By Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D.
This article first appeared on the U.S.-version of SHAPE.com
1. Parmesan Cheese: Strengthens Bones
Calcium is key for preventing osteoporosis (especially in your 20s). Yogurt and nonfat milk help, but who wants them three times a day? Work Parmesan cheese into your diet; its 340 mg of calcium per 28g – compared to about 200 mg in cheddar or Swiss – goes a long way toward your 1000 mg/day quota.
2. Apples: Boost Immunity
Smart and sweet, apples are rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that can bolster your body’s disease-fighting abilities. In one study from Appalachian State University, just 5 per cent of people who ate more quercetin came down with a respiratory infection over a two-week period, compared to 45 per cent of those who didn’t.
3. Lentils: Build Your Iron Stores
Low-calorie lentils pack about 30 per cent of your daily iron per cup cooked. About 12 per cent of young women have low iron stores – at the extreme, that leads to anemia. But one study found that even women who were iron deficient (not anemic) had poorer performances on skill tests than those with normal levels.
4. Broccoli: Fights Wrinkles
“A cup of broccoli has 100 per cent of your vitamin C – crucial for production of collagen, which gives skin elasticity,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D. It’s also rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. This vitamin assists in cell turnover, so old skin cells are replaced with fresh (read: younger-looking) ones.
5. Potatoes: Pack Healthy Carbs
Potatoes contain a fat-fighting compound called resistant starch that can help keep weight in check. One medium spud with the skin will run you just around 100 calories, and with more potassium than bananas, potatoes also help fight heart disease by keeping blood pressure low.
6. Spinach: Dense With Key Nutrients
This leafy green is high in vitamin K and also contains calcium and magnesium – a combo that may help slow the breakdown of bone that occurs as you get older – as well as folate, a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects. And it packs just 7 calories per cup raw!
7. Dark Chocolate: Fights Stress And Fights Disease
European researchers found that people who ate 43g of dark chocolate – about 200 calories worth – every day for two weeks produced less of the stress hormone cortisol and reported feeling less frazzled. Cortisol causes a temporary rise in blood pressure; consistently high levels up your risk for depression, obesity, heart disease and more.
8. Mushrooms: Deliver Cancer-Fighting Antioxidants
One study showed that women who ate just 9g raw mushrooms a day (that’s about one button mushroom) had a 64 per cent reduction in breast cancer risk. Other research suggests that mushrooms reduce the effects of aromatase, a protein that helps produce estrogen – a major factor in some breast cancers.
9. Sardines: Fight Heart Disease
These pungent little fish are good sources of omega-3 acids, which decrease inflammation that can lead to blocked arteries. They also prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes, and keep blood vessels smooth and supple. 85g of sardines have about 1.3g of omega-3s (you need about 1g a day).
10. Avocados: Help Flatten Your Belly
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to help you drop weight, including from your troublesome middle. In one study, people who got the most monos (about 23 per cent of their daily calories) had about 2.3kg less belly fat than those who ate a high-carb, lower-fat diet.
11. Bell Peppers: Protect Your Eyes
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts are leading causes of vision loss, but foods rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C, like bell peppers, can keep eyes sharp. A cup of sliced red, yellow and orange peppers contains nearly twice your daily vitamin C, plus 116 micrograms (mcg) of lutein, and 562 mcg of zeaxanthin.
12. Whole-Grain Pasta: Boosts Energy
Whole-grain pasta is loaded with B vitamins, which help your body convert food into energy. And unlike processed grain products that lack fibre, whole grains are more filling than their refined counterparts. In other words, you’ll feel satisfied with fewer calories. See sources.