Why it’s good for you: Heart disease, cancer, and weight management
Women who drink about 4 cups of tea a day lower their risk for heart disease, stroke, and breast, colon, and brain cancers. Phytochemicals and possibly caffeine in tea also help with weight management, if combined with a low-fat, calorie-controlled diet and exercise.
How to include more in your diet: Skip the bottled teas, since most of the health compounds are lost in processing. Instead, brew a pot at home and fill your thermos or water bottle to meet both your fluid needs and get your 4 cup quota.
Why it’s good for you: Prevents heart disease, depression (including postpartum depression), and memory loss, encourages optimal brain and vision development in your baby
You are hearing a lot about the omega-3 fats these days and salmon tops the list for the tastiest, best source of these healthy fats. The omega-3s reduce the risk for blood clot formation and may lower blood levels of the bad cholesterol, which helps prevent heart attack and stroke. These fats help the brain develop properly, which is critical during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The omega-3s also boost levels of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, and might lower Alzheimer’s risk by up to 60%!
How to include more in your diet: Of the top ten most commonly eaten fish, salmon tops the charts for omega-3s, so to keep the blues at bay include at least two 4-ounce servings a week in your meal plan: top a field of greens with sliced salmon and walnuts and toss in a light vinaigrette made with olive oil (avoid soybean and sunflower oils, which contain omega-6 fats that undo some of the benefits of the omega-3s). Or, choose foods fortified with the omega-3 fat DHA.
Why it’s good for you: Diabetes, weight control, heart disease
This simple, old-fashioned favorite helps maintain a healthy weight thanks to the magic combo of fiber and water, which fills you up on fewer calories and digests slowly so you are satisfied between breakfast and lunch and less likely to be grazing at the fridge or vending machine. In addition, the type of fiber in old fashioned oats, called beta glucan - a soluble fiber, when mixed with liquid forms a viscous gel that helps decrease cholesterol absorption and lowers blood sugar levels, lowering the risk for both diabetes and heart disease. Old fashioned oats have much more fiber and staying power than instant or quick-cooking oats.
How to include more in your diet: Before you go to bed, do the prep work for Nutty Apricot Oatmeal by placing 1 /2 cup old fashioned oatmeal, 1/6 cup chopped dried apricots, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and dash of cinnamon and almond extract in a preheated, wide-mouth thermos. Add 1 cup of steamed fat-free or low-fat milk and close tightly. In the morning just open the thermos, sprinkle with 2 tsp. slivered almonds, and you have a warm, delicious breakfast waiting for you!
Why you need it: The ultimate comfort food, heart disease
Chocolate’s botanical name is theobroma cacao, which appropriately translates to “Food of the Gods.” Besides the fact that nothing curbs a craving for chocolate, except a bit of this melt-in-your-mouth delight, the cocoa powder in dark chocolate outranks just about any food studied when it comes to antioxidants. The level of antioxidants can be measured in any food by a test called Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity or ORAC. A serving of dark chocolate measures 9,000 units on the ORAC scale, compared to an average of about 2,000 units found in typical servings of fruits or vegetables. This might explain why dark chocolate lowers heart disease by 20%, probably because it lowers total cholesterol, reduces blood clots and inflammation in arteries, and keeps arteries elastic. Chocolate also might lower the risk for hypertension and diabetes.
How to include more in your diet: Skip milk chocolate and Dutch processed cocoa, which have next to no antioxidants. Choose chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa powder. Chocolate is calorific, so you must limit serving to about an ounce:
1. Include a small amount of high-quality dark chocolate with meals or soon after. You’re less like to binge that way.
2. Buy individually wrapped pieces, so it’s portioned for you ahead of time.
3. Use cocoa powder as the base of your chocolate treats, since it has no cocoa butter and is low in calories, yet packed with antioxidants.
Why it’s good for you: Heart disease, healthy skin, and fibroids
Women average less than 3 ounces of canned tomatoes daily, which is no where near enough. Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a potent antioxidant found in the red pigment in plants that might be a heart saver. Maintaining high blood levels of lycopene could lower heart disease risk in women by up to 50%. Another study suggests that lycopene also might reduce the risk for fibroid tumors, which affect up to 45% of women.
How to include more in your diet: The first place to start is to consume more lycopene-rich foods, such as tomatoes and tomato products like paste, juice, and sauce. Cooked tomato products have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes. One study showed that lycopene is absorbed 2.5 times better from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. You’ll need seven servings or more a week, each containing at least 10 milligrams or the amount of lycopene in about 1.5 Tablespoons of tomato paste or two fresh tomatoes. The redder the fruit, the higher the lycopene, so add vine-ripened tomatoes to salads and sandwiches, since they have more lycopene than tomatoes picked green and allowed to ripen later. Add tomato paste and sauce or canned tomatoes to soups and sauces. For a quick snack, spread tomato-based pizza on a toasted English muffin, top with low-fat cheese, and broil until cheese bubbles.
