Knowing what to eat, and in what quantities, is becoming a real challenge, as nutritional scientists continue to study the healing powers of certain foods.
The latest discoveries, the so-called "super foods," are believed to have the ability to help you live longer, slow down the aging process and prevent diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
So are there really 14 items you must have each day to take advantage of the restorative power of food?
Probably not, said Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network's "Healthy Appetite With Ellie Krieger" and author of "The Food You Crave" (Random House, 2008), adding that you don’t have to limit yourself to specific foods.
She believes that maintaining good health means including certain food groups in your daily diet. Here are her top five:
1. Whole grains (3 servings) – This includes standards such as whole wheat bread and oatmeal; however, Krieger pointed out that you aren’t limited to just these choices.
"There are whole wheat burger buns out there that I’m really excited about because they’re soft, tender and mild-tasting. They don’t taste like whole wheat. There are also whole wheat tortillas and wraps."
In addition to breads, Krieger recommends trying whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or bulgur.
The importance of including whole grains in your diet goes beyond just the need for fiber. When grain is refined, it’s stripped of its antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals. Some of these are put back in the enrichment process, but most aren’t.
2. Dark-green leafy vegetables (1 serving) – Spinach, kale and collard greens provide calcium and vitamins A, B and C. Krieger said that not only are these veggies powerhouses of vitamins and minerals, they’re also delicious — a more important consideration if you’re going to consistently include these foods in your diet.
She recommends sautéing spinach with garlic or shallots and adding a splash of balsamic vinegar and some pine nuts. Another tasty member of this food group, Swiss chard, is highly underrated, according to Krieger. "It’s easy to cook and very tender."
3. Nuts and seeds (1 ounce, which is 1/3 cup) – Almonds are great sources of vitamin E, sesame seeds provide the body with calcium and walnuts contain omega-3 fats. Nuts and seeds also are sources of magnesium and other minerals most of us don’t get enough of on a daily basis.
Krieger said that not only are they chock-full of nutrition, they also are very satisfying. "Eating a small snack of nuts is a good way to get a grip on your appetite and keep hunger at bay until your next meal."
Want a quick, easy way to incorporate nuts and seeds into your diet? Try putting them on salads.
4. Low-fat yogurt and milk (2 to 3 8-ounce servings) – Low-fat milk gives you the nutritional punch of whole milk without the calories. This source of vitamin D is a crucial factor in maintaining good bone health.
Not a big fan of drinking milk? Krieger said you don’t’ have to forego its nutritional benefits. Try drinking a small skim latte or adding a little chocolate syrup to a glass of skim milk. Adding a little skim milk to your tomato soup also works, Krieger said.
Yogurt has active cultures that aid the immune and digestive systems. Krieger recommended mixing it with a little mayonnaise and using it as a dressing base. One of her favorite ways to eat yogurt, especially in the warm weather, is with honey and fresh berries.
5. Tea (Up to 4 cups) – Both black and green teas are potent sources of antioxidants, according to Krieger. Tea also is a rich source of flavonoids, which some believe may prevent cancer and reduce inflammation. Scientists believe that inflammation is the start of many diseases.
Krieger added that there is one more beneficial effect to drinking tea that is not often discussed. "You sit down, relax and have a cup of tea. You take a moment, and that does a lot for the body."