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 Integrative Medicine: Foods to Eat for Good Health 

A wide variety of fruits are available year round, particularly apples, bananas, oranges, and grapefruits. These staples of the American diet are great breakfast foods. Enjoy seasonal fruits such as apricots, peaches, berries, cherries, melons, and the other delicious fruits that are available only briefly during the year. Try to eat locally grown fruits in season, as they will tend to be riper and fresher. Be sure to wash all fresh fruits before eating them. This will ensure that any chemical residue (or contamination) is removed. Eat the fruits whole or thinly peeled so that the nutrients found in the skin are preserved. Also, try to find unsprayed and organic fruit, if possible, to avoid pesticide exposure. Many supermarkets are beginning to carry unsprayed foods because of the strong consumer demand for clean products.

Besides fresh fruits, many varieties of frozen, canned, and dried fruits are available in supermarkets and grocery stores. Frozen fruits, if properly processed, may be similar in nutrient content to fresh fruits. However, loss of nutrients does occur in the canning and drying process. If you choose to buy canned fruits, be sure to avoid those in heavy, sugary syrup. Instead, buy canned fruit packed in its own juice or water.


  • Temperate Climate Fruits
    • Apples
    • Pears
    • Plums

  • Citrus Fruits
    • Grapefruit
    • Lemons
    • Limes
    • Oranges
    • Tangelos
    • Tangerines

  • Cherries
    • Bing
    • Queen Anne

  • Melons
    • Cantaloupe
    • Casabas
    • Persian honeydews
    • Watermelons

  • Berries
    • Blackberries
    • Blueberries
    • Boysenberries
    • Cranberries
    • Gooseberries
    • Lingonberries
    • Raspberries
    • Strawberries

  • Grapes
    • Red seedless
    • Reiber
    • Thompson seedless

  • Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
    • Avocados
    • Bananas
    • Guavas
    • Kiwis
    • Papayas
    • Pineapples

  • Olives
    • Black olives
    • Green olives
The term "vegetables" refers to any herbaceous plant that can be eaten whole or in part. This can include the tubers, roots, sterns, leaves, seeds, and flowering parts of the plant. These excellent foods come in a multitude of flavors, colors, and textures. They are composed primarily of water and carbohydrates and contain little protein or fat. They are also rich sources of many essential vitamins and minerals and provide needed bulk and fiber to the diet.

In the past few decades, many studies have concluded that the nutrients found in vegetables play an important role in protecting us from health problems. These essential nutrients include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, iodine, and more. In addition, vegetables contain other chemicals that help protect against heart attacks and boost immune function. Starchy vegetables help regulate blood sugar levels.

The form of vitamin A found in foods is beta carotene, a provitamin which is converted to vitamin A once it's taken into the body through the diet by the liver and intestines. Beta carotene is found in high doses in fruits and vegetables and is quite safe. For example, one glass of carrot juice or a sweet potato each contain 20,000 IU of beta carotene. Many people eat two to three times this amount in their daily diet. In contrast, high doses of supplemental vitamin A derived from fish liver oil can accumulate in the liver to toxic levels.

Vegetables high in vitamin A tend to have an orange, red, or dark green color. These include squash, sweet potatoes, yams, peppers, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, green onions, and romaine lettuce, among others. You should eat these foods often because research demonstrates that vitamin A can protect against cancer and immune problems. In women who are prone to allergies and infections, sufficient vitamin A intake can help bolster immune protection by strengthening the cell walls and mucous membranes. This protects against developing respiratory disease, as well as allergic episodes. In addition, research has linked low vitamin A levels to breast cancer, cervical cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and benign breast disease.

Vitamin A can play an important role in maintaining the health of women during their menopausal transition and postmenopausal years. One study from the University of South Africa found that women with heavy menstrual bleeding (a common problem as women transition into menopause) had lower blood vitamin A levels than normal volunteers.

Other studies suggest that a high intake of beta carotene containing foods protects against heart attacks in high risk people. The Nurse's Health Study, sponsored by Harvard University Medical School found that women consuming 15 to 20 mg per day of beta carotene had a 40 percent lower risk of strokes and a 22 percent lower risk of heart attacks when compared to women consuming less than 6 mg per day. Vitamin A deficiency has also been linked to fatigue, night blindness, skin aging, loss of smell, loss of appetite, and softening of bones and teeth.

