30 Foods That Will Save Your Life

Triathletes tend to watch what they eat, but with a little thought, you can seriously improve your chances of staying healthy, fit and strong


Posted: 18 November 2009

Cancer killers

It's estimated that one in three of us will develop cancer at some point. Exercise is, of course, very important in maintaining good health, but you can also do some more work in the kitchen to keep you fit and strong. By making some simple healthy adjustments to your diet, you can reduce your risk of developing cancer. These are the foods you should be sure to have in your cupboard and fridge.

1. Avocado

Replace mayonnaise with a spread of ripe avocado to moisten dry sandwiches. Not only do avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats but researchers at Ohio State University discovered that their phytochemicals can help prevent mouth cancer.

2. Garlic

The pungent bulb is an enemy of cancer. But don't throw it straight in the frying pan. "The cancer-fighting enzyme - allinase - develops more fully if it's allowed to sit for 10 minutes after chopping," says nutritionist Rita Fonseca Silva.   Replace mayonnaise with a spread of ripe avocado to moisten dry sandwiches. Not only do avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats but researchers at Ohio State University discovered that their phytochemicals can help prevent mouth cancer.

3. Capers

When scientists at the University of Palermo, added capers to meat and simulated the digestive process they found the capers helped prevent the formation of DNA-harming compounds.

4. Tofu

Use tofu to make mousse. Studies in Japan found its plant hormones can protect men against prostate cancer. "Purée the silken variety until it's smooth, and add melted chocolate," says dietician Ellie Krieger, author of The Food You Crave (Taunton Press).

5. Ricotta cheese and honey

Make a healthy dessert by mixing ricotta and honey. Ricotta is made of whey and contains cysteine, which helps produce cancer-fighting antioxidants.

6. Breadcrumbs

"Cut the fat in the topping on your pasta bake by replacing half the cheese with wholemeal breadcrumbs," suggests nutritionist Carina Norris. "This mimics the crispy texture of baked cheese, and adds fibre, which reduces your risk of a variety of cancers."

7. Lemon

Its zest contains D-limonene, which can guard against skin cancer. A study from Arizona University says
a weekly tablespoon of the stuff can reduce your risk of skin cancer by up to 30 per cent.

8. Organic ketchup

The Agricultural Research Service in California found  that organic ketchup contains up to three times more cancer-fighting lycopene than non-organic brands. The researchers advised choosing darker ketchup to ensure maximum lycopene benefit.

9. Extra-virgin olive oil

"Light olive oils have less flavour and fewer cancer-fighting antioxidants," says Elena Paravantes of the Hellenic Dietetic Association. "Extra virgin has a peppery, slightly bitter taste."

Belly busters

Triathletes know that watching the weight is a priority. These foods will fill you up for longer on smaller portions. Being too heavy increases the chances of cancer and strokes, and is a major cause of liver disease, impotence and infertility. You probably knew that but it's nice to be reminded once in a while.

10. Parmesan

Grate hard, strong cheeses, such as Parmesan, on your salad for added protein. "The key here is to add protein to all of your meals, which fills you up faster and helps you burn more calories throughout the day,"
says nutritionist Milton Stokes. Just don't bite off the stuff in chunks. It's not a Yorkie.

11. Buttermilk

The University of Surrey has confirmed that if food looks good it tastes good, too. Krieger suggests "making mashed potatoes with buttermilk, which is comparable in calories to low-fat milk", but then putting a small knob of butter on top as food for the eyes.

12. Cornflour

Stir a little cornflour into your soups and the starch will instantly thicken watery affairs into hearty, healthy broths. As a bonus, cornflour contains an antioxidant called zeaxanthin, which helps preserve good vision.

13. Soba noodles

Replace traditional pasta with Japanese soba noodles. Made from buckwheat, they take more time to digest, so they keep you feeling satisfied longer. Plus, one serving of soba gives you twice as much fibre, protein and iron as normal spaghetti.

14. Blue corn tortillas

Use blue corn tortillas the next time you have fajitas and you'll feel fuller for longer. Researchers in Mexico and Venezuela found that blue corn tortillas have a lower glycaemic index than the white variety. They also have more protein and less starch.

