Each year, nutritionists add to the list of foods that are good -- or bad -- for your health, lending credence to the adage “you are what you eat.” The following 20 foods -- mostly fruits and vegetables -- are generally thought by medical experts to be especially effective in helping to prevent and treat certain diseases.
Almonds -- Although high in fat, almonds and many other nuts are high in vitamin E, which may help prevent heart disease. Almonds also contain high levels of calcium and magnesium, which help maintain strong bones.
Apples -- High in fiber and fruit acids, apples aid in digestion and are particularly effective at alleviating constipation and diarrhea. They also lower blood cholesterol levels.
Berries -- Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and their kin all contain high amounts of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges and are also high in fiber. Berries also help strengthen blood vessels.
Broccoli -- Broccoli is a great source of folic acid and vitamins C and E, which may help prevent cancer. It also contains numerous other useful nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron and zinc.
Carrots -- Carrots help prevent lung cancer and also are thought to reduce the risk for other cancers and to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Fish -- Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to help prevent heart disease and possibly even stroke.
Garlic -- Garlic has been considered a beneficial food since ancient times. Eating garlic regularly lowers blood cholesterol, helps dilate blood vessels (making clotting and hence strokes less likely) and fights infections with anti-bacterial agents.
Ginger -- Like garlic, ginger has long been heralded for its medicinal properties -- including combating nausea. It also is thought to aid digestion, help reduce blood clots and fight colds and coughs.
Kale -- Like broccoli, kale has powerful antioxidants, including vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. In addition to calcium and magnesium, kale also contains lutein, an antioxidant that helps prevent macular degeneration, an eye disease that afflicts the elderly.
Lettuce -- Most of the 100-plus types of lettuce are rich in vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants and iron. Lettuce eaten raw (in salad), does not lose nutritional content due to cooking. Particularly healthful varieties include spinach, endive, romaine and Swiss chard, but not iceberg.
Mushrooms -- Darker mushrooms, like the big portobello, are a rich source of B vitamins and fiber. Asian mushrooms, such as shiitakes, have antiviral properties.
Oats -- Oats supply linoleic acid, which helps lower blood cholesterol, as well as vitamins B and E. Oats are high in fiber.
Olive Oil -- Considered the most healthful of the vegetable oils, along with canola oil. Olive oil contains no cholesterol and only monosaturated fats, which are less harmful to arteries than other fats. It also contains polyphenol, a substance that may lower blood pressure.
Oranges -- Oranges contain vitamin C and other important nutrients, including calcium and potassium. The high levels of vitamin C in oranges make them particularly effective in helping the body fight infections. OJ is the most nutritious juice drink.
Red Grapes -- Once dismissed as “natural junk food” because of their high sugar levels, red grapes are now known to contain polyphenols, which lower blood pressure.
Sweet Potatoes -- Far more nutritious than white potatoes, yams are rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E and also a good source of potassium, which helps prevent high blood pressure.
Tea -- Tea contains high levels of antioxidant flavonoids, which help prevent cancer and heart disease. Green tea is especially antioxidant rich and also has less caffeine than more common black teas.
Tomatoes -- Like berries and other bright fruits, tomatoes are antioxidant rich. Recent studies indicate that eating large amounts of tomatoes and tomato products can reduce the risk of lung and prostate cancer.
Whole Wheat -- An excellent, low-fat source of protein and fiber. Wheat also contains zinc, iron and B vitamins. Wheat grown in selenium-rich soil is a good source of the antioxidant selenium.
Yogurt -- “Live” bacterial cultures (especially Lactobacillus acidophilus) in yogurt contribute to digestive health by helping to kill bad bacteria that lead to gastroenteritis and yeast infections; live cultures also aid in recovering from ulcers and diarrhea and replace good microbes in the “gut” killed by antibiotics. Yogurt also contains high levels of calcium and some vitamin B.