Why it’s good for you: Heart disease, cancer, cataracts, skin, and aging
Oranges are the number one source of vitamin C in our diets, which is the most important water-soluble antioxidant in the body, associated with lowering risks for a number of diseases, from heart disease and cancer to cataracts and premature aging of the skin. Oranges also are an excellent source of folate, the B vitamin that helps lower risk for birth defects, heart disease, cancer, and even memory loss. They are an excellent source of potassium, especially for those women battling high blood pressure or who are on diuretic medications that cause potassium depletion (sometimes just increasing potassium-rich foods, such as citrus, in the diet is all it takes to lower medication dosages!). In addition, oranges supply both soluble and insoluble fibers. The soluble fibers, such as pectin, are especially important in lowering risks for disease like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. For example, one study found breast cancer risk decreased 84% when vitamin C intake was high.
But that’s just the tip of the nutritional iceberg. The humble orange also houses more than 170 phytochemicals known to lower risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions in women.
How to include more in your diet: Switch from chips to orange sections for a mid-day nibble. Mix orange sections into orange-flavored yogurt, dunk orange sections in fat-free, dark-chocolate syrup; pair oranges with sweet potatoes in a salad; use fresh orange juice and maple syrup for marinades; mix orange sections into guacamole, rice dishes, and tossed salads; sprinkle candied ginger over orange sections for an after-dinner snack.
Why it’s good for you: Stress, bones, thyroid, and diabetes
The heart of the wheat kernel is a gold mine of nutrition. A half cup serving of toasted wheat germ supplies more than half of a woman’s daily magnesium needs, a mineral that three out of four women don’t get enough of, yet is essential for reducing stress, building bones, and regulating thyroid function (which affects 20% of postmenopausal women) and heart rate. Magnesium also aids in the production, release, and activity of insulin. Several studies, including one from Harvard School of Public Health, found that women cut their risk of developing diabetes by 48% when they consumed magnesium-rich diets. In contrast, low intake of magnesium increases risk more than three-fold. Wheat germ also supplies husky amounts of vitamins, including 100% of your daily need for folic acid, 50% of your vitamin E requirement, and decent amounts of trace minerals, such as iron and zinc.
How to include more in your diet: Sprinkle on oatmeal or yogurt, add to cookie and pancake batters, mix into muffin or meatloaf recipes, or blend with honey and peanut butter for a sandwich spread.
Your short-term action plan: Schedule a checkup with a cosmetic dermatologist so you can determine your specific skin type. "A consumer can't really do that on her own," Sadick says, so you'll need professional help to determine exactly what your skin needs. Ask whether your skin is healthy, whether you're at risk of skin cancer, and if there's any way you can slow down aging.
Extra-lean red meat
Why it’s good for you: Fatigue, memory
Beef has gotten a bad rap, probably because so many cuts of beef are drenched in saturated fat, the bad fat that clogs a woman’s arteries and leads to heart disease, colon cancer, and other ills. But, extra-lean beef has a number of good qualities, with iron topping the list. Iron is the #1 deficiency for women, with estimates ranging from 20% to 80% of women being iron deficient. Iron is the key oxygen-carrier in the body. Without enough iron, the tissues - from your brain to your muscles - literally suffocate for oxygen and that causes fatigue, poor concentration, and increased susceptibility to colds and infections. Not only does extra-lean beef contain a good dose of iron, but the type of iron, called “heme” iron, is really well-absorbed (30% versus as little as 5% in beans or other vegetables).
How to include more in your diet: Look for meat that is clearly labeled as grass fed (grass fed meat has more conjugated linoleic acid a heart-healthy fat). You only need about two 3-ounce servings a week, so don’t get carried away and start ordering 16-ounce steaks! Add thin strips of lean, grass-fed sirloin tip to a stir fry, super-lean ground round to chili beans or spaghetti sauce, or have an eye-round roast once in a while (just load the rest of the plate with tons of veggies!). Treat your meat to an antioxidant-rich rosemary and thyme rub, since studies show these herbs rid the body of cancer-causing substances by up to 87%.
Why it’s good for you: Healthy Skin
A serving of sweet potatoes supplies five times the Daily Value for beta carotene, which might lower your risk for cancer, boost defenses against colds and infections, and protect the skin from sun damage. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing partial 24-hour protection against sun damage. The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium, and iron, and more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread.How to include more in your diet: Microwave a sweet potato and top with maple syrup and pecans. Puree and add to soups as a thickener. Use instead of potatoes in salads. Slice sweet potatoes into wedges, salt, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes for golden fries. Cook, mash, and use instead of noodles or rice as a base for any dish.