17 foods that fight disease

These nutrient-packed foods can help ward off ailments ranging from heart disease to the common cold.
Health.com // Health.com

Fruits and vegetables are great for your health—and even better for your waistline. But some fresh foods are more powerful than others.

Superfoods have more than their fair share of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting nutrients. Pack your meals with a nutritional punch by adding these wholesome choices to your diet.

--By MaryAnne Gragg, Health.com

1 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Alfalfa sprouts

Why they're super: One cup of alfalfa sprouts has less than 10 calories, is virtually fat-free, and contains phytochemicals called saponins, which may protect against cancer and help lower cholesterol.

How to enjoy them: Enjoy their fresh, earthy crunch in salads or sandwiches, or atop a lean turkey or veggie burger.

2 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Apples

Why they're super: Apples are the richest fruit source of pectin, a soluble fiber that has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, decrease the risk of colon and breast cancers, and maybe even lessen the severity of diabetes.

How to enjoy them: Try throwing a few slices on your favorite sandwich or toss with field greens, toasted pecans, and a light vinaigrette for a delicious salad. With so many varieties available, you'll never get bored finding new ways to incorporate them into your daily diet.

3 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Avocados

Why they're super: Just one half of a medium-size avocado contains more than 4 grams of fiber and 15% of your recommended daily folate intake. Cholesterol-free and rich in monounsaturated fats and potassium, avocados are also a powerhouse for heart health.

How to enjoy them: Use avocados as the base for a creamy homemade sandwich spread, or add a few chunks to your favorite salsa for a simple and delicious way to dress up grilled chicken or fish.

4 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Beets

Why they're super: Beets are loaded with antioxidants and have been found to protect against cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. Naturally sweet and full of fiber and vitamin C, beets make a delicious and nutrient-packed addition to any meal.

How to enjoy them: Try finely grated raw beets in your salads or roast them along with sweet potatoes and parsnips for a colorful and flavorful side-dish—just keep in mind that certain cooking methods (like boiling) may decrease their nutritional value. And don't forget about the leafy green tops, which are rich in iron and folate, and can be prepared much like their cousins, Swiss chard and spinach.

5 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Cranberries

Why they're super: Cranberries are renowned for protecting against urinary tract infections, but did you also know they may improve blood cholesterol and aid in recovery from strokes? Cranberry juice has also been shown to make cancer drugs more potent.

How to enjoy them: Although available frozen year-round, enjoy these tart and tangy berries fresh during their peak season from October through December.

6 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Flaxseed

Why it's super: Not only does flaxseed lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack, but it is also a rich source of lignan, a powerful antioxidant that may be a powerful ally against disease and certain cancers, especially breast cancer. Just 2 tablespoons of ground seeds (which are digested more efficiently than whole seeds) contain about 20% of the recommended daily fiber* intake and more than 100% of the recommended intake for inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.

How to enjoy it: Add ground flaxseed to baked goods for a nutty flavor or sprinkle it on top of your favorite cereal. It's also delicious when blended with yogurt and fresh fruit for a tasty smoothie.

7 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Oranges

Why they're super: Just one medium orange (think tennis ball) supplies all your daily vitamin C, which is a dynamite immunity booster and cancer fighter. And consuming vitamin C is best done in its natural form: Italian researchers also found that test subjects had greater antioxidant protection after drinking orange juice versus vitamin C–fortified water. Plus, this sweet and tangy fruit is a good source of fiber, potassium, calcium, folate, and other B vitamins.

How to enjoy them: The tangy taste of oranges makes a great combination with other strong flavors, such as ginger and honey. Put them on salads, or use them in marinades and sauces for meats.

8 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Papayas

Why they're super: Trying to get more vitamin C in your diet? One cup of papaya cubes supplies more than 100% of your daily requirement, as well as a hefty dose of potassium and folate. It is also a good source of vitamins A and E, two powerful antioxidants that protect against heart disease and colon cancer.

How to enjoy them: Savor the rich, buttery flesh of this tropical fruit in smoothies and salads, or simply scoop it out of the shell with a spoon.

9 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com

Pumpkins

Why they're super: This hearty, fiber-rich squash is packed with beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body), which reduces the risk of developing lung cancer. The antioxidant activity of this vitamin combined with potassium, which may help prevent high blood pressure, makes it a nutritional superstar.

How to enjoy them: If you prepare a whole squash, toast the seeds for a delicious snack containing heart-healthy fats. The sweet taste and moist texture makes it ideal for desserts.

10 of 19 © Getty Images from Health.com