Hard hearted

Reducing the fat in your diet can lower your cholesterol by 29 per cent, according to the University of Toronto. And upping your intake of fruit and veg was found by the Harvard School of Public Health to reduce the chance of a heart attack by nearly a third. And cut back on the salt to keep your blood pressure in check.

15. Low-sodium soy sauce

Sushi is a good, low-fat source of lean protein, but the soy sauce it begs to be dunked in is packed with salt. Go for low-sodium soy sauce to reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure, which has been linked to diabetes and heart disease.

16. Filo pastry

"For huge fat and calorie savings, use filo pastry on your pies instead of short crust or puff pastry," says Norris. Switching to filo saves you 110kcal and 10g of fat per serving, reducing its effect on your blood pressure and cholesterol.

17. Chilli peppers

They add heat to a meal, but they also pack a powerful punch when it comes to good health. They're high in Vitamin A and contain capsaicin, which battles inflammation.

18. Homemade burger

"Pack your homemade burgers with olives, mushrooms or any vegetables you like," says Krieger. This makes a small serving of meat look and feel like a proper slab of flesh. "The vegetable stuffing adds healthy nutrients," says Krieger, "while cutting down on the amount of animal fat involved in a satisfying homemade burger."

19. Brown pittas

Add extra vegetables to your lunch box by packing in a wholemeal pitta rather than bread. Pittas let you stuff in more nutritious fillings and a Harvard University study found that for every serving of vegetables you add to your daily diet, you decrease your risk of heart disease.

20. Low-fat yoghurt

"Replace the coconut milk in your curries with low-fat yoghurt," says Willin Low of Singapore restaurant Wild Rocket. "You get the taste without the fat from the coconut."

21. Feta cheese

Use softer cheeses, such as feta, on sandwiches because they're about a third lower in fat than the harder kinds. When you decide you definitely need the full-fat fellas, go for stronger stinkers - you'll get the same taste from less.

22. Kidney beans

Beans such as cannellini and kidney are a quick way to add protein and fibre to your diet, but the canned kind can also spike your daily salt intake. Rinsing them for three minutes will shed about 30 per cent of the sodium.

23. Red lentils

To make a low-fat lasagne, use half the amount of mince and make up the difference with red lentils. "They're fat-free and high in fibre, which makes them more filling," explains Norris. The little pulses will also soak up the meaty flavours.

24. Dark chocolate

Give your cooking a decadent touch by shaving dark chocolate into savoury dishes like chilli. It creates a rich flavour and adds flavonoids and polyphenols, both of which help lower your risk of heart disease and keep your cholesterol under control.

System check

Your body needs basic fuels to make it perform the simplest actions, such as standing up, and challenging activities, such as, well, triathlons. But it also needs nutrients to keep it in the best shape possible. So you need to be eating good food, not any food. The right amounts of vitamins and minerals will help keep you fit, fast and strong, and help protect you from disease.

25. Oregano

One tablespoon of fresh oregano contains the same amount of antioxidants as a medium-sized apple, according to researchers at the US Department of Agriculture's Research Centre. Other herbs are also rich in antioxidants, so get chopping.

26. Button mushrooms

White button mushrooms ward off viruses by boosting your immune system, says a study from Tufts University in Boston. Their potent antioxidants also combat cancer, according to a study in China. And the humble button mushroom has the same antioxidant properties as some of its exotic cousins.

27. Fresh mint

Next time you're fashioning a regulation sandwich to put in your lunch box for work, add some mint leaves to the mix. "Mint packs a huge punch of taste that will pep up basic, bland foods," says Krieger. "Plus it significantly boosts your daily vitamin A intake."

28. Baby spinach

When you're reheating curry or pasta sauce, stir in a couple of handfuls of baby spinach or other leafy greens just before serving. The heat will wilt the leaves but they'll retain their nutrients. "This is a great use for those greens in your fridge that are just past their sell-by date," suggests Norris.

29. Semi-skimmed milk

You've admirably resisted the Coco Pops in favour of a cereal with nutrients, but that doesn't mean you're actually getting all the good stuff. Up to 40 per cent of the vitamins in cereal dissolve into that milk. So drink up like it's closing time.

30. Parsley

Add a handful of fresh parsley to almost any dish you're cooking. It goes well with most savoury foods, and 30g (a handful) contains nearly 70 per cent of the vitamin C, 50 per cent of the vitamin A and 10 per cent of the iron you need every day.


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