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Sorry, Quaker, the fiber in oats and other cereals probably doesn't prevent colon cancer. But there is still plenty to recommend in them. Raw in granola or cooked in porridge, oats consumed daily can help lower cholesterol. They contain beta-glucan, a spongy, soluble fiber that mops up the precursors of cholesterol in the intestines and whisks them out of the body. New evidence suggests that oats may also help lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Other benefits: the oat is one of the few grains that contain hard-to-find antioxidants, such as the vitamin E-like compounds called tocotrienols. Another plus is that the dietary fiber and protein in oats make you feel full fast. That should keep you away from more fattening foods and help control your weight.
Salmon that are free to roam the ocean enjoy a diet of fresh fish, which have eaten smaller fish, which in turn have eaten still smaller fish. At the bottom of that food chain are algae, the key to salmon's health benefits. Algae boast a special kind of fat, known as omega-3 fatty acids, that seems to help the heart. Omega-3s prevent platelets in the blood from clumping together and sticking to arterial walls in the form of plaque. They also drive down triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Researchers suspect that omega-3s may block the production of inflammatory substances linked to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Even more tantalizing, preliminary reports suggest that omega-3s interact with the fatty layers that surround brain cells and, as fishy as it sounds, may somehow help protect brain cells from the diseases of aging, like Alzheimer's. Other sources of omega-3s: herring, mackerel and bluefish.
Oh, that stinking rose! What makes garlic--and your breath--smell so bad is precisely what makes it so healthful. The odor factors are sulfur-based compounds known as allyl sulfides. Health gurus promote garlic as a cure-all, which it certainly is not, but many scientists agree that allyl sulfides and other phytochemicals in garlic may help protect the heart. Studies show that the sulfides can reduce cholesterol and may make the blood less sticky. Scientists are fairly confident that garlic also has antibacterial and antifungal powers. Preliminary reports even suggest that garlic may block the parasites that cause malaria. On perhaps less firm footing is the theory that allyl sulfides can stop tumor growth, a notion so far borne out only in the petri dish.
To release garlic's potent compounds, you need to smash, mash or mince it. Cooking it for a long time or at a high heat may destroy its beneficial substances, however. Another caution: cooked or raw, garlic can irritate the lining of sensitive stomachs.
In Asian societies green tea is consumed in about the same quantities as coffee is in the West. Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, a class of phytochemicals with 100 times the antioxidant punch of vitamin C. Laboratory experiments suggest that one group of polyphenols in green tea called catechins may inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, which some scientists think may help prevent cancer by depriving early tumors of nourishment. (Catechins may also prevent DNA damage caused by carcinogens from occurring in the first place.) Indeed, population studies in China link drinking green tea daily with a lowered risk of stomach, esophageal and liver cancers. Studies from Japan show that consuming 10 cups a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. If that much tea seems hard to swallow, consider using it is a mouthwash; reports suggest that swishing green tea around the mouth may inhibit cavity-causing bacteria. Applied to the skin of laboratory mice, it also seems to reduce the incidence of skin cancer. What about black tea? Made from the same leaves as green, though processed differently, it may be equally effective, scientists suspect.
Pint for pint, these little blue jewels may contain more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. The most powerful health-promoting compounds in blueberries are anthocyanins, phytochemicals that belong to the flavonoid family. Besides combatting the free-radical damage linked to heart disease and cancer, anthocyanins may boost brainpower--at least in rats. When fed blueberry extract for nine weeks, elderly rats outperformed a control group at such tasks as navigating mazes and balancing on rotating logs. And when aging rats ate a blueberry-enriched diet for four months, they performed as well in memory tests as younger rats. Another blueberry benefit: like cranberries, they seem to fight off urinary-tract infections by preventing E. coli bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.