30 Power foods

THE RIGHT FOODS CAN GIVE you a great body--one that resists aging, fights heart disease and cancer, has a strong immune system, and possesses plenty of pep. "More than anything else you do, the way you eat tells your body how healthy you want to be," says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., a physician in Tucson, Ariz., and author of Food As Medicine (Pocket Books, 2003). Each year, more studies prove that the food you choose dictates your health.

To help you create the healthiest diet possible, we bring you the following 30 power foods. We chose them after consulting nutrition experts and hundreds of recent studies. All of our winners fight disease and provide high concentrations of the nutrients you need to feel great. The best way to make these stars work for you, say researchers, is to include as many as possible in your daily diet rather than focusing on just one or two. See how many you can include in your next meal.

1 Almonds If you feel like snacking on nuts, you can't go wrong with almonds. Two ounces, or about 48 almonds, give you more than 50 percent of your daily requirement of magnesium, a mineral that's important for heart health. Almonds are also a good source of vitamin E, fiber, and monounsaturated fat, all heart-healthy nutrients. Last year, a small study published in Circulation found that after eating about 2 1/2 ounces of almonds a day for one month, participants had significantly reduced their total cholesterol and lowered several other risk factors for heart disease as well.

A recent animal study suggested that eating almonds may also reduce the risk of colon cancer.

2 Apples An apple a day may keep the cardiologist at bay. Epidemiological evidence suggests that regularly eating apples reduces the risk of stroke and chances of dying from a heart attack. Apples lowered total cholesterol and triglycerides in a recent animal study. It's not clear which compounds are responsible, although antioxidant flavonoids and fiber are possibilities. (Antioxidants disarm free radicals, unstable disease-causing molecules.) Although whole apples have more fiber than juice, both forms probably benefit your heart. In a small clinical trial, researchers from the University of California at Davis found that drinking 12 ounces of apple juice daily was more effective than eating two apples a day at reducing oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, a heart disease risk factor.

Apples are the best fruit source of catechins, potent cancer-preventive substances. In fact, eating apples appears to decrease the risk of lung cancer, according to an epidemiological study from the Netherlands that was published in 2001. Apples also provide quercetin, which may inhibit prostate, lung, and liver cancer.

3 Avocados Some people call avocados nature's butter, and you'd be smart to spread this fruit on your toast. Avocados have about a quarter of the calories and total fat of dairy butter, by weight. And ounce for ounce, they provide more heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, vitamin E, folic acid, and potassium than other fruits. Additionally, avocados are the number-one fruit source of beta-sitosterol, a substance that lowers total cholesterol.

Avocados also exceed other fruits as a source of the potent antioxidant lutein, according to Susan Bowerman, R.D., a registered dietitian at the University of California at Los Angeles Center for Human Nutrition. Lutein protects your eyes from cataracts and from age-related macular degeneration. Lutein may also safeguard your cardiovascular system from atherosclerosis (or hardening of the arteries) and prevent prostate cancer.

4 Beets The sweet taste of beets belies their calorie content--a small one has only 22 calories. Beets are also a great source of folic acid, an important B vitamin that protects against heart disease and cancer.

Antioxidants recently discovered in beets show promise for preventing heart disease, although research is preliminary. Betanin, one of these antioxidants, inhibited oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, according to a study published in 2001 in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry. This effect was shown in a test tube, but the researchers also found that people were able to absorb the antioxidants by consuming beet juice.

Beets deserve praise for one more reason: Eating them significantly slowed the growth of skin and lung tumors, according to a recent animal study.

5 Blueberries Despite their small size, blueberries are one of the most potent antidotes to oxidative stress, a process that ages you. The red pigments, or anthocyanins, in blueberries appear to be responsible, according to a study released last year by Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Blueberries help your brain maintain its ability to produce dopamine, a chemical that is crucial for memory, coordination, and feelings of well-being, but that declines as you age, says physician Khalsa. Recently Tufts researchers found that feeding aged rats the equivalent of 1/2 cup blueberries daily actually reversed declining memory and poor coordination.

Researchers also recently found that blueberries prevented the growth of breast cancer cells in test tubes.

6 Broccoli Kids and former presidents may not get excited about broccoli, but you should. Researchers are discovering a wealth of healthy components in this vegetable, including two powerful cancer-fighting substances, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.

Sulforaphane gives cancer-causing chemicals a one-two punch. First it destroys any carcinogenic compounds that you've ingested, and then it creates enzymes that eat up any carcinogens left over from that reaction. Sulforaphane also kills the bacteria H.pylori, which causes ulcers and greatly increases the risk of gastric cancer, according to a study released from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last year.

