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9 delicious disease-fighting foods you should eat every week

Want to prevent chronic conditions before they occur? Treat yourself to powerhouse foods that can help you ward off illness so that your days (and years) are as healthy as possible.

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Dig into these statistics for a moment: About 6 in 10 American adults live with at least one chronic disease, and 4 in 10 have multiple chronic conditions.

But that doesn’t mean your future self is destined to join them. There’s a lot you can do to lower your risk, and your plate is a great place to start.

When you focus on eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you’re automatically helping yourself prevent a slew of common illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And eating well doesn’t have to be bland, boring, or even expensive.

“Foods that fight chronic diseases can be colorful and delicious,” says Carmen Roberts, a senior clinical dietitian at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.

And if the prices of whole grains, fresh fruit, and veggies are pushing your budget, head over to the frozen food aisle at your local market. Frozen produce was picked ripe and is just as full of nutrients as the fresh version — and it often costs less.

Besides trying to eat these foods as often as you can, keep in mind that your total diet counts too, says Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Yorktown, Virginia, and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.

“If you eat three or four superfoods regularly but the rest of your diet is poor, those superfoods will have only a small impact,” she says. “The biggest impact comes when you eat an abundance of health-boosting foods so the nutrients can interact with one another to fight disease.”

Here’s a list of nine delicious foods that you can add to your diet to help stop chronic conditions before they develop.

1. Salmon

Research suggests that salmon, along with other types of fatty fish, may protect the heart. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon help decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats and slow the progression of plaque in the arteries, says Weisenberger.

Salmon can also balance out the level of triglycerides in your bloodstream, she says. That’s a type of fat that could increase your risk of heart disease if its levels get too high.

Another bonus: “Fatty fish can also slow the progression of cognitive decline during aging,” Weisenberger says. In other words, it can strengthen your brain.

Need a little more variety in your seafood life? Trout, bluefish, herring, sardines, halibut, and tuna all have similar benefits.

2. Lentils

Because lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, they can serve as a substitute for red meat or processed meat, which have been linked to colon cancer and heart disease.

They can also lower high blood pressure, which is linked to stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease.

“Lentils give us blood pressure–friendly potassium and magnesium and tons of fiber, plus protein,” says Weisenberger.

And they won’t hurt your wallet either, since they don’t tend to cost a lot at the supermarket. If lentils don’t do it for you, swap in beans or peas (or both).

3. Spinach and other leafy greens

First: Spinach and other leafy greens are loaded with fiber, which by now you know is basically a wonder nutrient. It can help lower cholesterol and the risk of both type 2 diabetes and colon cancer (just to name a few).

But spinach and other leafy greens can also help your eyes.

They’re packed with beta-carotene, a pigment found in veggies that your body converts into vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

Spinach also has two specific antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, that can reduce your risk of chronic eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts, says Weisenberger.

And if you aren’t a fan of spinach, try kale. Put either veggie in a blender, along with some fresh fruit, to make a healthy green smoothie.

Spinach and kale can also be steamed into a side dish or blended into a veggie dip.

4. Black or green tea

An easy way to keep your heart healthy? Try unsweetened tea.

Black, green, and oolong teas all have nutrients like the ones in vegetables, says Weisenberger.

In this case, we’re talking about flavonoids. These plant-based chemicals help calm inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, cancer, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

But don’t be fooled by those bottled teas you find in the soda aisle at the supermarket. They have few, if any, of those fruit- and veggie-like compounds in them, so Weisenberger advises skipping them and brewing your own tea.

5. Oats

A great way to start off your day is with a bowl of oatmeal.

For one, oats contain an important, cholesterol-lowering type of fiber known as beta-glucan. “It is known to remove cholesterol from the digestive tract and help reduce insulin resistance,” says Weisenberger. (Insulin resistance is linked to diabetes.)

Why is insulin so important to your body? It’s the hormone that helps move sugar from your blood into your cells. If your body becomes less sensitive to it — meaning your cells become resistant to all that insulin — your blood sugar levels can rise, increasing your odds of diabetes.

If you want to get a little more out of your morning oatmeal, try topping it with fruit or making oatmeal muffins or oatmeal pancakes.

Barley also contains the same type of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Toss it into soups or use it as a base for a grain salad.

6. Blueberries

Who knew that such a tiny fruit could have such a huge impact on your body?

Blueberries (and other berries) are rich in antioxidants, which can help fight cancer by neutralizing compounds known as free radicals. When you have high levels of free radicals bouncing around in your body, it can damage your cells’ DNA.

In addition to eating a handful of fresh blueberries, you can use them as an ingredient in smoothies, stir them into yogurt, or bake them into muffins. Oatmeal blueberry muffins, anyone?

7. Pumpkin seeds

If the last time you saw pumpkin seeds was in the trash after carving a jack-o’-lantern, be sure to save them next time — or just pick up a bag at the store.

Pumpkin seeds contain plant compounds called lignans that have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer, stomach cancer.

Pumpkin seeds also have a high concentration of magnesium (a mineral), zinc (a nutrient), and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and high blood sugar.

Plus, they may help lower your cholesterol, says Roberts. This is thanks to substances called plant sterols, as well as those good-for-you omega-3s.

8. Eggs

Here’s some good news: Eating eggs is good for your health, says Weisenberger.

Why? For one, eggs are a great source of nutrition; they’re high in protein and vitamins B and D.

A diet high in healthy protein can help lower your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It also helps your body with everything from building bones and muscles to making enzymes that aid in digestion.

Vitamin B keeps your energy levels up, while vitamin D promotes bone health.

And the whole egg is good for you too—even the yolk, which is another good source of vision-saving lutein, Weisenberger says.

9. Winter squash

Hard-shelled winter squash varieties, such as butternut or acorn squash, may help lower your risk of cancer, says Roberts.

Like spinach, winter squash is full of beta-carotene, as well as antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which in addition to promoting eye health can reduce your cancer risk.

These veggies are also rich in potassium, which can counter the damaging effects of sodium on your blood pressure.

Plus, winter squash is super versatile. Try roasting cubes of it until they’re brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Or you could puree it into a hearty soup. Or, better yet, hollow one out, stuff it with brown rice (or another whole grain) and bake it.

Besides a healthy diet, you should also have a good health insurance plan. Search uhone.com to explore UnitedHealthcare branded options underwritten by Golden Rule Insurance Company.

This article contains information that is not compiled by UnitedHealthcare or any of its subsidiaries. UnitedHealthcare does not represent all the information provided are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.

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