More Great Foods
Oatmeal, Barley, and Beans
Oatmeal’s star ingredient is soluble fiber, which lowers levels of LDL cholesterol and, consequently, cardiovascular disease. If you need a change of grain, toss some barley in your cart, which can lower LDL and total cholesterol as well as oatmeal can. You can also boost your intake of soluble fiber (as well as heart-healthy folic acid and blood-pressure-controlling potassium) by eating beans: about three cups a week is optimal. Beans contain anthocyanins and quercetin, antioxidants also found in berries and apples. The darker the bean, the bigger the benefit.
Spinach, Kale, and Collard Greens
If you make just one change today, eat some leafy greens. A recent study suggests that, for each daily serving you eat, you drop your risk of heart disease by 11 percent. Eating greens may also save your eyesight, thanks to their two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. This antioxidant combo decreases your risk for age-related macular degeneration. "Greens are packed with carotenoids because they sit out in the sun all day, so they need protection from sun-induced damage," says biochemist Dean P. Jones, PhD, of Emory University School of Medicine. "The carotenoids accumulate in the retina and protect your eyes." Dietary guidelines advise at least three cups of greens a week. Frozen or bagged is as good as fresh.
Salmon, Sardines, and Tuna
The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat two servings of fish a week, for the omega-3 fatty acids that boost heart health. New research suggests that omega-3s may also keep your brain sharp. A recent study found that a higher intake of fatty fish significantly reduced mental decline, particularly when the subjects were timed during challenging mental tasks. While mercury and PCBs have become a concern, "The benefits will outweigh the risks," says Nadeau. Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish, which have higher levels of mercury. If fresh fish isn’t an option, go for canned tuna (light has less mercury than white albacore because it comes from smaller fish, which accumulate fewer toxins), salmon, and sardines.
Cornell researchers recently found that quercetin, an antioxidant in apples, may protect the brain from the kinds of damage seen in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. All varieties contain healthy amounts of this and other antioxidants, says study author Chang Y. Lee, PhD, chairman of the department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University. Eat the peel; it’s where the compound is most concentrated.
Low-Fat Dairy Products or Fortified Soy Milk
Yogurt and other low-fat dairy products are packed with calcium and vitamin D, which keep bones healthy and strong. Eat two to three servings a day. If you’re lactose intolerant, mix it up with calcium- and vitamin D-enriched soy milk. Soy has been touted as easing menopause symptoms and preventing cancer, and it earned an FDA-approved health claim based on evidence that eating 25 grams a day could help lower cholesterol. Isoflavones, components of soy with estrogen-like properties, may also decrease your risk of osteoporosis.
Avocados and Olives
It’s old news that the avocado’s monounsaturated fatty acids are good for heart health, but new research yields another reason to go for the guac — especially if you pair it with salsa. The fat in avocados (and olives) enhances absorption of disease-fighting carotenoids: lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in orange vegetables, lutein in leafy greens. "There has to be some fat in the diet to efficiently absorb these fat-soluble phytonutrients," says food scientist Steven J. Schwartz, PhD, of Ohio State University in Columbus.