To protect against disease and fend off illnesses, bypass the medicine cabinet and skip the supplement aisle. Instead, head straight for the kitchen. "Eating the right foods can speed up healing, build stronger bones and muscles, and enhance energy," says David Grotto, a registered dietitian and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. From keeping your brain alert as you age to improving vision, here's the dietary scoop on how to eat
your way to better health.
Prevent Heart Disease
For more than a decade, food labels have touted that the fiber in oatmeal reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol
Today, scientists suspect that oats do even more. Research demonstrates that compounds in oats inhibit blood cells' ability to stick to artery walls. This prevents plaque buildup and blockage of the blood vessels. Cheerios and Kashi's Heart to Heart also offer these benefits.
Fatty fish like salmon, lake and rainbow trout, herring and albacore tuna should also be on your heart-healthy list. Eat them at least twice a week, according to the American Heart Association, to reduce the risk of irregular heartbeats, to make blood less likely to form clots and to lessen the inflammation that precedes heart disease.
Certain legumes also help promote heart health. According to a study of 10,000 men and women, eating beans--like kidney and pinto--at least four times per week lowers the risk of coronary heart disease 22 percent.
Other heart-healthy foods: Don't forget to load up on heart-healthy fats that come from nuts, avocados, olives, and olive and canola oils.
Reduce Your Cancer Risk
While there's no way to completely shield yourself from this unpredictable, complex disease, research has shown that certain foods can provide some protection.
Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and turnips contain a phytochemical that boosts gene repair before cells can turn cancerous. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research's Second Expert Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, these vegetables may protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and stomach.
Strawberries and raspberries are excellent sources of many nutrients and important phytochemicals including ellagic acid. This compound helps slow the reproduction of cancer cells and boosts the body's ability to deactivate specific carcinogens.
Other foods for cancer prevention: Make yellow your new favorite spice color, says Jeannie Moloo, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The brightly hued turmeric contains curcumin, a phytochemical with antioxidant properties as bold as its color. This spice may slow the growth of cancers of the colon and prostate. Eat beans and lentils, too. Some studies have linked them to reduced risks of cancers of the colon and breast.
Soothe Stomach Problems
Your gut is a breeding ground for about three pounds of bacteria--some good, some bad. By pumping up the good ones with probiotics, the "friendly bacteria" found in yogurt, you block the actions of some of the noxious ones. Probiotics may also prevent or treat diarrhea and other intestinal problems, like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
When you take an antibiotic for an infection, the drug attacks some of your beneficial bacteria. An upset stomach
often follows because the drug has altered the balance of good to bad bacteria. The probiotics in yogurt help return the balance to your favor.
If you have ulcers, consider yogurt as an adjunct to other therapies. "Some studies have shown yogurt with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium consumed twice daily for six weeks suppressed H. pylori, the bacteria associated with GI ulcers," says Moloo.
Other GI-friendly foods: You can find probiotics added to a variety of foods, including cheeses, cereals and soy milk. Moloo also recommends beans and lentils for their soluble and insoluble fibers, which feed healthy bacteria.