Indole-3-carbinol helps your body metabolize estrogen, potentially warding off breast cancer, a theory supported by epidemiological and clinical studies.

Broccoli isn't just a cancer-basher. It's a good source of beta carotene and potassium, which lower your risk for heart disease. And the fiber in broccoli (4 g in 1 cup) slows your body's release of blood sugar for long-lasting energy.

7 Cherries Cherries deserve more room in your diet than as a garnish to a sundae. They are a top source of perillyl alcohol, which kills cancer cells but spares healthy cells. In animal studies, this substance shrank pancreatic, breast, and liver tumors.

Cherries also show promise on other fronts. Tart cherries, particularly the Montmorency variety, contain significant amounts of melatonin, a hormone that helps normalize your sleep cycles. Melatonin also scavenges free radicals (unstable molecules that attack healthy cells), and having low levels of this hormone has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

8 Chicory If you have a penchant for green salads, add some chicory to your bowl.This pale-yellow relative of Belgian endive and escarole has more vitamin A than any other salad green (just 1/4 cup of raw chicory greens provides all of your recommended intake). Vitamin A is crucial for a healthy immune system and protects your vision. Most of the vitamin A in chicory comes from beta carotene, a cancer-fighting carotenoid that your body converts to vitamin A.

Chicory root, a popular ingredient in herbal coffees, contains an anti-cancer carbohydrate known as inulin. Inulin prevented the formation of colon cancer tumors in several animal studies, according to a review published last year in the British Journal of Nutrition.

9 Cocoa Chocolate tastes great, but gustatory pleasure isn't the only reason to indulge in it. Cocoa, its main ingredient, provides plenty of antioxidant flavonoids, which fight heart disease and cancer. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2001, 23 lucky subjects added about 4 tablespoons of cocoa and about 1/2 ounce of dark chocolate daily to an average American diet. The cocoa and chocolate improved their cholesterol ratios and increased the levels of antioxidants in their blood.

The plant chemicals in cocoa are also noteworthy. A preliminary study published in Cancer Letter last year found that they prevented the growth of colon cancer cells.

Unlike most candy, chocolate has a moderate glycemic index, which means that it provides steady energy instead of a sugar rush (and subsequent crash). Of course, chocolate is high in fat and calories. To maximize your health benefits, choose dark chocolate (which contains more cocoa than milk chocolate) and limit yourself to an ounce a day.

10 Cranberries These tart little numbers possess more phenols than red grapes and 18 other fruits, according to a study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2001. Phenols are plant chemicals that lower oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Cranberries also make it hard for bacteria to stick around--literally. Researchers believe that proanthocyanins in cranberries prevent the bacteria E. coli from attaching to bladder walls and causing urinary tract infections. The effect can last for 10 hours after you drink 8 ounces of a cranberry juice beverage that contains at least 27 percent juice, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last year. Cranberry juice prevents bacteria from adhering to teeth, according to an Israeli study published last year.

11 Eggs Eggs once had a bad reputation because researchers believed that eating high-cholesterol foods, like eggs, elevated total cholesterol and increased the risk for heart disease. However, scientists now believe that saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, is the culprit (and eggs don't have much saturated fat). Eggs are an excellent source of protein and B vitamins, which help you feel energetic.

Egg yolks may delay some symptoms of aging. They contain high concentrations of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may ward off vision problems like cataracts. Additionally, some specialty eggs provide moderate amounts of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that's essential to heart and brain function.

It's fine for healthy people to have up to seven eggs a week, according to an epidemiological study published in JAMA in 1999. (Count the eggs you eat in baked goods to make sure you don't overdo it.)

12 Flaxseeds These humble seeds are one of the few plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to decreased rates of heart disease, stroke, and depression.

Flaxseeds also contain lignan, a phytoestrogen (a plant estrogen that mimics estrogen in your body) that's thought to improve cholesterol profiles. A recent clinical trial found that postmenopausal women who ate 40 g of ground flaxseeds daily for three months lowered their total cholesterol by 6 percent. The study was published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Animal studies show that lignan may help reduce circulating estrogen, a risk factor for breast cancer, and inhibit breast tumors.

You can find flaxseeds in natural food stores. You need to grind them to digest them, says Laurie Deutsch Mozian, R.D., a registered dietitian in Kingston, N.Y., and author of Foods that Fight Disc ease (Putnam, 2000). You can also buy flaxseed oil at natural food stores; it contains omega-3 fatty acids but not lignans (unless they are added). The oil oxidizes easily, so refrigerate it and don't cook with it. Instead, drizzle a teaspoon or two on salads or vegetable dishes.

