Just one eight-ounce glass of skim or low-fat milk supplies one third of your daily requirement of calcium, which is vital to strong bones and teeth. A diet rich in calcium can cut your risk of hypertension, colon cancer, and breast cancer, as well as ease PMS. Milk is a valuable source of vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B12, says Doreen Chin Pratt, R.D., director of nutrition services at Women & Infants Hospital, in Providence. Drinking the white stuff also sends a healthy message to your kids: A recent study found that mothers who drink milk regularly have daughters who do the same--and who consume less nutrient-empty soda.
It's low-cal and loaded with vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, folate, and fiber--all of which can help reduce your risk of heart disease and certain kinds of cancers. Enjoy it raw or lightly steamed.
At about 100 calories each, bananas are a good source of fiber and vitamins B6 and C. They're also loaded with potassium--a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and is essential to muscle function. Eat one after a workout (when potassium levels are at their lowest), mix into smoothies, or add to your cereal for an all-day energy boost.
4. Orange juice
A stellar source of vitamin C (just one eight-ounce glass supplies 120 percent of your daily requirement), orange juice is also full of folate--which helps prevent birth defects and colon cancer--and potassium. Opt for the calcium-fortified kind to benefit your bones.
Tossing together a variety of greens (romaine and spinach are rich in vitamin A and folate, while iceberg has fiber), along with tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers, is the smartest way to sneak vegetables into your diet, explains Joan Salge Blake, R.D., a clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University. Studies have shown that getting at least three servings of veggies a day can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. (Just be sure to steer clear of high-calorie dressing)!
6. Peanut Butter
Don't feel guilty swiping part of your kid's sandwich. Peanut butter is chock full of protein, fiber, zinc, and vitamin E. It also contains mostly unsaturated fat, which lowers both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. "Peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread with a glass of skim milk is a perfect meal," says Therese Franzese, R.D., director of nutrition at Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex, in New York City. But don't go for the reduced-fat version. "The fat is replaced with sugar, so it has the same calories as the regular stuff," Franzese explains.
7. Sweet Potatoes
These spuds--which are available year-round--should be a staple in your diet, not simply a holiday treat. They're an excellent source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and cancer-fighting antioxidants such as beta-carotene.
This fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower LDL cholesterol levels. Eating salmon once or twice a week may also reduce your risk of heart disease and boost your immune system. In addition, a Finnish study found that people who ate fish more than once a week were less likely to be depressed than those who rarely ate it. "And if you're pregnant or nursing, the fatty acids in salmon help aid fetal and infant brain and nervous-system development," says Andrea Crivelli-Kovach, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pennsylvania.
9. Whole-Grain Cereal
One bowl of fortified cereal typically supplies ten or more vitamins and minerals, as well as complex carbohydrates (for energy), disease-fighting fiber, and phytochemicals--non-nutrient plant chemicals that help prevent disease. Choose cereals with at least five grams of fiber per bowl.
10. Lean Red Meat
Women, especially those who have given birth within the last two years, are at risk for low iron levels, which can lead to anemia. Red meat is an excellent source of iron that's easily absorbed by the body. Stick with lean cuts--anything with loin or round in the name--for their lower saturated-fat content, and eat no more than one two-ounce serving (about the size of your palm) each day.
A good source of bone-strengthening calcium (an eight-ounce carton contains about 35 percent of your daily requirement), low-fat or nonfat yogurt also supplies protein and potassium. Choose plain yogurt, since the flavored kinds are often high in sugar, and make sure the label says the brand contains "live and active cultures," since these bacteria have been shown to benefit your gastrointestinal tract and may help prevent yeast infections.
They're versatile and packed with the protein moms need to help build and repair weary muscles. Eggs are also a good source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Still, because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, moderation is key. "It's fine to have one a day," says Felicia Busch, R.D., author of The New Nutrition: From Antioxidants to Zucchini.
13. Vegetable Soup
You get a slew of vitamins and minerals when you eat soup loaded with veggies such as carrots, potatoes, and onions. Even better, because it's mostly water (and also contains fiber), soup will fill you up on relatively few calories.
14. Tomato sauce
Loaded with lycopene, it's a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help keep arteries clear and reduce your risk of heart disease. Most jarred sauces also contain fiber and vitamins A and C. Be sure to heat it up in a cast-iron pot: The acidic sauce will leach small amounts of iron from the pot, giving you an iron boost.
Canned or dried varieties, such as kidney, black, garbanzo, and navy beans, are a low-fat source of protein, iron, and soluble fiber, which can help lower your blood-cholesterol level. "You'll make any meal healthier--from soups and stews to salads and pasta dishes--by adding a can of beans to it," Blake says. However, since canned beans can be high in sodium, rinse them well in cold water or buy the no-salt kind.
Copyright © 2003 Deborah Baer. Reprinted with permission from the June 2003 issue of Parents magazine.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.