If you ate your way through December, your New Year's resolution list probably includes eating healthfully, be it to boost energy, improve your well-being or lose those holiday pounds.
Rather than thinking about what you can't eat, instead focus on what you can eat. This year, resolve to add foods to your diet that are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants and not overloaded with saturated fat and calories. It may not seem like a big change, but replacing that chocolate bar with an orange -- or the diet cola with tomato juice -- means a significant improvement in nutrition.
To get your eating habits back on track, include the following nutrition standouts in your diet. Take it meal by meal, day by day.
Cranberries: These small red berries are loaded with anthocyanins, antioxidants shown to thwart urinary tract infections by preventing bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall. Studies show that cranberries' anthocyanins also act against bacteria linked to stomach ulcers and gum disease.
Flaxseed: These tiny brown seeds are rich in fibre, omega-3 fats, and phytochemicals called lignans. Consuming flaxseed on a regular basis can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and, as a result, may help prevent heart disease. Preliminary research also suggests that ground flaxseed may guard against prostate and breast cancers.
To reap the goodness of flaxseed, add ground flaxseed to foods. Whole flaxseed may pass through your intestine undigested, meaning you won't get the lignans or the omega-3 fats. Flaxseed oil contains the omega-3 fats, but it doesn't have the fibre found in ground flaxseed -- four grams per two tablespoons (25 ml).
Add ground flaxseed to hot cereal, smoothies, yogurt, applesauce and casseroles. Bake it into cookies and muffins. Add a teaspoon to mustard or mayonnaise when making a sandwich.
Garlic: It seems this centuries-old remedy has the power to ward off more than vampires. Studies show garlic can help reduce cholesterol levels, lower elevated blood pressure and inhibit the growth of certain bacteria. Garlic also has anti-cancer potential; studies show that regular garlic consumers have a lower risk of esophageal, stomach and colon cancers. It's also thought that garlic may help prevent prostate cancer.
The compounds that make garlic -- and your breath -- smell bad, are the same ones responsible for its health benefits. Beneficial sulphur compounds are released when garlic is crushed, chopped or chewed. Studies suggest that eating one-half to one clove per day is enough to reap health benefits.
Add crushed or chopped fresh garlic to salad dressings, dips, marinades, pasta sauces, soups and stir-fries. A warning: Eating raw garlic may irritate the stomach.
Lentils: This A-list food is an excellent source of vegetarian protein that's packed with fibre and folate, a B vitamin linked to protection from heart disease and cancer. One-half cup (125 ml) of lentils supplies half your daily folate requirement. Not to mention a fair amount of magnesium and potassium, two minerals that help keep blood pressure in check. What's more, the carbohydrate in lentils is digested slowly and enters the bloodstream gradually, providing sustained energy.
Buy lentils canned or dried. If you buy them dried, you'll need to cook them first. If you use canned lentils (they're already cooked), drain them and rinse with water before using to remove sodium that's been added. Add lentils to salads, soups, pasta sauces, chili, tacos and burritos.