Most Americans know if they want to maintain a healthy weight and improve their health, they should limit junk foods and prepared foods, which are high in fat, calories, salt and sugar.
To move their diets to an even healthier level, they need to take another step: Choose everyday foods that are nutritional standouts — foods packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential fatty acids. Shopping at a health food store isn't necessary to improve your health--your supermarket has a wealth of healthy foods.
Experts recommend including the following foods in your diet to improve your health and lower your risk of developing several serious health conditions.
Nuts -- almonds, particular -- are rich in vitamin E and monounsaturated fat and are a useful calcium source. They may help reduce the risk for heart disease and lower blood cholesterol levels. In addition to almonds, good choices are hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts.
The American Heart Association’s recommended Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet suggests four or five servings of nuts a week as part of a diet to control high blood pressure. One serving of almonds is 1-1/2 ounces or about one-third cup. Besides eating nuts as a snack, you can add them to vegetable dishes, salads, baked goods, pastas and casseroles.
Whichever berries you choose, you’ll benefit from their fiber and phytonutrients. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant content of all fresh fruit. Strawberries raise the antioxidant levels in the body and also are a rich source of vitamin C. Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from oxidants, unstable molecules that are produced by natural body processes, but damage healthy cells.
Enjoy berries plain, with pancakes or mixed into salads, cereals or yogurt.
This versatile green is packed with vitamins and minerals including the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which reduce the risk for macular degeneration.
Spinach also is the richest plant source of folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects and suppresses homocysteine, a blood factor that, according to some studies, is considered a marker for increased risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
The disease-fighting antioxidants in spinach are better absorbed from cooked spinach with a little added fat, such as olive oil. You also can add it to salads, sandwiches, pasta sauces and pizza.
Although some studies have shown an association between diet and a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease, the National Institutes of Health says that researchers still aren't sure whether this factor can actually prevent the disease.
This nutrient-dense food is an excellent source of calcium, containing more of the bone-strengthening mineral than an equivalent serving of milk.
Enjoy it plain or add chopped fresh fruit or a handful of nuts.