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Foods: Which are the Best of the Best?

As much as we might hate to admit it, it looks like mom was right—we really are what we eat. Maybe even more than she realized.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know a diet full of fruits, veggies and whole grains can help us maintain a healthy weight and fight cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

It has taken research scientists, however, to figure out why. “Healthy foods can reverse damage done to the body—certain vitamins and antioxidants can help repair DNA after sun exposure, for example, or help remove oxidative stress that would otherwise cause disease in our bodies,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, nutritionist, America’s Eating Strategist and owner of Essential Nutrition For You.

Not only that, specific nutrients even have the power to turn off genes that cause diseases and may be able to activate other genes to protect against these illnesses. The key, of course, is not only making the healthiest food choices but having the knowledge to do so.

Case in point, even within an individual category of food there can be nutritional differences.

For example:

Apples

While all apples are good for you, some may be better than others. A 2009 study looked at 15 varieties of apples and found the Pendragon apple was the most nutritious in that it contained the highest amounts of seven out of eight phenols.

Other good choices out of those tested include Red Delicious which has the most antioxidants and Golden Delicious which have the most quercetin (a flavonoid that may reduce cancer and inflammation).

Tomatoes

All tomatoes offer lycopene, beta-carotene and vitamin C but some types have more of these nutrients than others.

If you’re looking for vitamin C, the Doublerich tomato (a medium-sized Heirloom variety) may contain up to twice as much of this vitamin as other tomatoes.

Researchers at Ohio State University believe Tangerine tomatoes may offer more health benefits like protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease due to having a different form of lycopene (tetra-cis-lycopene) that is more bioavailable.

A relatively new type of tomato that is purple has special plant pigments which have been shown to have more antioxidants than blueberries and blackberries. “Choose a tomato that is soft to the touch, juicy and vibrantly colored,” says Aynsley Kirshenbaum, MS, a fitness, nutrition and wellness coach.

“In general, the deeper the color the bigger the nutrient density.”

Grapes

Red grapes tend to provide more nutrients than white or green with the Muscadine variety having more than 43 times the resveratrol (an antioxidant that may help cognitive health and reduce the effects of aging) than that found in Pinot and Chardonnay grapes.

Yogurt

“Picking the right yogurt can be the difference between a sugar-laden dessert and a healthy, protein-packed breakfast,” says Ms. Batayneh.

The winner? Plain Greek yogurt with about twice as much protein as the regular type (and less carbs and sugars).

Plain regular yogurt is the runner-up while flavored kinds and/or fruit-on-the bottom varieties come in last with more likelihood of added sugars (in some cases up to 30 grams per serving!). Also, keep in mind plain yogurt (whether Greek or regular) doesn’t have to stay that way.

“You can mix in your own sweeteners such as jam, honey, fresh fruit or even a little sugar,” says Amanda Cook, health coach and creator of Vintage Savoir Faire. “It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll add less sugar than is included in a normal flavored yogurt.”

Pasta

In the old days the biggest choice in the pasta aisle was which shape of noodles to buy. Not anymore.

For people looking for fiber, try rye pasta with 8 grams per serving (rice and corn pasta have the least with only 1.8 grams). Kamut pasta has the most protein (10 grams) followed by soba and spelt noodles (8 grams each).

Ultimately healthy eating is all about making good selections. By keeping these suggestions in mind you can not only “eat right” but “eat smart” as well.

By Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, parenting and lifestyle topics. To learn more, visit her website at www.kristenestewart.com.