It's the time of year many people resolve to eat healthfully as a way to energize, slim down and ward off disease.
Fortunately, healthy eating doesn't have to mean monotonous meals of celery sticks, rice cakes, and skinless chicken breast. Instead add a variety of "power" foods to your diet - nutrient- and phytochemical-packed foods shown to help guard against a whole host of diseases. The following 10 nutritional superstars are loaded with flavour and they're easy to add to your family's meals.
Though technically a fruit, avocado derives 84 percent of its calories from heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Like olive oil, research has shown avocado to help lower total and LDL cholesterol. Avocadoes also provide folate and potassium, nutrients linked to heart health.
Use ripe avocado as a spread for sandwiches and toast or use it to make guacamole. Garnish salads, tacos and egg dishes with sliced avocado.
This meat alternative does more than add protein to meals. Black beans are also an excellent source of soluble fibre, folate, and magnesium, nutrients tied to heart health. Plus, their slowly released (low glycemic) carbohydrates helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar control.
For convenience, buy black beans canned (already cooked). Before using, drain and rinse under running water to remove sodium. Add black beans to chilli, tacos, burritos, salads and soups.
This cruciferous family vegetable - along with broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower and cabbage - is prized for its high concentration cancer-fighting chemicals called glucosinolates. Studies suggest that eating more of these vegetables may help reduce the risk of breast, prostate, lung and pancreatic cancers.
One half cup of Brussels sprouts also serves up vitamin C, folate, calcium and potassium and fibre - all for only 30 calories!
Toss halved Brussels sprouts into stir-fries. Add grated raw Brussels sprouts to soups and stews. Or enjoy them roasted with olive oil.
Loaded with potent antioxidants called catechins, studies suggest daily green tea consumption offers protection from heart attack, high blood pressure and breast and ovarian cancers.
Replace sugary drinks and diet soft drinks with green tea. Use brewed green tea to sauté vegetables, braise meat and marinate seafood. Use loose green tea leaves in rubs as a coating for meat and poultry.
Like yogurt, kefir is made by combining milk with active cultures to produce a creamy fermented dairy product with live probiotic bacteria. Thse so-called "good" bacteria have been shown to boost the immune system, prevent allergies and improve lactose intolerance; they may also help guard against inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
Unlike yogurt, kefir contains kefiran, a unique compound shown to exert medicinal properties. As well, kefir typically contains three times the amount of probiotic cultures than yogurt.
Add plain or flavoured kefir to hot cereal, granola, smoothies and fruit salad. Top a baked potato with plain kefir mixed with salsa. Blend plain kefir with water and herbs to make a tangy salad dressing.
Valued for its medicinal properties since ancient times, only recently has this vibrant red fruit sparked the interest of nutritional scientists. Pomegranate seeds contain polyphenols, potent antioxidants thought to benefit the heart and defend against cancer.
Add fresh pomegranate seeds to smoothies, yogurt, breakfast cereal, whole grain pilaffs, salads and muffin batters. Add pure pomegranate juice to vinaigrette salad dressings or mix with sparkling water.
A staple in Middle Eastern diets for centuries, this whole grain whole wheat that’s harvested when the wheat is young and green, and then roasted to burn off the husks. The end result: a firm, slightly chewy grain with a nutty and mildly smoky flavour.
Freekeh delivers low glycemic carbohydrates, protein and fibre – twice as much fibre as you get in the same size serving of quinoa – along with B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and iron.
Freekeh is sold and whole or cracked grain. To cook, add one cup of cracked freekeh to 2.5 cups of boiling water, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes.
High in protein, B vitamins and selenium, salmon delivers a hefy dose of omega-3 fatty acids that keep your heart, brain and eyes in good health.
For added flavour, brush salmon with hoisin sauce or tandoori paste before baking or grilling. Or bake with lemon juice, garlic and dill. Try a salmon sandwich as a change from tuna.
This leafy green vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse: One-half cup of cooked Swiss chard hard provides more than three times your daily vitamin K, a nutrient that helps keep bones strong. Swiss chard's generous content of vitamins A and C and folate, may also play a role in cancer prevention.
The leafy green is also an excellent source of lutein, a phytochemical linked with a lower risk of age related macular degeneration and cataract.
Steam or stir-fry Swiss chard with other vegetables. Add chopped Swiss chard to soups, pasta sauces and omelets.
Unlike other nuts, walnuts contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty. A one-ounce serving (14 walnut halves) serves up 2.6 grams of ALA - more than an entire day's worth. (Women require 1.1 grams per day; men need 1.6.) ALA is though to help protect from heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Walnuts are also a good source of arginine, an amino acid that the body converts to nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessels and helps lower elevated blood pressure. And walnuts deliver plenty of antioxidants.
Add chopped walnuts to granola, oatmeal, yogurt, green salads and quick bread batters. Snack on walnut halves as a mid day snack.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.