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During the holidays of each year, we typically hear a great deal about what not to eat. Regardless of the season, many of us have come to equate good nutrition with eating less. Today's nutrition experts, however, are increasingly sending a different message: eat more, but eat more of the right things.

Why? Because attempting to restrict your daily diet too rigidly can mean eating an inadequate variety of foods, resulting in an insufficient caloric or nutrient intake. Less consumption may even cause a backlash: defiant overeating of high-fat and sugary food choices. Fortifying your diet with health conscious choices can have the opposite effect, notably reducing your interest in empty calories by filling you up and fully satisfying your nutritional needs. 

Add Function to Your Food

Adding specific items to your diet also means that "functional foods" (also called "nutraceuticals" or "designer foods") can provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, such as prevention against heart disease and cancer. Nutrition consultant Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, LD, noted that functional foods can be plant- or animal-based or engineered in a laboratory setting. In fact, growth opportunities for functional foods is so great that universities and food companies have begun developing centers devoted to their study.

Already, the functional food trend has impacted grocery store shelves as well as health food centers. Keep in mind, however, that research in this area is emerging rapidly. Many results are not yet conclusive, and individual responses can also vary. In the meantime, Kundrat advises eating a wide variety of foods, particularly those with known functional benefits.

Add Healthful Items to Your Diet

Want to feel healthier during the holidays? Make a serious effort to add healthful food items to your diet each week. Avoid adding too much at once, though, since this time of year can be overwhelming enough. Instead, gradually make dietary additions by planning ahead. Add new items to your shopping list, meals and snacks. When possible, stock them in your car, next to your computer or in other handy spots. In short, spend less time thinking about what you willnot eat and more time planning what you will eat.

The following is a list of foods you may want to increase in your diet, along with details on their reported health benefits:

1) Water.  Daniel Kosich, PhD, in his book Get Real: A Personal Guide to Real-Life WeightManagement, confirmed that water is an extremely important nutrient. Our bodies are not designed to alert us when we need water, so we cannot depend on thirst alone. We need between six and eight glasses of water--at least eight ounces each--per day when we are less active; more when we are active.

2) Citrus fruits, berries, green leafy vegetables.  All of these are good sources of vitamin C, an important antioxidant believed to boost the immune system, aid in the absorption of iron, improve cholesterol balance and help lower high blood pressure.

3) Nuts, seeds, wheat germ.  These provide vitamin E, another essential antioxidant shown to promote heart health, prevent cancer and provide numerous other benefits.

4) Beans, whole grain breads and cereals.  These are a few of the food items that provide fiber. Most of us do not get enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) in our diets. Work at it by consistently planning high-fiber meal choices.

5) Garlic, onions, leeks, chives.  These are good sources of allyl sulfides, which may reduce risk of cancer and heart disease, among other benefits.

6) Soy products.  Isoflavones in soy foods may lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

7) Honey, bananas, tomatoes, barley, rye.  Phytochemicals called "fructooligosaccharides" in these foods may improve digestion, help calcium absorption, lower blood cholesterol and reduce osteoporosis risk.

8) Purple grape juice, red wine, green and black tea.  These are sources of flavonoids, which are believed to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.

9) Flaxseed, canola and soybean oil.  The alpha-linolenic acid in these products may reduce hypertension and inflammation as well as improve the immune system, among other benefits.

10) Cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli.  These foods contain indoles and isothiocyantes, which may reduce your risk of colon, stomach, lung and rectum cancer.

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Note: Information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. Information on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No health information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.

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