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Health & Nutrition

Eating a vegetarian diet creates an excellent foundation for a healthy life. Here, you'll learn how to get best nutrition and good health from the food you eat.

sea vegetables

If the term "sea vegetables" makes you think of the kelp that squishes between your toes at low tide, think again.

Sea vegetables are a rich source of iodine, a mineral crucial for healthy thyroid function. They also contain lignans, compounds that may help inhibit tumor growth and reduce breast cancer risk. Their replete stores of folic acid may assist in protecting blood vessel walls and keeping heart disease and stroke at bay.

Often mistaken for yams, though a very different vegetable, sweet potatoes can range from pale yellow to vivid orange to purple. The orange-hued varieties contain a stunning amount of beta-carotene. In the body, this antioxidant is converted to vitamin A, which plays a vital role in immune system, eye, and bone health. Sweet potatoes also provide healthful doses of fiber, blood pressure-lowering potassium, and vitamin B6, which may help reduce inflammation and cut colon cancer risk.

tomatoes

Even when fresh tomatoes are out of season, you can still load up on lycopene, the antioxidant that makes tomatoes red. In fact, a bit of heat exposure——like that involved in the canning process——helps break down tomatoes' cell walls and increases lycopene absorption. In one study, people who ate canned tomatoes absorbed as much as two-and-a-half times more lycopene than those who ate fresh. Eating foods high in lycopene may reduce risk of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers, as well as heart disease and macular degeneration.

Now recognized as the world's most nutritious grain, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for more than 5,000 years. As a whole grain, this seed-like South American fruit is unique. Quinoa has about twice the protein of other grains, fewer carbohydrates, and more healthful fats. It's also a complete protein: like meat, eggs, and dairy products, it contains all eight essential amino acids.

oats

Oatmeal is known as comfort food for a reason—actually for lots of reasons. And they all suggest that eating oats in some form every day is a smart idea. Besides being a great source of energy-giving protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and iron, this wholesome grain is celebrated for its capacity to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, a quality attributable to its soluble fiber. Oats' soluble fiber also promotes digestive health.

Soy
soy

Although sporadic reports have challenged the benefits of soy, the fact is, studies have consistently shown that this protein- and fiber-rich source of omega-3 fats and disease-fighting isoflavones promotes heart health and reduces the risk of cancers of the prostate and breast. In addition, phytoestrogens in this ancient Asian staple may counter natural estrogen's negative effects on women—such as formation of uterine fibroids—and lessen menopausal symptoms.

edamame

Nutritionally, few foods hold a candle to the sensational soybean in its purest form. A staple food in Japan, green soybeans are harvested before fully ripened for a nutty flavor and crisp texture. With more than 17 grams of protein and just 8 grams of fat per cup, edamame is a great source of plant-based protein to quell hunger and build lean body mass. Each serving is also replete with fiber, vitamins C and K, folate, magnesium, potassium, and energizing iron.

Made from dried ground cayenne chilies, cayenne pepper is one of the most readily available, easy-to-use sources of capsaicin, a healing substance that gives all peppers their fiery heat. The capsaicin in cayenne has the capacity to soothe a sore throat (even better than lozenges, which can dry tissues, increasing irritation). Cayenne also makes an excellent expectorant: a small taste releases fluids in the mouth, throat, and nasal passages that thin mucus, break up congestion, and flush out irritants, helping to stave off bacterial infections.

cinnamon

The spice that we know as cinnamon is actually Cinnamomum cassia, a darker, spicier, less-expensive cousin of true Ceylon cinnamon. Just 1/2 teaspoon a day of cassia has been found to regulate blood sugar levels, according to a study at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Md. The results may mean that cassia can be helpful in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

garlic

When a garlic clove is cut, the exposure to air releases 200 compounds with myriad medicinal abilities. One compound, allicin, is responsible for garlic's legendary antibacterial properties. Allicin also keeps fungus and yeast infections in check and significantly increases immunity to the common cold. More important, the stinking rose reduces risk for atherosclerosis, the cause of most heart attacks and strokes, and evidence suggests that it may impede hypertension and cancer.

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