We all know we're supposed to eat spinach and broccoli, as well as fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, and trout. But there are also plenty of tasty, everyday foods that contain rich sources of nutrition, without the fat and sugar that are bad for our health.
No, bacon is not on the list. But here are seven items from a healthy menu that sometimes get a bad rap, but are really good for you:
1. Eggs. Several university studies found that dieters who ate eggs for breakfast lost more weight than dieters who ate an equal amount of other foods--in part because eggs fill you up so you consume fewer calories later in the day. And the studies found no significant difference in blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat in the diet, not cholesterol, influences blood cholesterol levels the most, and while whole eggs are high in cholesterol, they're low in saturated fat. Egg yolks also contain important nutrients including choline, which bolsters memory and helps control inflammation that can cause chronic pain and premature aging. Yes, people with heart disease should limit egg yolk consumption, but the rest of us can enjoy eggs without guilt.
2. Coffee. According to the Mayo Clinic, high consumption of coffee can lead to an increased risk of heart disease in some people. But for most of us "the health benefits outweigh the risks." Coffee drinkers are less likely than non-drinkers to develop diabetes and Parkinson's. Coffee is also high in antioxidants with anti-cancer properties. Research has shown a lower incidence of colon cancer among coffee drinkers. And one report concluded that coffee drinkers were 50 percent less likely to develop liver cancer. Other studies have linked coffee and tea with a reduced incidence of glioma, a form of brain cancer.
3. Cereal. High-fiber cereals like Raisin Bran, Grape-Nuts, and oatmeal are friendly to your digestive system and may reduce your risk of colon cancer. They can also help control weight, as they make you feel full and are slow to digest. And when Finnish researchers tracked more than 4,000 men and women over the course of 10 years, they found that people who ate the highest amount of cereal fiber were 61 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
4. Olive Oil. It's a simple switch: olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Olive oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol. It's rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases like Alzheimer's. Extra virgin oil has the most antioxidants. You can use it for cooking, as well as salad dressing and bread.
5. Tomatoes. Tomatoes are our best source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect against heart disease and osteoporosis. Lycopene can also reduce the risk of several cancers, including prostate, cervical, ovarian, stomach, colon, and rectal cancer. Tomatoes are high in fiber but naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, and calories. The beta-carotene in tomatoes (also found in carrots and sweet potatoes) protects skin against sun damage, helping to prevent wrinkles. Finally, tomatoes are high in bioflavonoids and carotenoids, anti-inflammatory agents that help control the pain associated with chronic inflammation.
6. Beef. Beef is the most available source of high-quality protein and the single best source of iron in our diets--and iron deficiency can cause anemia. Beef also packs plenty of zinc, which helps your memory, B vitamins, which help your body turn food into energy, and vitamin E, a powerful brain-boosting antioxidant. Almost half the fat in beef is the good kind of oleic acid. But it's still a good idea to focus on lean meat and avoid the artery clogging fat in cheaper hamburger patties and well-marbled cuts of steak.
7. Wine. Moderate amounts of alcohol can raise your good (HDL) cholesterol. And the non-alcoholic phytochemicals in wine, such as flavanoids and resveratrol, act as antioxidants and prevent molecules known as "free radicals" from causing cellular damage, potentially improving cardiovascular health and lowering your risk for coronary heart disease. In animal studies, resveratrol also inhibited the growth of cancerous tumors. However, wine can elevate triglyceride levels, associated with diabetes, so those with high triglycerides should avoid or dramatically limit alcohol consumption. Wine, especially red wine, can also trigger headaches in certain people. In any case, moderation is a must. The health benefits of alcohol are drowned out with too much consumption. But men can enjoy the benefits of drinking up to two 5-ounce glasses per day, and women one per day.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.