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Gotta-have foods for good health

Food provides energy for your body to function. Eating the right foods also can help ward off illnesses. The April 2005 issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter lists 10 gotta-have foods for good health.

Whole grains: Choose bread or cereal that has whole wheat, whole-wheat flour or other whole grains as the first ingredients on the label. Don't be fooled by the words "wheat bread" or "wheat flour." Look for the word "whole." Eating whole grains may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Fish: Nutritionists recommend that you aim for at least two 3-ounce cooked servings of fish a week. If possible, go for fish such as salmon and tuna. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may protect against heart disease.

Walnuts and almonds: Nuts are nutrient dense and naturally cholesterol free. Studies suggest that they may even help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol -- the "bad" cholesterol -- and reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Plant stanols or sterols: Margarine-like spreads such as Benecol and Take Control contain added plant stanols or sterols -- natural substances from plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol. When used as directed in place of other fats, they can decrease LDL up to 14 percent.

Soy: Regular soy in your diet may reduce your cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Try soy burgers or soy dogs instead of meat. Snack on soy yogurt or roasted soy nuts. Add soy powder to a shake made with fat-free ice cream.

Fat-free dairy products: Skim milk and fat-free cottage cheese, yogurt and cheese can contribute to preventing high blood pressure, stroke, colon cancer and obesity.

Berries: Berries are rich in antioxidants that may lower cancer and cardiovascular disease risk. Blueberries are especially high in antioxidants. Raspberries and strawberries aren't far behind.

Broccoli and cauliflower: These and other cruciferous vegetables -- cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale -- have naturally occurring phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of colorectal and other cancers. These vegetables contain fiber, have no cholesterol and are naturally low in fat and calories.

Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain nutrients that include vitamins C and B-complex as well as iron and potassium and the antioxidant lycopene. Studies indicate that lycopene may lower the risk of heart attack, prostate cancer and possibly other cancers, too.

Green tea: This is a major source of phytochemicals known as flavonoids, which may help lower the risk of some cancers and heart disease.

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