Many vegetables are high in vitamin C. These include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peppers, parsley, peas, tomatoes, and potatoes. Vitamin C helps to strengthen capillaries and prevent capillary fragility, thereby facilitating the flow of essential nutrients throughout the body and the excretion of waste products out of the body. This is particularly important for women transitioning into menopause who are prone to heavy menstrual bleeding. When used in combination with bioflavonoid-containing foods like soy, alfalfa, and buckwheat, foods high in vitamin C can actually help decrease menstrual flow. Vitamin C is also an important antistress vitamin because it is needed for healthy adrenal hormone production (the adrenal glands help us deal with stress). This is particularly important for women with anxiety due to emotional causes, allergies, or stress from other origins. Vitamin C is also important for immune function and wound healing. Its anti-infectious properties may help to reduce the tendency toward respiratory, bladder, and vaginal infections. Research also suggests that along with vitamin A, vitamin C may help protect women from developing cervical cancer.

Vegetables are also outstanding foods for their high mineral content. Many vegetables are high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which help to relieve and prevent the symptoms of menstrual cramps and PMS. Besides helping to relax tense muscles, these minerals also calm the emotions. Both calcium and magnesium act as natural tranquilizers, a benefit for women suffering from menstrual pain, discomfort, and irritability. Potassium aids in relieving the symptoms of premenstrual bloating by reducing fluid retention. Some of the best sources for these minerals include Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, beet greens, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, kale, potatoes, peas, and green beans. These vegetables are also high in iron, which may also help to reduce cramps. In addition, the calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron found in vegetables also help protect against the development of anemia, osteoporosis, and excessive menstrual bleeding.

These minerals can also increase and maintain energy levels. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium help to improve stamina, endurance, and vitality. Clinical studies have shown that supplemental magnesium and potassium reduce depression and increase energy levels dramatically. Iodine and trace minerals are essential for healthy thyroid function and thus, maintaining a steady energy level; vegetables like kelp and other types of seaweed are high in these minerals.

Vegetables contain not only high levels of vitamins and minerals, but also other chemicals that help prevent heart attacks and boost immune function. Onions and garlic decrease blood clotting and lower serum cholesterol, which can decrease the incidence of stroke and heart attack. Garlic has also been found to prevent and slow tumor growths in animals. Studies indicate that ginger root, onions, and mushrooms may have a similar effect. Certain mushrooms may even stimulate immune function. Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower contain chemicals called indoles and isothiocyanates, which help block the activation of carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke, before they cause harm the body.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams are starches soft, well tolerated carbohydrates. Like other complex carbohydrates, starches calm the mood by helping to regulate the blood sugar level. You can steam, mash, and bake potatoes; eat them alone, or include them in other low-stress dishes and casseroles. Starches combine very well with a variety of vegetables and can form the basis of delicious, low-stress meals. Women deriving their dietary proteins primarily from vegetables sources can combine starches with lentils or split peas in soups or stews for a complete balance of amino acids.

In stores, you can buy fresh, raw vegetables, or vegetables that have been frozen, canned, or dried. Because raw vegetables are the freshest and contain the highest levels of vitamins and minerals, they are your best choice. However, quick-freezing techniques and proper canning do preserve nutrients quite well. Dried vegetables tend to exhibit the greatest loss of nutrients.

Eat as many raw vegetables as possible. You can enjoy a variety of raw vegetables in salads, or munch them with healthful dips. Fresh vegetable juice is another option. Though the fiber is discarded in the juicing process, the vitamins and minerals are retained. Juices can be quite easy to digest, but if you find that you do not tolerate raw vegetables well and they cause you digestive discomfort, cooking them may be preferable.

Cooking breaks down the fiber in the vegetables, making them softer and more digestible. Steaming is the best cooking method because it preserves essential nutrients. A woman with extreme stress and fatigue may even want to puree her steamed vegetables in a blender. However, as a woman begins to recover her energy level, she should add raw foods such as salads, juices, and raw vegetables to her meals for more texture and variety. Do not boil vegetables; vitamins and minerals can be lost by overcooking them.

Before eating fresh vegetables, be sure to wash them thoroughly to remove any pesticides, herbicides, and dirt. Some women even wash their vegetables in a dilute solution of bleach (Clorox) if they are concerned about chemical contamination. Leave the skin of the vegetable intact or pare it thinly because many nutrients are concentrated in this part of the plant. And be sure to store fresh vegetables in the refrigerator soon after obtaining them to avoid loss of nutrients.

Vegetable Groups

  • Gourds
    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Chayote
    • Crook-neck
(Excerpted from The Women's Health Companion ISBN: 0890877335)
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 About The Author
Susan Lark MDDr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
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