13 Garlic Whether you eat it raw or cooked, garlic is an important cancer-fighter, says Eric Block, Ph.D., a professor at State University of New York at Albany who has devoted most of his career to researching garlic. The evidence for garlic's strength against cancer comes from several epidemiological and animal studies.

Numerous clinical trials have shown garlic to be good for your heart by lowering total cholesterol and blood pressure.

A natural infection-fighter, crushed fresh garlic kills dangerous bacteria, fungal organisms, and even the amoebas that cause dysentery, says Block.

14 Ginger Research is just beginning to confirm the centuries-old notion that ginger is essential to good health. Ginger contains several antioxidant plant chemicals, including gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. These antioxidants can fight cancer and heart disease, according to preliminary studies. For example, water spiked with ginger extract, when given to mice, significantly slowed the development of mammary tumors, according to a Japanese study published last year. Ginger extract lowered total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduced atherosclerosis in mice, according to an Israeli study from 2000. And gingerol is as effective as aspirin at preventing blood clotting, making it a potential aid against heart disease, according to a recent laboratory study.

15 Honey Wouldn't it be sweet if honey was good for more than your taste buds? It is. When added to food, honey can slow the growth of some of the bacteria that cause food poisoning. It also lowers levels of cancer-causing chemicals that form when you cook meat or fish.

Honey shows promise for your heart as well. Preliminary research conducted by Nicki Engeseth, Ph.D., an assistant professor of food chemistry at the University of Illinois in Urbana, shows that honey contains high levels of antioxidants and may prevent oxidation in your body, which may lead to heart disease. She's currently investigating whether honey can prevent hardening of the arteries.

Because it's high in calories, honey shouldn't be eaten in excess, warns Engeseth. But do use a teaspoon or two in marinades or salad dressings or instead of sugar in tea. Avoid feeding raw honey to infants under 12 months, because it may contain botulism organisms.

16 Kale All hail kale! This leafy green has the second-highest antioxidant concentration in the vegetable kingdom, says Dan Nadeau, M.D., medical director of the HealthReach Diabetes Endocrine and Nutrition Center in Hampton, N.H., and co-author of The Color Code (Hyperion, 2002). Kale offers plenty of lutein, an antioxidant carotenoid that protects your eyes and fights heart disease. Like its cousin broccoli, kale is rich in cancer-fighting sulfur compounds such as sulforaphane. However, to date research has not looked at the effect on cancer of kale alone.

Nadeau finds kale particularly energizing, perhaps because it's so high in nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin C, and fiber. If you aren't accustomed to kale's slightly bitter flavor, add strong seasonings like garlic or soy sauce, or chop kale finely and add it to soups.

17 Olive Oil Unlike most oils, olive oil packs plenty of hearthealthy monounsaturated fat as well as antioxidant polyphenols. Last year Spanish researchers found that people who eat a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables and olive oil, have lower odds of having a heart attack. Consuming olive oil significantly reduces high blood pressure in women, according to an Italian review published last year.

Olive oil may also protect you from cancer. Olive oil consumption was more strongly associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer than consumption of corn, I peanut, or soybean oil, according to a study of more than 3,000 women that was published in Cancer Causes and Control last year. And a recent animal study revealed that olive oil may slow the development of breast tumors.

Even though it's healthy, olive oil is high in calories--more than 100 calories in one tablespoon--so use it sparingly.

18 Onions Once you know how healthy onions are, you won't mind weeping when you slice them.

Plenty of research links onions to a reduced risk of cancer. For example, a study that measured the intake of more than 200 foods found that onions were the food most strongly associated with lower rates of lung cancer. The study involved more than 1,000 people and was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2000. Consuming onions and other alliums like leeks and garlic also appears to lower rates of breast, esophageal, and stomach cancers. Researchers suspect that the flavonoid quercetin and sulfur compounds are responsible for the anticancer mechanisms of onions.

Sulfur compounds in onions may also lower cholesterol and triglycerides, although the evidence is still preliminary.

19 oranges Oranges prove that even ordinary foods can offer an array of disease-fighting compounds.

Hesperetin, the main flavonoid in oranges, protects against cancer, heart disease, infections, and inflammation, according to studies. For example, a study of more than 10,000 people in Finland found that higher intakes of hesperetin were connected with lower rates of heart disease and asthma. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year.

