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Eating a diet that is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables can change your mood, energy, and spirits. Fruits and vegetables greatly reduce your risk of certain diseases, and they are naturally low in calories and high in fiber, which is perfect for a healthy low-calorie diet. They are also convenient—prepared fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice, so they’re easy to bring when traveling. Here are some recommendations for the best fruits and veggies you can eat from nutrition whiz Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.
Basically a tasty little low-calorie bundle of nutrients put together in a beautiful, sun-colored package. What’s not to like? Two medium apricots have about 1 ½ g of fiber, 1,348 IUs of vitamin A, 766 IUs of beta-carotene, 181 mg of potassium, and, just for good measure, 13 mg of phytosterols, plant chemicals that have numerous health benefits. Apricots also contain beta-cryptoxanthinm a member of the carotenoid family that is a strong antioxidant and seems to reduce the risk of lung and colon cancer.
Relatively low in calories, cherries are loaded with anti-inflammatory, antiaging anticancer compounds that don’t show up on your average nutrition facts label. The cancer-fighting agents in cherries include a flavinoid called quercetinm as well as ellagic acid and perillyl alcohol. The secret to the benefits of cherry juice are compounds called anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give cherries their bright red color and are also believed to be the key to helping the body relieve inflammation. As an added bonus, these same anthocyanins may significantly reduce your risk for colon cancer, the third leading cancer in America.
Low in calories (44 per cup), high in fiber, and low in sugar. Studies show that the ruby red berries have some of the most potent antioxidants of any common fruits studied. They possess anticancer properties, inhibit the growth of common foodborne pathogens, and contain antibacterial properties to aid in the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs). This is accomplished by preventing bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. More recently it has been discovered that the same properties help reduce bacterial adhesions to teeth, thus reducing the formation of dental plaque. Recent studies have also revealed that compounds in cranberries stop certain disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the stomach lining, thus helping to prevent ulcers.
Besides potential weight loss, cholesterol lowering, and anticancer benefits (yes, it contains all those benefits), grapefruit is a good low-calorie source of potassium and vitamin C, not to mention some calcium, magnesium, 20 mg of phytosterols, and a gram or two of fiber. The red and pink varieties also have vitamin A, beta-carotene, and the cancer-fighting lycopene. In a controlled study it was found that drinking three 6-ounce glasses of grapefruit juice a day reduced the activity of a liver enzyme called CYP1A2 that is thought to activate cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke, making it a good food for smokers.
All melons are high-volume foods, meaning that for a given amount of weight, they contain a relatively high amount of water, fiber, and air (and a relatively low number of calories, making them perfect for any low-cal plan). Foods with high volume and low calories – that is, foods with a lot of water and fiber – are your best friend in a weight control program. Honeydew also makes an amazing juice. Like cantaloupe and watermelon, it can be combined with other melons and with sparkling water for a terrific summer cooler. Try adding some ginger and mint to the mix.
Peaches sure meet all the requirements of a healthy and low-calorie food. They have 1 ½ grams of fiber, small but measurable amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins C and K, plus not insignificant amounts of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and potassium. And peaches contain a little beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid with some anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They even have a smattering of lutein and zeaxanthin, the carotenoids now considered the superstars of eye nutrition. Not bad for a mere 38 calories per medium-sized fruit. And just for good measure, they have a low glycemic load – the impact a food has on your blood sugar.
Raspberries deserve a place of honor on the healthy foods list if for no other reason than the fact that they are a high-fiber powerhouse. For a measly 64 calories a cup, they provide – get this – 8 g of dietary fiber, making them calorie for calorie one of the most high-fiber foods on the planet. You’d have to eat more than 100 calories’ worth of black beans to get the same amount of fiber!
Like all berries, strawberries are a real health bonanza. A cup has only about 50 calories and delivers about 3 g of fiber. It has calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, plus a very nice dose of vitamin C (about 85 mg). Research shows that extracts from these berries (as well as blueberries) significantly decreased the growth of cervical and breast cancer cells. Compounds in strawberries may also protect your brain and memory.
Arugula is the uberfood of nutritional bargains: One cup contains…get ready…5 calories. For that you get some folate, vitamin A, and a surprisingly decent amount of the extremely eye-healthy carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Low in calories and high in nutrients, as one cup contains a whopping 404 mg of potassium, as well as 268 mcg of folate. It’s also high in vitamin K, and that one cup gives you a decent 3-6 g of fiber…all for a ridiculously low number of calories (40).
Might just be the lowest-calorie vegetable on the planet – one cup of the shredded vegetable has exactly 9 calories. You probably know it as an ingredient in wonton soupe, but despite that decidedly mundane use, it’s actually a real health food. It’s loaded with calcium, potassium, beta-carotene, and vitamin A. It’s a member of the brassica family, which means it contains indoles, compounds that have been shown to significantly lower the risk of cancer.
Low in calories and a well-kept secret as a snack food. They blend with everything. You can eat them raw like an apple, or slice them up and add to salads and stir-fries. The riper the pepper, the better its nutrition and the better its flavor.
We tend to think of pumpkins only at Thanksgiving and Halloween, but this is a really great, overlooked vegetable that is ridiculously low in calories while very high in potassium and vitamin A, not to mention the beta-carotene that is typically found in all orange foods. It’s actually a potassium heavyweight – for a measly 49 calories per cup of mashed pumpkin, it has a whopping 564 mg of potassium (about 33% more than a medium banana).
Calorie for calorie, green leafy vegetables like spinach provide more nutrients than almost any other food on the planet. It’s loaded with vitamins and is one of the best sources of vitamin K, an essential nutrient critically important for building strong bones. Spinach is also a fine source of calcium and is a great alternative to dairy for people who don’t want to drink milk. It’s also got vitamin A, manganese, folic acid, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin.