Health & Wellness

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Foods with healthy reputations

Without a degree in biology or nutrition, it can be difficult to determine just which foods are healthy and which are better left at the grocery store. The list of foods you should and should not eat seems forever subject to new research that tends to debunk once conventional wisdom regarding diet and nutrition. Eggs go from unhealthy to healthy, while the reputation of caffeine seemingly changes with the daily winds. Making sense of old and new data is seldom easy, leaving many people in the dark about which foods are truly healthy.

But eating healthy does not have to be a big mystery. The following widely available foods have long been considered healthy, and that reputation does not figure to change anytime soon.

* Red tomatoes: If you aren't adding tomatoes to everything you eat, perhaps you should. Estimates suggest the average person eats around 80 pounds of tomatoes per year. Tomatoes are more than just a garnish for salads or sandwiches. In fact, red tomatoes are a healthy fuel for the body that earn their superfood status thanks in large part to lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with cancer-fighting properties. Like other antioxidants, lycopene destroys free radicals in the body that may otherwise damage cells. One eight-ounce serving of red, ripe and raw tomatoes is a good source of vitamins A, C and K and a great source of folate and potassium, which can boost the immune system and other functions of the body. Tomatoes also are naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. Due to their high water content, tomatoes can fill you up, making it less likely that you will overeat.

* Yogurt: Yogurt is arguably at the peak of its popularity, with dozens of varieties, from creamy creations to low-fat alternatives to thick and rich Greek yogurts, available at many grocery stores. Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and key vitamins that support strong bones and a healthy metabolism. Yogurt also boosts the immune system by providing tons of beneficial bacteria that swarm in the digestive tract and aid with digestion by using nutrients more efficiently. Furthermore, these bacteria have the potential to lower cholesterol. Studies to test the efficacy of these bacteria with regard to fighting certain types of gastrointestinal illness, certain infections and even cancer are ongoing.

* Dark, leafy greens: Spinach, kale and chard contain iron and carotenoids, an antioxidant that protects cells against damaging free radicals. In addition to fiber, which helps you feel full and cleans cholesterol from the blood, leafy greens also contain abundant amounts of calcium. Calcium is integral in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. It also is key in regulating the heart's rhythm, the transmission of nerve impulses and the blood clotting functions in the body. Raw, leafy greens offer more of a nutritive punch than cooked veggies, but both are good to include in a diet.

* Salmon: Fish is often naturally low in fat and cholesterol, making it a smart choice for those watching their waistlines. But the benefits do not end there. Oily fish like salmon is particularly nutritious because it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, a group of essential polyunsaturated fats. These fats are considered essential because the body cannot create them, meaning they can only be obtained through food. Scores of benefits are attributed to essential fatty acids, which are believed to improve cognitive abilities, reduce risk of depression, protect against cardiovascular disease and reduce bodily inflammation.

* Carrots: The carotenoids found in carrots are fat-soluble compounds that reduce the risk for a wide range of cancers and help ease inflammatory diseases, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Four ounces of carrots per day makes a low-calorie snack, and this includes all the carotenoids you need. Beta-carotene, also found in sweet potatoes and tomatoes, helps protect skin against sun damage. It may make the skin less sensitive to UV light, helping to protect against premature wrinkling. Carrots also are high in vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight and may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

* Berries: Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are among the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat. Each berry contains a substantial amount of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that improve the body's antioxidant capability and contribute to brain health. Blueberries, in particular, pack more antioxidants than any other North American fruit. Strive to eat one cup of fresh berries per day.

Gadsden Times