All foods are not created equal—they are different in calories, flavours, colours, texture and importantly, nutrients. This year I would recommend that you look to add tomatoes, broccoli, oats, mushrooms and beet to your meal plans regularly. These items stand out because their regular intake helps prevent some or the other serious disease such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. All these foods are rich in antioxidants and neutralize the free radicals that create disease states in the body (free radicals are unstable, volatile molecules that lack oxygen); they are nutrient-dense and not calorie-dense. In other words, all these foods provide more nutrition per bite at fewer calories, are important for well-being and are anti-ageing.
One large raw tomato has just about 25 calories. Tomatoes are good for skin and eyes, help build the body’s immunity and increase overall energy because they are rich in vitamins C and A and provide 7% of the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of iron for women. The red pigment is the antioxidant lycopene, which inhibits the growth of lung, breast and endometrial cancers. About 10 servings (one medium-sized tomato per serving) of tomatoes a week can lower the risk of developing prostate cancer; seven servings per week of raw tomatoes lowers the risk of rectal and stomach cancers. Pick tomatoes that have the most brilliant shades of red to get more lycopene. Cooking with olive oil releases more of the lycopene that is located in the cell walls.
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Bring on the broccoli
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin C, beta carotene (also found in carrots) and potassium which benefits hair, skin and immune function. The high folate content in broccoli can help foetal health by preventing spinal bifida, a congenital defect that causes malformation of the vertebrae. The potassium it contains prevents high blood pressure and the calcium helps prevent osteoporosis. Broccoli also improves digestion and lowers cholesterol because it is high in fibre.
The antioxidants sulphorane and indole-3-carbinol collectively help increase the levels of enzymes that block breast and prostate cancer.
Regular intake of 100g of broccoli, cooked with a little oil, five times a week gives just 25 calories, and can help prevent Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and ageing.
Half a cup of cooked oats have only about 80 calories. Just half a cup of oats provides tremendous health benefits for the heart because it contains both soluble and insoluble fibres. Soluble fibres, those that dissolve in water, give oats their sticky consistency, and they in turn trap and destroy excessive cholesterol in the body by getting it out of the circulation via the liver. Being soluble, they also slow down digestion time, balance blood sugar and therefore prevent diabetes. Oats are also rich in zinc and the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium.
Mushrooms, extremely low in calories, are a weight-watcher’s delight. Half a cup of raw mushrooms have just about 9 calories and cooked will have about 21 calories. This is because 80–90% of a mushroom is water. A daily intake of 200g of mushrooms five times a week can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke because mushrooms are packed with potassium. Mushrooms neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals because of riboflavin, niacin (B Complex vitamins) and are a rich source of selenium. Selenium works with vitamin E to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Down beet street
Beets contain substantial amounts of vitamin B complex to improve the health of hair, skin, nails and lip pallor. Betaine, a vital nutrient in beetroot, neutralizes the effect of homocystiene, a potent neurotoxin that hardens arteries. A small glass of beetroot juice daily can effectively lower blood pressure, improve the health of nerves, memory, liver function, and promote healthy tissue growth for pregnant women.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com