Beta-cryptoxanthin, a pigment responsible for the pulp's sunny hue, shows promise for preventing heart disease. An epidemiological study showed that people with high levels of this carotenoid in their blood had less chance of heart disease. Oranges are also rich sources of pectin, which lowers cholesterol; potassium, which reduces blood pressure; and folic acid, which reduces levels of homocysteine, says medical director Nadeau.

20 Pumpkins Halloween may be long past, but that's no reason to forget about pumpkins. Fresh or canned, they can help keep you healthy for many Octobers to come.

Pumpkins offer lots of beta carotene (only carrots and sweet potatoes have more) and are the number-one source of alpha carotene, a cancer inhibitor that's even more powerful than beta carotene, according to studies. Researchers looking at the diets of more than 100,000 people found that those people who consumed the most alpha carotene had as much as a 63 percent lower incidence of lung cancer.

One ounce of pumpkin seeds offers 20 percent of your daily requirement for zinc, an important immune-boosting mineral. And studies show that a compound in pumpkin seeds may help prevent benign prostate enlargement, a common problem for men over 50.

If you want to cook fresh pumpkin, look for those labeled "sweet" or "pie" pumpkins at the grocery store; the kind you carve is stringier and not as palatable. You can roast fresh pumpkin and eat it like winter squash. Roast the seeds too. Or peel, boil, and mash pumpkin flesh (or use canned pumpkin) for soups or bread.

21 Salmon Salmon tops the list of fish with proven health benefits, says Dun Gifford, founder and president of Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes healthy eating. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon may protect against breast and other cancers and relieve autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Eating a diet rich in fatty fish like salmon can also decrease your risk of heart disease, according to several epidemiological studies. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish reduce blood clotting and triglyceride levels and normalize heart rhythms. According to a recent review published in Pharmacological Research, consuming 200 mg daily of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, cuts heart attack risk in half.

Your head, as well as your heart, needs omega-3 fatty acids. They keep your brain working properly; for example, people who have dementia and Alzheimer's have decreased levels of DHA in their brains.

22 Soy In terms of health benefits, soy is one of the most studied foods around. Most of the research covers its potential for preventing cancer and heart disease. Genistein and other isoflavones (plant chemicals) in soy are being investigated for their abilities to fight these diseases.

Substituting soy protein for animal foods can lower your chances of heart disease, concluded a study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And last year, a clinical trial confirmed that eating 50 g of soy protein (the amount in about two cups of soymilk) as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure in men and women.

Strong epidemiological evidence associates soy intake with low cancer rates, although researchers aren't sure whether everyone receives a benefit. A benefit is more likely if soy is introduced during teenage years, according to epidemiological studies.

23 Tea Black and green teas come from the same plant, but they are processed differently and contain different antioxidants. Consider drinking both (perhaps alternating days) to get the greatest disease protection.

According to epidemiological and animal evidence, green tea may inhibit breast, digestive, and lung cancers. Green tea's catechins, powerful antioxidants, may protect cells from free radical damage.

Flavonoids in black tea appear to reduce the stickiness of platelets, a heart disease risk factor. A 2002 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Dutch citizens who drank at least 375 ml (about 1 1/2 cups) of black tea a day were less likely to die of a heart attack than non-tea-drinkers.

Tea may also prevent your bones from weakening as you age. According to a study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who drank two or more cups of tea (green, black, or oolong, which comes from the same plant) daily for six to 10 years had higher bone density than those who didn't drink tea regularly.

24 Tomatoes it's lucky that Americans love tomatoes. Whether in sauce or atop a salad, tomatoes are as healthy as they are tasty.

Dozens of epidemiological studies have found that people who eat a lot of tomatoes are significantly less likely to get cancer, according to a review published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1999. Study results were strongest for prostate, lung, and stomach cancer, although there's some evidence that tomatoes protect against breast, ovarian, and other cancers, too. Lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, appears to be the source of the protective benefit.

Some evidence suggests that lycopene may also benefit your heart. European epidemiological studies have associated high lycopene intake with a lower rate of heart attacks, and low blood levels of lycopene with higher death rates from coronary heart disease.

Cooked tomatoes, like those in sauce or juice, contain more absorbable lycopene than raw tomatoes.

25 Walnuts Walnuts stand out among nuts because they alone provide two heart-healthy essential fatty acids: linoleic and linolenic fatty acids.

Linoleic acid may reduce your chances of getting a stroke, according to a study published in Stroke last year. And linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) is associated with a lower risk of coronary artery disease, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2001.

