There are ways to fend off diseases and protect your immune system, and it's by fortifying your diet with antioxidant-rich foods. These superfoods claim big bragging rights for lowering cholesterol, improving digestion, promoting weight loss, and maintaining healthy skin and hair. If you're eating most of these foods already, good for you, but if you're skimping on them, it's time to load up your grocery cart.
20 FOODS THE WORLD'S HEALTHIEST WOMEN EAT EVERY DAY
Yogurt is a great way to get calcium, and it’s also rich in immune-boosting probiotics. But the next time you hit the yogurt aisle, pick up the Greek kind. Compared with regular yogurt, it has twice the protein (and 25% of women over 40 don’t get enough).
Egg yolks are home to tons of essential but hard-to-get nutrients, including choline, which is linked to lower rates of breast cancer. One large egg supplies 27% of your daily need alongside antioxidants that may help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Bonus: You get 6 grams of muscle-building protein.
Salmon is a rich source of vitamin D and one of the best sources of omega-3s you can find. These essential fatty acids, aka omega-3 fatty acids, have a wide range of impressive health benefits—from preventing heart disease to smoothing your skin and aiding weight loss to boosting your mood. Unfortunately, many women aren’t reaping these perks because they're deficient. Omega-3s also slow the rate of digestion, which makes you feel fuller longer, so you eat fewer calories throughout the day.
Fat-free organic milk
Yes, milk does a body good: Studies show that calcium isn’t just a bone booster but a fat fighter too. Recent research from the University of Tennessee found that obese people who went on a low-calorie, calcium-rich diet lost 70 percent more weight than those who ate the least.
Fiber-rich oats are even healthier than the FDA thought when it first stamped them with a heart disease-reducing seal 10 years ago. According to research, they can also cut your risk of type 2 diabetes. When Finnish researchers tracked 4,316 men and women over the course of 10 years, they found that people who ate the highest percentage of cereal fiber were 61 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Flaxseed is the most potent plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies indicate that adding flaxseed to your diet can help reduce the development of heart disease by 46 percent. It helps keep red blood cells from clumping together and forming clots that can block arteries. Sprinkle one to two tablespoons of flaxseeds a day on your cereal, salad, or yogurt. Buy it pre-ground, and keep it refrigerated.
Olive oil is packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol. It’s rich in antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Look for extra-virgin oils for the most antioxidants and flavor. Drizzle small amounts on veggies before roasting; use it to sauté or stir-fry, in dressings and marinades, and to flavor bread at dinner in lieu of a layer of butter or margarine.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect food than beans. One cooked cup can provide as much as 17 grams of fiber. They're also loaded with protein and dozens of key nutrients, including a few most women fall short on—calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Studies tie beans to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast and colon cancers. Keep your cupboards stocked with all kinds: black, white, kidney, fat-free refried, etc.
Soy-based foods, such as tofu, soy milk, and edamame, help fight heart disease when they replace fatty meats and cheeses, slashing saturated fat intake. Soy also contains heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats, a good amount of fiber, and some important vitamins. But stick with whole soy foods rather than processed foods, like veggie patties or chips. And, avoid taking soy supplements, which contain high and possibly dangerous amounts of isoflavones.
These smooth, buttery fruits are a great source of not only MUFAs but other key nutrients as well. "Avocados are packed with heart-protective compounds, such as soluble fiber, vitamin E, folate, and potassium," says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet. But since they're calorie-dense, be sure to watch your portion sizes. Use avocado in place of another high-fat food or condiment, such as cheese or mayo.
We’ll spare you the Popeye jokes, but spinach has serious health muscles. For one thing, it's a rich source of lutein. Aside from guarding against age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, lutein may prevent heart attacks by keeping artery walls clear of cholesterol. Spinach is also rich in iron, which helps deliver oxygen to your cells for energy, and folate, a B vitamin that prevents birth defects.
One of the best ways to get vitamin A—an essential nutrient that protects and maintains eyes, skin, and the linings of our respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts—is from foods containing beta-carotene, which your body converts into the vitamin. Beta carotene-rich foods include carrots, squash, kale, and cantaloupe, but sweet potatoes have among the most. A half-cup serving of these sweet spuds delivers only 130 calories but 80 percent of the DV of vitamin
Garlic is a flavor essential and a health superstar in its own right. The onion relative contains more than 70 active phytochemicals, including allicin, which studies show may decrease high blood pressure by as much as 30 points. Allicin also fights infection and bacteria. The key to healthier garlic: Crush the cloves, and let them stand for up to 30 minutes before heating them, which activates and preserves the heart-protecting compounds.
When you think of potassium-rich produce, figs probably don’t come to mind, but you may be surprised to learn that six fresh figs have 891 milligrams of the blood pressure-lowering mineral, nearly 20 percent of your daily need—and about double what you’d find in one large banana. Figs are also one of the best fruit sources of calcium, with nearly as much per serving (six figs) as 1/2 cup of fat-free milk. Serve by chopping and adding to yogurt, cottage cheese, oatmeal, or green salads.
Blueberries may very well be the most potent age-defying food—they’re jam-packed with antioxidants. Research shows a diet rich in blueberries can help with memory loss, prevent urinary tract infections, and relieve eyestrain. Add up to 1/2 cup of blueberries to your diet a day for maximum health benefits. This alone provides just about double the amount of antioxidants most people get in one day.
A French study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that lychee has the second-highest level of heart-healthy polyphenols of all fruits tested—nearly 15 percent more than the amount found in grapes. Serve by peeling or breaking the outer covering just below the stem. Use a knife to remove the black pit. Add to stir-fries or skewer onto chicken kebabs to add a naturally sweet flavor.
Dark chocolate is filled with flavonoid antioxidants (more than three times the amount in milk chocolate) that keep blood platelets from sticking together and may even unclog your arteries. Go for dark chocolate with 70 percent or more cocoa. Two tablespoons of dark chocolate chips with fresh berries as a mid-afternoon snack or after-dinner dessert should give you some of the heart-healthy benefits without busting your calorie budget.
Good old bananas are loaded with potassium—a macronutrient that helps control your blood pressure and keeps your nervous system operating at peak efficiency. Potassium also lowers your risk for stroke. But if you’re like most women, you’re consuming only half the potassium your body needs. One banana packs 450 milligrams—about 10 percent of your daily potassium target—as well as fiber to keep your digestive system running smoothly.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3s, while hazelnuts contain arginine, an amino acid that may lower blood pressure. An ounce of almonds has as many heart-healthy polyphenols as a cup of green tea. The key is moderation since nuts are high in calories. Keep a jar of chopped nuts in your fridge, and sprinkle a tablespoon on cereal, salads, stir-fries, or yogurt.
Wine's antioxidants are linked to lower cholesterol levels and healthier blood vessels—both of which improve heart health. And the wine compound resveratrol—more abundant in reds than in whites—has been shown to block the growth of fat cells, regulate blood sugar, and ward of depression. But drink in moderation: Women should enjoy no more than one alcoholic drink daily and men up to two. Check out these low-calorie alcoholic drinks for healthier options.