You know the drill: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains to stay healthy. But more and more research shows that this sensible approach alone may not be enough to keep you in top shape. A better idea: Mix and match foods that target your personal health needs. Morning workout left you feeling nauseous? Try berries with sweet ginger-mint sauce for breakfast. Fighting a cold before your big weekend race? Toss mushrooms and salmon into your grocery cart. "While a balanced diet is the foundation of overall good health, combining certain nutrients can make all the difference when trying to alleviate specific ailments and symptoms," says FITNESS advisory board member Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet. These foods have unique abilities to treat four common health problems. Because each works in a different way, you'll get the biggest bang by combining them in one delicious meal, like the ones we created. Eat up!
What to Eat to Fend Off a Cold
White Button Mushrooms
Foodies rave about exotic mushroom types, but the common white button variety could be your key to a cold-free winter, suggests research from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. They contain polysaccharides, which activate natural killer cells that destroy cold- and flu-causing viruses, says Dayong Wu, PhD, a scientist at the center.
Three ounces of salmon can supply nearly 800 IUs of vitamin D, close to the amount that some experts recommend you get each day. That's a good defense against sniffles: Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver found that people with low levels of D had significantly more colds. Without enough of this crucial nutrient, your body can't produce antimicrobial proteins called cathelicidins, which destroy bacteria and viruses, according to lead study author Adit Ginde, MD.
This healthy snack is packed with vitamin E, which has been shown to boost the activity level of the body's infection-fighting T cells. That may be why scientists at the Center on Aging found that this nutrient lowers the risk of getting a cold by 20 percent.
People who ate two cups of yogurt a day for four months had four times the gamma interferon, a natural substance that fights viral and bacterial infections, than those who skipped the calcium-rich food, a University of California Davis School of Medicine study reveals. The key: Choosing yogurt with live active cultures.
Cold-Fighting Recipe: Salmon with Yogurt-Dill Sauce and Spinach
4 ounces salmon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, shelled
Preheat broiler. Broil salmon until flaky and opaque, about 9 minutes. Saute garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. Add spinach; remove from heat when spinach is wilted. Mix yogurt, dill, salt ,and pepper. Place salmon on spinach; top with sauce and sunflower seeds.
What to Eat to Beat Stress
Omega-3 fatty acids in shellfish may boost your mood by reducing stress hormones, like cortisol. People who ate three to four ounces a day lowered their risk of anxiety, depression, and stress by 30 percent, according to a study from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain.
The curcumin in turmeric — a spice in curry — lowers stress levels by inhibiting cortisol secretion, says a study conducted in China.
In a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, women who ate four or more servings of calcium a day had a 30 percent lower risk of PMS symptoms like anxiety and irritability.
Eating one and a half to three ounces of pistachios daily can lower blood pressure when you're faced with a mental challenge by relaxing blood vessels, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
Red Bell Pepper
Vitamin C, which is abundant in these peppers, lowers stress by limiting cortisol production and stimulates the release of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical. When researchers at the University of Trier in Germany subjected people to the anxiety of public speaking, those who took 3,000 milligrams of C felt calmer and their blood pressure returned to normal faster than those who skipped C.
Stress-Reducing Recipe: Curried-Shrimp Stir-Fry
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1/4 cup low-fat milk
3 ounces frozen shrimp, thawed and cleaned
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup sliced red bell pepper
1 cup grated carrots
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
2 tablespoons raisins
Saute curry powder and garlic in coconut oil for 1 minute. Add milk, shrimp, peas, rice, bell pepper, and carrots. Cook until veggies are tender. Top with pistachios and raisins.
What to Eat to Soothe Stomach Pain
In a study at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who ate two 4.4-ounce servings of Activia yogurt daily for a month saw up to a 78 percent decrease in bloating. The yogurt contains probiotics — good bacteria that help restore normal stomach and intestinal functioning.
Anethole, a substance in fennel leaves, seeds, and oil, is known to alleviate stomach cramping. It even helps colicky babies, says research from St. Petersburg Medical Academy of Postdoctoral Education in Russia.
Studies show that this root quashes nausea from motion sickness, morning sickness, and even chemotherapy by 30 percent. This may be because ginger reduces inflammation in the stomach, according to study author Julie Ryan, PhD.
Seventy-five percent of IBS patients had 50 percent fewer symptoms after taking two capsules containing 225 milligrams of peppermint oil twice a day for four weeks, say researchers at G. d'Annunzio University in Italy. The menthol in peppermint appears to soothe irritated intestinal muscles.
Fiber, which is found in oats, vegetables, and fruits like raspberries, was more effective than a placebo in taming symptoms of IBS, according to a review of studies at McMaster University in Canada.
Stomach-Soothing Recipe: Raspberries with Sweet Ginger-Mint Sauce
4 ounces plain low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon fresh chopped mint
1 cup raspberries
Mix yogurt with honey, ginger, and mint. Serve over berries.
Head Off Headaches
The omega-3s in fish are great for your head. Almost 90 percent of people who got migraines reported fewer of the headaches after taking two grams of omega-3 concentrate daily, according to a Brown University School of Medicine study. "Fish and fish oil lower the production of a prostaglandin, a chemical that causes inflammation and pain," says researcher Zeev Harel, MD.
Beans contain riboflavin, a nutrient that has been found to reduce the number of headache days by at least 50 percent in more than half of sufferers, say researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium.
The compound that gives cayenne its heat, capsaicin, can ease cluster headaches (which typically affect one side of the head and occur several days in a row), probably by destroying a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. Although people who get cluster headaches often inhale capsaicin through a nasal spray, try adding cayenne to your cooking.
Magnesium, often deficient in migraine sufferers, is plentiful in this grain. "The mineral relaxes blood vessels and normalizes serotonin receptors," explains Alexander Mauskop, MD, director of the New York Headache Center in New York City. In one German study, patients taking 600 milligrams of magnesium daily saw their headache frequency plummet by more than 40 percent.
Headache-Relieving Recipe: Spicy Breaded Snapper with Quinoa-and-Black-Bean Pilaf
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces snapper
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup crushed vitamin-fortified flake cereal
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper