They are a dietitian's dream foods, the cream of the crop, nutritious and delicious. They are disease fighting foods that should be in everyone's kitchen because they contain such a wealth of disease fighting substances.
So put these 10 readily available disease fighting foods on your grocery list today -- but do keep in mind that it takes more than 10 foods (even 10 terrific foods!) to make a healthy diet. Experts are quick to point out that variety is the spice of life. And ideally, these nutritious nibbles should replace other, less healthful, foods, helping you to cut calories while boosting the nutrition in your diet.
"Super-foods are terrific, but what are more important to wellness are healthy dietary patterns that include a wide variety of nutritious foods that displace less nutritious foods," notes Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.
Disease Fighting Food 1: Berries
Reach for berries for a powerful dose of disease fighting antioxidants. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, blueberries top the list of antioxidant-rich fruits, followed by cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. The color of berries comes from the pigment anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps neutralize "free radicals" (cell-damaging molecules) that can help lead to chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Berries, particularly cranberries, may also help ward off urinary tract infections.
Enjoy a cup of berries each day, as a snack; atop your cereal or yogurt; in muffins, salads, or smoothies; or as frozen treats.
Disease Fighting Food 2: Dairy
Dairy foods are not only the best food source of dietary calcium, but also have plenty of protein, vitamins (including vitamin D), and minerals -- key to fighting the disease osteoporosis. The U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend having three daily servings of low-fat dairy products, as well as doing weight-bearing exercise, to help keep bones strong. (If you can't tolerate dairy, other calcium-containing foods include legumes; dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and collards; and calcium-fortified soy products, juices, and grains.)
Beyond strong bones, dairy may also help you lose weight. Research is ongoing, but a few studies have shown that three daily servings of dairy -- as part of a calorie-controlled diet -- may help decrease belly fat and enhance weight loss.
Low-fat dairy foods make excellent snacks because they contain both carbohydrates and protein.
"Dairy foods are perfect snacks for diabetics and everyone else because [they help] maintain blood sugar levels," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Whip up a smoothie with low-fat milk or yogurt, a splash of orange juice, and a handful of berries for an energizing meal substitute or anytime snack.
Disease Fighting Food 3: Fatty Fish
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish (especially fatty fish) at least twice a week. "Eating a diet rich in fatty fish can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease," says Lichtenstein.
There's another benefit to eating meals containing salmon or tuna: you'll reduce your potential intake of saturated fat from higher-fat entrees.
Fire up the grill or put your fish under the broiler for a quick, tasty, and heart-healthy meal.
Disease Fighting Food 4: Dark, Leafy Greens
One of the best disease fighting foods is dark, leafy greens, which include everything from spinach, kale, and bok choy to dark lettuces. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, carotenoids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. A Harvard study found that eating magnesium-rich foods such as spinach can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Make your next salad with assorted greens, including supernutritious spinach or other dark-colored greens for a meal that fights disease.
Disease Fighting Food 5: Whole Grains
Whole grains include the nutritional components that are typically stripped away from refined grains. They contain folic acid, selenium, and B vitamins, and are important to heart health, weight control, and reducing the risk of diabetes. Their fiber content helps keeps you feeling full between meals as well and promotes digestive health.
Enjoy at least three servings a day of whole-grain goodness: whole wheat; barley; rye; millet; quinoa; brown rice; wild rice; and whole-grain pasta, breads, and cereals. The daily recommendation for fiber is 21-38 grams, depending on your sex and age, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Disease Fighting Food 6: Sweet Potatoes
One of the easiest ways to make a healthful dietary change is to think "sweet" instead of "white" potatoes. These luscious orange tubers are boasting a wealth of antioxidants; phytochemicals including beta-carotene; vitamins C and E; folate; calcium; copper; iron; and potassium. The fiber in sweet potatoes promotes a healthy digestive tract, and the antioxidants play a role in preventing heart disease and cancer.