It's time to start eating better

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After the holidays, it's time to get back on track for a healthy body by eating for optimal health.

Here are several nutritional foods to add to your shopping list and reserve a permanent place on your grocery list. Remember, variety is the key! Eating a variety of foods is the best way to be sure you are obtaining all of the nutritional and health benefits available from foods.

Broccoli: Broccoli is rich in the antioxidant beta carotene that your body converts into vitamin A. Just one stalk provides more than twice the daily requirement of vitamin C, and it's also high in fiber, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Broccoli also contains powerful cancer fighting compounds.

Green Leafy Vegetables: These nutritional powerhouses have a lot to offer - vitamin C, vitamin K, beta carotene, folate, fiber, potassium and magnesium. Some green leafies, such as kale, bok choy, collards, turnip and mustard greens, are good sources of calcium. Beet greens, including collards, mustard and turnip greens, are a good source of potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Potassium counteracts the effect of sodium on blood pressure. Remember, too much sodium causes the blood pressure to rise. Dark green leafy vegetables are naturally high in potassium and low in sodium.

Oranges: An orange provides all the vitamin C you need in a day along with potassium, folate and a healthful dose of soluble fiber. Oranges have other benefits, too - they contain cancer fighting flavonoids and terpenes.

Tomato Sauce: Studies have found an association between eating cooked tomato products, (tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, pizza) and a reduced risk for some cancers - especially prostate, lung and stomach cancer. The phytochemical lycopene, which is more readily absorbed after cooking, is believed to be the reason. Tomato sauce also helps aid iron absorption. Choose no-salt added varieties.

Dried Beans: Legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils) are one of the best buys at the store. High in fiber and low in fats, beans are rich in minerals and B vitamins (including folate) and are an inexpensive source of protein. The soluble fiber content of beans helps keep blood glucose levels steady and also helps lower cholesterol levels. Everyone can benefit from eating legumes, but diabetics have especially good reasons to. Enjoy beans on a regular basis, canned or dried. Add to soups, salads, pasta, chili or casseroles.

Soy: Soy is a great source of high quality protein. Soy has so much to offer that researchers are examining soy foods for a wide array of possible health benefits. Tofu and soy milk are two of the more popular forms of soy.

Salmon, Sardines and Tuna: Just one or two servings a week of these cold-water fish help protect the heart and reduce the risk of sudden death from an acute heart attack. Omega-3 fatty acids found in these fish may provide other benefits as well. Sardines and salmon canned with edible small bones are also good sources of calcium. Choose water-packed varieties that are low in sodium.

Skim Milk: Skim milk is an excellent source of calcium and high-quality protein without saturated fat.

Nuts: Nuts are loaded with nutrients - trace minerals, beneficial phytochemicals, fiber, protein, folate and vitamin E. Just don't overdo it - an ounce a day is plenty, and some studies indicate that even one serving a week can be beneficial.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and controls blood glucose levels. Select the economical large containers of old fashioned or quick oats, and add your own fruits. Flavored oatmeal is often high in sugar and salt.

Here is a healthy recipe that is very good to try, but a little more information on fiber. Fiber is the part of the plant that humans can't digest. Breads, cereals and dried peas and beans are the richest sources of fiber, also vegetables and fruits, especially their skins, provide fiber. The way food is prepared can affect the amount of fiber it contains. For instance, an unpeeled apple has more fiber than either a peeled apple or applesauce. Apple juice has even less fiber.

You see fiber supplements for sale in the stores. Foods, not supplements, are the best sources of fiber. That's because foods contain several types of fiber, and each type works a little differently in the body. Also, foods contain nutrients that the body needs. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol. It also slows down digestion so that the body can absorb more nutrients and better control blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber helps you get rid of waste and keeps the body regular.