates the ethylene gas.
The first instinct is to put fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator to preserve freshness, but not all produce is best kept at cold temperatures.
Bananas, mangoes, melons, pineapples, persimmons, tomatoes, and ginger are all best stored at room temperature. When ripe, most will last 3 to 5 days.
Apples, avocados, kiwis, nectarines, peaches, pears, and plums can be ripened on the counter and then be transferred to the fridge to extend shelf life. Apples can last up to a month in the crisper. Kiwis will last 7 to 10 days. Avocados, peaches, nectarines, plums, and pears will last 3 to 5 days.
Most citrus fruits maintain the best flavor at room temperature and they will stay fresh on the counter for a week. You can extend the shelf life to several weeks by storing them in the refrigerator.
Many fruits and the majority of vegetables are best stored at temperatures no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Store fruits and vegetables in separate crispers. Never store produce in sealed plastic bags. However, perforated bags can help preserve freshness. Avoid washing produce before storing it in the refrigerator as this can cause it to spoil quickly.
Asparagus and summer squashes will last 4 to 5 days.
Greens like kale and collards will last 2 to 5 days, while lettuces stay fresh for 5 to 7 days.
Cauliflower and broccoli stay fresh for 3 to 5 days.
Most varieties of peppers will keep for 1 week.
Beets, carrots, cabbages, celery and radishes keep 1 to 2 weeks.
Berries will last 2 to 3 days.
Cherries and grapes will stay fresh for about 1 week.
Long-term pantry and cellar storage
Most root vegetables and winter squash can be stored for extended periods without spoiling. The best storage conditions are 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a well ventilated, dark area like a pantry or cellar, away from sunlight.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes will keep for 1 to 2 weeks. Avoid direct light because it can cause potatoes to turn green. Also avoid storing potatoes and onions together. Each give off gases that can cause the other to spoil more quickly.
Onions and garlic will stay fresh for 2 to 4 weeks.
Dried fruits often contain added sugar and oils making them more like candy than a nutritious snack. Seek out unsweetened varieties or make your own with a kitchen dehydrator. Freeze-dried fruit is another option. Most are made without added sugar and they can satisfy a crunchy food craving.
Buying granola at the store requires a close look at the nutrition label. While it may contain fiber-rich ingredients like oatmeal, a small serving can also be loaded with calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Try making granola at home. You can control the added sugar and oils, and improve the nutrition. (Try this easy Apple, Banana, and Peanut Butter Granola.)
Soups have long been a light lunch staple. They can be filled with nutritious ingredients like beans, vegetables, and lean meats. Unfortunately, they can also be loaded with sodium. Some canned versions contain as much as 700 milligrams per serving. Keep your soup healthy and make a large pot at home on the weekend to eat throughout the week. Use unsalted ingredients and add salt, herbs and spices to your desired taste. This can reduce the sodium content for a healthier meal. (Try this Spicy Basil Lemon Gazpacho.)
Nutritious salads can easily be ruined by toppings and dressings. While a sprinkle of cheese or nuts can enhance the flavor of greens, a heavy-handed addition of meats, dried fruits, salted nuts and seeds, croutons and cheese can send the calories, fat, and sodium soaring. Focus on the greens and add a variety, such as romaine, arugula, spinach, and baby kale. Add on vegetable toppers like broccoli, bell peppers, and red onions with a small amount of meat or cheese. A dressing with heart-healthy olive oil will help you absorb vitamins from the vegetables. Combine it with flavored vinegar to add plenty of flavor without saturated fat and excess sodium. (Try this Mixed Green Salad with Cranberry Dressing.)
Sandwiches and Wraps
These lunchtime favorites often contain loads of deli meats, cheeses and dressings that are surround by thick slices of bread or extra large wraps. It’s no surprise some can have as many calories and as much fat and sodium as a burger. For a healthier option, go easy on the meat and cheese and load up with vegetable toppings. Choose mustard or yogurt based condiments over mayonnaise and cream-based sauces. (Try these Chicken Wraps with Creamy Olive Dressing.)
Fruit is a great addition to yogurt, but not when it contains added syrups and artificial flavors. Sweetened, fruit-flavored yogurts can be loaded with added sugars. Buy natural, plain yogurt and add fresh fruit and honey or all-fruit jam for a treat that is more of a healthy snack and less of a high-sugar dessert.
Whether it’s groceries or a goal weight, putting it down on paper helps you stay focused. Lists serve as guides and reminders, and they can be effective tools to help you reach your fitness goals.
Menus to map out your week
A weekly menu is one type of list that will help you stick to healthy eating. Planning your meals for the week keeps you on track and helps you identify gaps in nutrition. This gives you a chance to revise your plan so you don’t end your week with too few vegetables or too much added sugar.
Shop for healthy foods
If you go to the supermarket without a well thought out list, you may leave with a cart full of unhealthy foods meant to satisfy a short-term craving. Create a list of the foods you need to make healthy meals throughout the week. Take the list with you and stick to it at the store. With a kitchen full of nutritious foods, you will be prepared to eat better and resist tempting, high-calorie treats.
Make exercise a priority
When you put your to-do list in writing, those tasks become a priority. Whether you jot down a 5-minute break to walk the stairs or block out 30 minutes to go for a run, write down your workouts on the same list you use to record errands and tasks.
Work with your schedule
A to-do list is a revealing indicator of your eating and exercise patterns for the week. As you make a list of tasks for the week, complement it with a list of where and what you plan to eat and when you will workout. You will be prepared to pack a healthy lunch on the day with back-to-back meetings, and you can plan to wake up early for exercise when you have a nighttime obligation.
Visualize your goals
What would you like to accomplish in one month? What about in six? Goals like losing inches or running more miles are accomplishments you build up to. You go down one pant size and then two, and you run two miles before you can run six. Writing down your short term goals helps you visualize your long term goals. Making a list of what you want to accomplish is the first step in creating a plan to get there.