“Most people eat between 15 and 20 foods over the course of a day,” Barber said. “The thing I realized is that about 18 out of 20 need to be supportive and healthy for you. You get a little leeway with the last couple. It’s what you eat most of the time that is important to your weight and risk factors for disease.”
Barber, who usually works with students one on one and occasionally makes presentations for departments, compiled a list of 25 foods that are tasty and good for all. The foods include spinach, almonds, oatmeal, chicken, salmon, dark chocolate and green tea.
Foods with deep, rich colors — such as sweet potatoes, spinach and kale — are good for everyone.
“Pretty much everything that’s dark green is going to be wonderful for us,” Barber said. “Nature put the nutrients in the prettiest and darkest fruits and vegetables to attract us.”
Barber said while blueberries and strawberries have several health benefits, heating them destroys their nutritional value, so eating jams or pies is not as healthy as eating the fruit itself. However, that isn’t the case for some vegetables: Sweet potatoes can be baked into a healthy pie, and cooking tomatoes concentrates the lycopene, a potential antioxidant.
Rather than snacking on potato chips, Barber recommended making kale chips: Wash the kale, dry it, toss it with a little salt and olive oil, and roast it in the oven. Eat it all at once because it won’t last until the next day, she warned.
For those concerned about how to get out-of-season fruits and vegetables, Barber pointed to the freezer aisle.
“Usually when a food is frozen, it’s just like what they say in the commercials,” she said. “Foods are picked and frozen on the very same day, and the nutrients are maintained until you open that bag.”
Barber said the best meals contain carbohydrates, proteins and fats. According to the American Heart Association, about 30 percent of calories should come from fat, but only 10 percent of those calories should come from saturated fats. That leaves “plenty of room” for avocados and nuts but not so much room for fried foods, Barber said.
For more information on staying healthy, visit wellness.usc.edu
Twenty-five foods that will change your life
1. Blueberries: Rich in vitamin C, folic acid, fiber and antioxidants. Helps prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes; may improve short-term memory. Same story for strawberries, cranberries and raspberries.
2. Olive oil: Rich in monounsaturated fat and polyphenolics. Helps prevent heart disease and boosts immunity. Same story for avocados and canola oil.
3. Broccoli: Rich in vitamins A and C, folate and phytonutrients. May help prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Similar story for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and artichokes.
4. Sweet potatoes: Rich in vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, fiber, potassium and vitamin B6. Helps prevent premature aging, heart disease and cancer; promotes immunity, keen vision, clear skin and silky hair. Same story for carrots and winter squash.
5. Tomatoes: Rich in vitamins A and C, lycopene.
6. Spinach: Rich in vitamins A, B6, C and E, riboflavin, calcium, iron, folate and magnesium. Same story for collard greens, turnip greens, kale and Swiss chard.
7. Almonds: Rich in monounsaturated fat, calcium, iron, riboflavin and vitamin E, flavonoids, antioxidants and protein. Helps reduce risk of heart disease and cancer. Same story for pecans, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds and walnuts.
8. Whole wheat bread: Rich in thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, selenium, zinc, iron and high-quality carbs. Helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer; helps manage blood glucose.
9. Chicken: Rich in lean protein. Choose white meat for magnesium and phosphorus, and dark meat for iron, vitamin A, zinc, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and folate. Same story for turkey.
10. Soy: Rich in protein. Helps with mental flexibility and the reduction of LDL cholesterol, when eaten in place of high-fat meat or cheese.
11. Tenderloin cuts of meat: Rich in protein, zinc, iron and vitamin B12. Helps boost the immune system and supports healthy blood.
12. Salmon: Rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B6, riboflavin and niacin. Helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Same story for mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and albacore tuna.
13. Non-fat milk: Rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D. Helps treat high blood pressure, manage PMS, strengthen bone, and aid nerve and muscle function. Same story for regular and Greek-style yogurt.
14. Water: Regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, flushes out waste products and makes nutrients accessible to the cells of the body. How much you need each day depends on body size, activity, indoor and outdoor weather, but 8 to 12 glasses per day is usually about right.
15. Black beans: Rich in soluble fiber, high-quality carbs, fiber and protein. Gives long-lasting energy, and decreases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Same story for lentils, garbanzo beans, red beans, kidney beans and black-eyed peas.
16. Brown rice: Rich in soluble fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamin E and selenium. Helps protect cells against DNA-damaging free radicals, reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, and reduces LDL cholesterol. Same story for wheat berries, bulgur, barley, corn, and wild and red rice.
17. Oatmeal: Rich in fiber, folate, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium, which are removed when grain is refined. Helps promote bowel function, lower blood cholesterol and decreases the risk of heart disease.
18. Apples: Rich in vitamin C and pectin. Helps reduce blood cholesterol and protect against cancer. Same story for pears.
19. Dark chocolate: Flavonoids, catechins, stearic acid and oleic acid. Helps prevent heart disease and blood clots, boost the immune system and increase HDL without increasing LDL.
20. Green tea: Rich in polyphenols. May decrease risk of several types of cancer, increases HDL, fights bad breath and decreases signs of aging. Almost the same story for white tea and black tea.
21. Citrus fruits: Rich in vitamin C, folate, antioxidants and pectin. Helps reduce blood cholesterol and protect against cancer. Same story for peppers, peaches and apricots.
22. Garlic: Rich source of phytochemicals, including allicin, ajoene, saponins and phenols. May enhance immune function. Same story for onions.
23. Potatoes: Rich in vitamins C, B6, potassium and fiber.
24. Red wine: Rich in saponins and resveratrol. Helps prevent cancer and promote heart health by binding to cholesterol and preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the blood. Same story for white wine and grape juice.
25. Herbs and spices: Enlivens flavors without salt or fat.