Here are some of the most healthy foods in the world.

WILD SALMON

High in protein and a health-promoting fat, the omega-3 essential fatty acids. Wild-caught cold-water fish, like salmon, are higher in omega-3 fatty acids than warm-water fish. And salmon's an excellent source of the B vitamins, B-12 and niacin, and the trace mineral selenium.


The omega-3 fats found in salmon help improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol. A four-ounce serving of salmon contains 33.6 percent of the daily value for omega-3 fatty acids.


Salmon may also be a "good mood" food. The brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to function properly. Many studies suggest a connection between increased rates of depression and bi-polar disorders and decreased omega-3 consumption. A recent Purdue University study showed that kids low in omega-3 essential fatty acids are significantly more likely to be hyperactive, have learning disorders, and to display behavioral problems. A study in Europe of 3,581 young urban adults found less hostility in those who consumed more fish rich in omega-3s. Other studies have linked omega-3 fish consumption to lowered risk of Alzheimer's disease.


Farmed salmon is cheaper and available fresh year-round, but environmental groups complain that the risk of disease and contamination is higher. Also, the fish must be fed an additive (approved by the FDA) to give it a rich, rosy color. If the restaurant calls it "Atlantic" or "Norwegian," it's most likely farmed. Alaskan salmon is caught wild, as fish farming is banned there.


"I encourage people to have a deep-water fish a couple of times a week," says Askew, who also touts albacore and blue-fin tuna, halibut and swordfish along with salmon as great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The fish all "prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure and triglycerides and cholesterol," he says.


Sources: World's Healthiest Foods Web site, whfoods.com; USDA Nutrient Database; "The Nutrition Bible" by Jean Anderson and Barbara Deskins; previous articles written by Valerie Phillips and Lois M. Collins; American Dietetic Association; The LDS Hospital Fitness Institute; U. Nutrition Division; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adapted from a 2004 article by Valerie Phillips and Lois M. Collins.

OLIVE OIL

In the past few years, the public has learned that olive oil is more heart-healthy than many other types of fats, because it's monounsaturated (as opposed to saturated fat, such as butter and oils, which are polyunsaturated). In addition, olive oil contains a wide range of antioxidants that help ward off diseases by inhibiting oxidation in the body's cells and tissues. In the culinary world, antioxidants help prevent food from becoming rancid or discolored. In the body, antioxidants are thought to help prevent cancer and heart disease.


"We should use it in more of our preparations," says Askew. "We need oil to cook, and it's very healthful. It has calories but is not atherogenic (heart-disease forming)."


"Olive oil is super because it increases the good cholesterol and decreases the bad," Lamb says. "Use it in place of margarine. Use it with balsamic vinegar and dunk bread in that. It's the oil of preference for the base of salad oil and dressing."


If the oil is extra-virgin (processed without using heat), you're adding more antioxidants.


Askew warns it will go rancid if it's not kept cool.

LEAN BEEF

A 3-ounce serving of lean beef (the size of a deck of cards, not one of those monster steaks!) contributes less than 10 percent of calories to a 2,000-calorie diet but supplies a lot of your daily value for nutrients: protein, 50 percent; zinc, 39 percent; vitamin B-12, 37 percent; selenium, 24 percent; phosphorous, 20 percent; niacin, 18 percent; vitamin B-6, 16 percent; riboflavin, 12 percent; and iron, 14 percent. Beef has heme iron, the most easily absorbed contained in food.


And if you don't like beef, try lean pork or turkey, says Askew. "Lean beef is fine. Lean pork and turkey breast all fall in the same category of high-protein, nutrient-loaded food that's not particularly high in fat."


Lamb says people need protein in their diet, though not a lot of saturated fat with it. She suggests reducing fat on any meat, not just beef. Take the skin off chicken. Trim fat before you cook beef or pork. If you grill and you're worried about the meat drying out or sticking, put olive oil on it, which "adds the fat back to it, but it's good fat."

BROCCOLI

Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains phytochemicals — sulforaphane and the indoles — with significant anti-cancer effects.


Broccoli (as well as other leafy green vegetables) contains powerful phytochemical antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are concentrated in large quantities in the lens of the eye. When 36,000 men in a health professionals study were monitored, those who ate broccoli more than twice a week had a 23 percent lower risk of cataracts compared to men who ate it less than once a month.


