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A high five for healthy foods

Your diet plays a major role in how good you look and feel. Eat right and you can control your weight while you reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.

Just how informed are you about the kinds of foods you need to consume to maintain your health? Did you know that there are five foods you should eat every day? Actually, these five foods are stacked in different groups of the Food Guide Pyramid (created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), so you have hundreds of choices for tasty, nutritious meals.

That’s important, since variety adds spice. Culture, religious beliefs, cost, medical concerns and food allergies will all affect your personal choices.

Every day, try to have ample servings from each of the food groups listed below to get the various vitamins and minerals your body needs to perform at its best.

  1. Bulk up on breads. Choose whole-grain breads and other fiber-filled products without sugar. Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and multigrain cereals are also good sources of fiber needed to maintain healthy body functions and protect against colon and other types of cancer.
  2. Vary those vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower contain chemicals known to block cancer. Garlic, onions, carrots and Brussels sprouts can help lower cholesterol levels. Different veggies provide their own special benefits, so mix up your salads and side dishes with several kinds of produce. Splash on a bit of olive oil to protect the heart and put powerful antioxidants to work for you.
  3. Enjoy fresh fruits. The fiber and nutrients in fruit decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevent hardening of the arteries. Oranges are packed with vitamin C, which may help make diabetes more manageable. Fruits are a delicious, refreshing way to satisfy the occasional sweet tooth without adding processed sugar or empty calories to your diet.
  4. Remember your milk. Maybe you prefer low-fat yogurt or a glass of buttermilk. These dairy products are a valuable source of calcium for strong bones and teeth. When possible, choose skim and nonfat products to reduce the risk for heart disease.
  5. Reap the benefits of protein. For a varied source of protein, eat lean meats, eggs, beans, soy products and nuts. Fish is a particularly good choice, since the omega-3 fatty acids found in tuna and salmon may help maintain normal heart function, prevent clotting and promote healthy blood pressure.