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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well

Smart food choices to make every day

Melissa Bess, former Nutrition and Health Education Specialist; With contributions from Jessica Kovarik, former Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension


The basis for a healthy eating plan should be fruits and vegetables; whole grains; low-fat or fat free milk products; lean meats, poultry, fish; and beans, lentils and other legumes. Within these categories are foods that stand out as superstars, containing many nutrients to enhance health and prevent disease. Build on them to make smart food choices every day.


  • Spinach. We all know that spinach makes Popeye stronger, probably because this dark green veggie is full of vital nutrients. Spinach provides us with vitamin K to help with blood clotting. It also contains vitamin A for healthy skin and vision, folate for red blood cell formation and proper cell division and iron for oxygen transport within the body. Spinach also contains some calcium, potassium (which can help lower blood pressure) and fiber. Add spinach to casseroles or lasagna, or make a side salad with spinach to enjoy with your meal.
  • Blueberries. This tasty fruit contains fiber and vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that aids in disease prevention, helps maintain bones and teeth and supports iron absorption. Blueberries contain antioxidants called anthocyanidins as well, which give the berries their blue-red color. These antioxidants appear to help neutralize damage to cells that can lead to many negative health conditions and diseases. Blueberries may also play a role in brain health. Buy frozen blueberries when they are not in season and add them to cereal, desserts or oatmeal.
  • Black beans. All beans can promote health, but black beans contain anthocyanidins — the same antioxidant found in blueberries. Black beans contain soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. Beans contain protein as well, making them a good substitute for other protein foods that may be high in fat. Beans are also low in calories, low in fat and inexpensive. Mix black beans with corn and salsa for an easy side dish that is delicious and nutritious.
  • Walnuts. These nuts contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other tree nuts or peanuts. Omega-3 fatty acids help boost cardiovascular health and decrease inflammation related to diseases, and may improve cognitive function, as well. Walnuts also have monounsaturated fat, a heart-healthy fat that can help lower blood cholesterol. Sprinkle on a salad or enjoy a handful as a snack.
  • Oats. A bowl of oatmeal is a great start to the day. Oatmeal provides soluble fiber, which can help lower blood cholesterol. This whole grain provides protein for muscle recovery and repair and contains some antioxidants, which may have cardiovascular benefits. Try adding oats to some of your recipes, including casseroles, meatloaf, muffins, breads and cookies.
  • Yogurt. Low-fat or fat-free yogurt can serve as a snack or a dessert. Yogurt has live cultures and good bacteria that may promote health, boost immunity and increase bone health. Some of the nutrients in yogurt include calcium and potassium, which are important for good bone health. Plus, yogurt contains protein, which helps you stay full longer. Top yogurt with blueberries and walnuts for a nutritious snack or breakfast. Yogurt can also serve as the base for creamy dips or dressings.
  • Tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes may not be available year-round, but processed tomato products, such as stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato juice, can be found any time of year. Their red color comes from lycopene, a beneficial phytochemical the body absorbs better from processed tomato products. Lycopene can help prevent prostate cancer and may improve bone health. Tomatoes also contain vitamins A and C, both of which are antioxidants. Add cherry tomatoes to a salad or eat them as a snack, or add a can of stewed tomatoes to chili.
  • Carrots. Bugs Bunny probably has great eyesight, thanks to the beta carotene that gives carrots their orange color. Beta carotene helps protect against some cancers and heart disease. This compound can also help protect your lungs, especially if you smoke. In addition, carrots contain vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber and potassium. Add carrots to soups and salads or enjoy as a side dish.


Try to add one or more of these foods to your healthy eating habits, and enjoy the many health benefits from these nutritional all-stars!


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Last update: Tuesday, August 01, 2017