One cup of raw broccoli contains 34 grams of calcium, plus 66 mg of vitamin C, which improves calcium's absorption. You're also getting a hefty dose of beta-carotene, and a little zinc and selenium. A cup of broccoli supplies 50.41 mg of folic acid.


"Broccoli's great," Lamb says. "You can wash it and chop it and toss a few sprigs into salads to add an extra crunch or put in on a baked potato."

SPINACH

Popeye's favorite food contains at least 13 different antioxidants and anti-cancer flavonoids. A serving of fresh spinach leaves also contains nearly twice as much of the daily value for vitamin K, which helps calcium build strong bones. It's high in vitamins C and A, which reduce free radicals in the body. Spinach is an excellent source of folate, which, when eaten by pregnant women, helps prevent neural-tube birth defects. It's also a good source of magnesium, which helps lower high blood pressure, and riboflavin. These two nutrients may help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Spinach is a good source of iron.


In animal studies, researchers have found that spinach may help protect the brain from age-related declines. Researchers found that feeding aging rats spinach-rich diets significantly improved both their learning capacity and motor skills.


Askew prefers kale but says more people probably like the milder flavor of spinach. He calls both a "kind of anticancer food that's good for the cardiovascular system, and good for the colon because of fiber. It's also high in nutrients that are useful to the eye."

YOGURT

Yogurt serves up even more calcium per cup than skim milk and a huge share of phosphorus, vitamin D, iodine (essential for thyroid function) and vitamin B-12 and riboflavin, needed for cardiovascular health and energy production. You'll also get biotin and pantothenic acid, two other B vitamins important for energy production; vitamin A, a critical nutrient for immune function; potassium and magnesium, for cardiovascular health; selenium, a cancer-preventive trace mineral; and thiamin, a B-vitamin important for cognitive function, especially memory.


Lamb says the calcium found in yogurt and low-fat dairy products is an important weight-loss tool as well.


In a prospective study published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, eating calcium-rich foods was negatively correlated with body fat in children. Researchers at the University of Tennessee assessed the height, weight and dietary intake of 52 children (27 girls and 25 boys), starting when the children were 2 months of age and following them for 8 years. Those who had more calcium and polyunsaturated fats in their diets had a lower percent of body fat, while eating more saturated fats and being sedentary appeared to raise the kids' body fat percentage.


Calcium reduces the risk of high blood pressure in both men and women.


Yogurt that contains live active Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures (used in the fermenting process) may lower the incidence of vaginal yeast infections. But many yogurts are heat-treated after culturing, so check the label for "active yogurt cultures."


Active cultures also help people who are lactose-intolerant digest dairy products, Lamb says.


And they promote intestinal flora and strengthen the immune system, Askew says. People who used to not like yogurt should look again. "Now there's a yogurt out there for just about everybody."

SOY NUTS

Carb-counters who love chips, crackers and other crunchy munchies would do well to switch to soy nuts, which are higher in protein and lower in fat. They also have less fat and calories than regular nuts, with just 5 grams of net carbs per serving. A 1/3-cup serving provides 20 percent of the daily value of protein, and 6 percent of the daily value for iron, with 140 calories. Half of those calories are fat, but only one gram is saturated. Consider that an ounce of almonds is 178 calories, with 144 calories fat. Soy nuts provide 6 percent of the adult daily value for iron, and lesser amounts of calcium, and vitamins A and C.


In general, Asian cultures have lower rates of heart disease, prostate and breast cancer than Americans, and speculation is that their high use of soy makes a difference. Soy contains isoflavones, called phyto-estrogens. Studies have shown that women who eat soy during their youth have a decreased risk for breast cancer later in life. But, in animal studies, researchers have found that in the presence of tumors, the cancer cells reproduced when soy isoflavones were consumed. So if you've had breast cancer or are at high risk for it, it may not be a good idea to include a large amount of soy in your diet.


More than 2,000 scientific papers were published in the past decade on the link between soy and cancer, but confusion remains. Still, the overall consensus is that the benefits of soy far outweigh the risks. To get the heart-healthy benefits of soy, 25 grams of soy protein per day is a safe amount, says the Food and Drug Administration. A 1/3-cup serving of soy nuts is 30 grams. Look on the label for non-genetically modified soybeans.


