Try this lineup of nutrition all-stars

Staff - theglobeandmail.com - 02/23/2012
Food Knowledge

If you're like most people, you probably eat the same foods day after day -- cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and something sweet after dinner. That's not necessarily unhealthy. But some foods pack a stronger nutritional punch than others.

The following nutrition superstars are brimming with nutrients and give your body more energy for fewer calories -- just what an active lifestyle demands.

And here's the bonus -- they're easy to add to your meals.

Best green vegetable: kale

Eating kale may preserve your eyesight. That's because it's an excellent source of lutein, a natural chemical linked with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

King of the greens (along with broccoli, spinach and Swiss chard), kale is a leafy green available year-round in the supermarket. One cup of cooked kale packs calcium, beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, potassium and fibre -- all for only 36 calories!

Steam or stir-fry kale with other vegetables, or throw chopped kale into soup and simmer. Kale shrinks during cooking; three cups raw gives you one cup cooked.

Best protein: fish

High in protein and low in saturated fat, fish offers celebrated omega-3 fats that can help prevent heart attack. To get the most bang for your buck, reach for salmon, trout, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Not all fish are safe to eat. Pregnant women, women in their childbearing years and children under the age of 15 should not eat fish high in the neurotoxin mercury (swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and fresh and frozen tuna) more than once a month. Other people should limit their consumption to no more than once a week.

Best cereal grain: oatmeal

This stick-to-your-ribs whole grain is rich in soluble fibre, the type that helps lower cholesterol and keeps you feeling full longer. Adding oatmeal to your morning meal may also help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by preventing large rises in blood sugar.

A bowl of whole grain oatmeal also serves up a fair amount of magnesium and potassium, two minerals that help keep blood pressure in check.

Start your morning with one to 1.5 cups of cooked large-flake or steel-cut oatmeal. If you like the convenience of instant oatmeal, choose regular (unflavoured) -- you'll slash roughly three teaspoons of refined sugar. To boost sweetness (and fibre) add your own fresh or dried fruit instead.

Best starch: sweet potato

This bright orange root vegetable is definitely a nutritional powerhouse. Just one-half cup of cooked sweet potatoes provides almost one-third your daily vitamin C and more than four times your vitamin A. Not to mention a fair amount of potassium and fibre.

Replace white potato or rice with a side of sweet potato fries -- peel a sweet potato, cut it into wedges and bake until golden brown. Or enjoy sweet potatoes mashed with a dash of orange juice and cinnamon.

Best fruit: blueberries

These bite-sized fruits boast more than sweet taste. They get their dark colour from anthocyanins, potent cancer-fighting antioxidants. Blueberries also deliver hefty doses of vitamins A, C and E, potassium, magnesium, calcium and fibre, with zero fat.

Research suggests that eating one cup of blueberries each day may keep your brain healthy. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of blueberries may protect brain cells from damage caused by free radicals. The chemicals in blueberries may also influence the way brain cells communicate.

Buy them fresh, frozen (unsweetened) or dried. Add them to breakfast cereal, smoothies, fruit crumbles, muffin and pancake batters, or enjoy them on their own.

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