Several clinical trials have found that eating walnuts lowers cholesterol. For example, men and women who ate about 2 ounces of walnuts daily for a month significantly lowered their total cholesterol, according to a recent study. Besides their good fats, walnuts are also high in fiber and antioxidants like polyphenols, which may help prevent heart disease.

26 Watercress Delicate watercress contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any vegetable, says medical director Nadeau.

Compounds in watercress appear to protect against cancer. When smokers consumed 2 ounces of watercress a day for three days, the vegetable spurred a detoxification mechanism of nicotine, according to a clinical trial published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 1999. And watercress is the number-one source of an extremely potent anti-cancer substance called betaphenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). If you have high blood levels of PEITC, explains dietitian Mozian, your body may be able to neutralize some carcinogens before they damage cells. In rat studies, PEITC prevented tobacco-induced lung cancer tumors from forming.

Watercress tastes peppery and bitter; if you don't care for this, mix it with milder greens like baby romaine.

27 Watermelon Watermelons are 91 percent water, but they also contain some powerful antioxidants. This quenching summer fruit is rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid that's associated with reduced heart disease risk. And it's one of the few good sources of lycopene, a free-radical scavenger that may lower cancer and heart disease risk (lycopene is also found in tomatoes). Unlike tomatoes, however, watermelons don't need to be cooked to provide the most absorbable form of lycopene. Two cups of watermelon also contain more than 20 percent of your daily requirement of the antioxidant vitamins A and C.

28 Whole Wheat We gave wheat the edge over other whole grains because it's so versatile, and it's higher in antioxidants than other commonly eaten whole grains like rice and oats. Phenols are the main antioxidants in wheat.

Nearly all the research on whole wheat grouped it with other whole grains. For example, several epidemiological studies show that people who consume large amounts of whole grains like whole wheat every day have a lower risk of heart disease. Population research also suggests that whole grains help prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.

The complex carbohydrates and fiber in whole wheat slow the release of blood sugar, providing steady energy. To avoid refined wheat flour, which may be hazardous to your health, look for the word "whole" at the top of ingredient lists.

29 Wine Whether you prefer red or white, drinking wine is good for your heart. White wine's protection comes from tyrosol and caffeic acid, which reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Red wine's polyphenols appear to confer its heart benefits.

People who drank white wine in moderation had better lung function than people who abstained or drank other alcoholic beverages, according to a study in Pulmonary Medicine last year. Better lung function is an indicator of longevity and results in a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Several studies show that consuming red wine in moderation lowers homocysteine, platelet stickiness (a factor in blood-clotting), and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Experts consider "moderate" to mean two glasses a day for men and one glass a day for women.

Preliminary research found that red wine polyphenols inhibited colon cancer cells, according to the Journal of Nutrition last year. And drinking red wine was associated with a reduced risk of skin cancer in women in a case-controlled study published last year in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

A Danish study published last fall found that people who drank wine weekly or monthly were less likely to develop dementia than people who drank other alcoholic beverages or abstained.

30 Yellow Split Peas You may be familiar with green split peas, but yellow split peas are the ones you should get to know. (They're commonly used in Indian dishes like dal.) Of all legumes, yellow split peas have the most genistein, an isoflavone that may help reduce your chances of heart disease, according to research. In fact, yellow split peas provide nearly twice as much genistein as soybeans, according to dietitian Mozian. Genistein may protect against cardiovascular disease by preventing clogging of arteries. Additionally, genistein binds to estrogen receptors in your body, which may lower circulating estrogen, a risk factor for breast cancer.

Just 1/2 cup of cooked yellow split peas provides nearly one third of your fiber requirements. Fiber may slow the release of blood sugar into your bloodstream, keeping your energy high.

Quick Tip

Organic fruit may have a higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown fruit, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Researchers speculated that organically grown plants are subject to more environmental challenges and therefore have stronger antioxidant defenses.

Eat broccoli lightly steamed or sauteed. Broccoli's cancer-fighting chemicals are more active when it's cooked, says registered dietitian

Smashing raw garlic releases more of the compounds that fight cancer and heart disease than slicing or mincing it. Use a garlic press, pestle, or the side of a chef's knife to make a paste, which you can add to salad dressings or dishes at the end of cooking.

Dark honey has more antioxidants than light honey. However, all varieties contain an impressive array of antioxidants, says researcher Nicki Engeseth, Ph.D.

Sauteeing onions preserves their levels of the disease-fighting flavonoid quercetin. But boiling onions leaches about a third of the quercetin into the water. (If you boil onions, save the water to add to soup.)