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Sun, Feb. 23

Packing power inTO your diet

What if you could transform healthy foods into even greater nutritional superstars? Read on to learn how to take these fabulous foods to the next level.

• FULL STEAM AHEAD. Boiling vegetables leaches water-soluble nutrients, so lightly steam or blanch (boil briefly) instead.

• FRESH ISN'T ALWAYS BEST. Fresh, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables are all healthy options, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some dried fruits - raisins, prunes, apricots and cranberries - even contain more disease-preventing antioxidants than their fresh fruit counterparts.

• START COOKING. Heat can destroy some healthy components in vegetables, but cooking also breaks down cell walls to make some nutrients more available. Lightly-cooked carrots deliver more beta-carotene than raw ones. And heat-processed tomatoes provide more cancer-fighting lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

• SKIN IS IN. While the flesh of vegetables and fruits contains the most nutrients, peels are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are a natural barrier against nutrient loss.

• ADD SOME FAT. Your body needs some fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Drizzle a little heart-healthy olive oil on a tomato salad, or add a little low-fat cheese, nuts, seeds or avocado to your salad.

• CRUSH ON GARLIC. Love garlic? Research shows that crushing garlic cloves - and letting them stand for at least 10 minutes before baking or boiling - activates and preserves heart-protective compounds.

• PUMP UP THE IRON. Did you know that you can add energy-boosting iron to acidic foods such as tomatoes, apples or lemons when you cook them in iron cookware? You can also increase the iron you absorb from plant-based foods by eating them with vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice, strawberries and peppers.

• KEEP IT BIG. Cut fruit or produce into large pieces and cook as soon as possible to decrease exposure to nutrient-leaching oxygen and light.

• SPICE IT UP. Dress up your food with herbs and spices instead of salt to add an extra antioxidant punch and lower your sodium intake.

• MAKE MOUTH-WATERING MEAT. Just don't overcook it. Cancer-causing compounds form when fatty meat is cooked at high temperatures, such as grilling over open flames. Healthier options include oven roasting, stewing, poaching and boiling. If you do grill meat, remove visible fat, cut away charred or burned areas, or marinate to form a protective barrier.

Variety is the spice of life, so eat your oranges, greens and reds - fruits and vegetables, that is.

To learn more about healthy eating, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

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