Lamb likes soy in many forms, but says the nuts are easy to pack around for a snack.

BERRIES
Photo by Kristan Jacobsen

When our ancestors roamed the wilderness, surviving on nuts and berries, they weren't thinking of a healthful diet, but that's what they had. Modern-day science has identified folic acid, vitamins A and C, minerals, fiber and antioxidants — found in berries — as chemicals that sop up cancer-causing molecules called free radicals.


A research team at Ohio State University cancer center gave rats with colon cancer the human equivalent of four cups of fresh black raspberries a day, while others didn't get any. The berry-eating animals had 80 percent fewer tumors than those with no berries. (Unfortunately, fresh black raspberries, which are actually a dark purple, aren't widely available in local supermarkets.)



Red raspberries and strawberries are rich sources of ellagic acid, which also inhibits the growth of cancer cells. A study at the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, S.C., indicated that consumption of 1 cup of red raspberries daily slowed the growth of abnormal colon cells and prevented development of cells that cause cervical cancer and leukemia.


When the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested fruits for antioxidant properties, blueberries came out on top, Askew says. And that's just the beginning. In a study at Tufts University, published in the Journal of Neuroscience in September 1999, rats that consumed an extract of blueberries, strawberries or spinach every day all showed improvements in short-term memory, but only the blueberry extract improved balance and coordination.


Blueberries are nicknamed the "vision fruit" in Japan, probably because anthocyanins — the antioxidant pigment that gives the fruit its deep color — may help protect against macular degeneration. Blueberries neutralize free-radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer.


Extracts of bilberry (a variety of blueberry) have been shown to improve nighttime visual acuity and promote quicker adjustment to darkness and faster restoration of visual acuity after exposure to glare. British Air Force pilots during World War II regularly ate bilberry preserves before their night missions.


Because blueberries are more expensive than some fruits, Lamb recommends buying them on sale and freezing them. That's also a good idea because they have a short shelf life, she says. She blends them with yogurt and sprinkles wheat germ or nuts on top for a healthful treat.

BELL PEPPERS
Sarah A. Miller, Deseret News

Whether green, red, orange or yellow, bells are rich sources of vitamin C and beta-carotene, two powerful antioxidants. Peppers also contain vitamin B-6, folic acid and fiber. Red peppers contain lycopene, the same carotenoid in tomatoes and watermelon that has been linked with preventing cancers of the prostate, cervix, bladder and pancreas.


Bell peppers appear to have a protective effect against cataracts, possibly due to vitamin C and beta-carotene. Italian researchers compared the diets of 207 hospital patients who had cataracts removed with 706 patients who did not need the surgery. Certain vegetables, including sweet peppers, reduced the cataract operation risk, and the researchers concluded these vegetables provided significant protection.


Red bell peppers also supply the phyto-nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to protect against macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in the elderly.

TOMATOES
Courtesy Bonnie Plants via Newport News Daily Press

These flavorful staples in Italian cuisine have gained attention in recent years due to lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that has cancer-preventing properties. Studies have shown that it reduces the risk of prostate and other cancers.


One of the best things about tomatoes, says Wayne Askew, professor and director of the Division of Nutrition in the University of Utah College of Health, is that they're so versatile. "There are lots of forms you can eat tomatoes in," including cooked or canned, in spaghetti sauce, salsas, etc. Lycopene appears to be better absorbed by the body in this form, according to an American Dietetic Association report.


Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and A. These antioxidants travel through the body, neutralizing free radicals that could damage cells and cell membranes. They're also a good source of fiber, help lower cholesterol and help prevent colon cancer. You can count on tomatoes for vitamin K, riboflavin, chromium, potassium, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate and biotin, a B-vitamin used in metabolizing both sugar and fat.


Sources: World's Healthiest Foods Web site, whfoods.com; USDA Nutrient Database; "The Nutrition Bible" by Jean Anderson and Barbara Deskins; previous articles written by Valerie Phillips and Lois M. Collins; American Dietetic Association; The LDS Hospital Fitness Institute; U. Nutrition Division; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adapted from a 2004 article by Valerie Phillips and Lois M. Collins.