Eating has become an emotional roller-coaster, with new findings and scares filling the media every other day. But of course nutrition is vital to health and that old cliché, “you are what you eat”, still holds true. But new diets, eating plans and supplements continue to preoccupy our minds and budgets.

Food trends change continually, and fad eating comes and goes in waves. However, there are certain foods that should always be part of our eating plans. They contain chemicals and nutrients that protect us from nutrition-related diseases, as well as strengthening our bodies and enhancing beauty. Eaten regularly, with a good supply of carbohydrates and proteins, they are the first step to health, vitality and lasting good looks.


Apples: Legend has it the Norse gods kept themselves young by eating apples, and apples have always represented health and immortality. They're a good source of fibre and Vitamin C, help lower cholesterol and contain both malic and tannic acid, reputed to have a therapeutic effect on the stomach. And, of course, they taste wonderful! An apple a day might not necessarily keep the doctor away, but its abrasive texture will certainly reduce your dentist's bills!

Beetroot: According to ancient history, the Romans used beetroot juice to treat fevers – a practice now echoed in French research circles, where it's believed the juice of the beet can speed up convalescence after a wide range of illnesses. In Germany, beetroot juice is drunk as a health tonic. The dark-green, leafy tops are a rich source of potassium and also provide carotene and folic acid.

Broccoli: If this vegetable were packaged with a list of ingredients, it would need a lot of label space! Besides its cancer-preventing properties, it has a high concentration of beta-carotene, Vitamins A and C, and other anti-oxidants.

Cabbage: Provided it isn't cooked to death, this vegetable is a rich source of Vitamin C. Considered a medicine rather than a food by the ancient Egyptians, cabbage provides a healthy dose of fibre and moderate quantities of folic acid. It's also valuable as a nutritional defence against cancer. Raw cabbage juice has been used successfully in the treatment of gastric ulcers. What's more, cabbage has the lowest kilojoule count in the vegetable kingdom.

Carrots: During World War II carrots were believed to improve night vision, so British bomber pilots were fed a diet rich in this vegetable. However, the carrot's true value lies in the beta-carotene that gives its distinctive colouring. It's believed to slow down the clogging of arteries, thus helping to prevent heart attacks, and is considered an all-round health-booster.

Cherries: The juice of wild cherries was traditionally used by gypsies to treat skin blemishes, rheumatism and bronchitis. A home remedy for treating swollen glands was a poultice made of the fruit pulp, combined with linseed. Besides being delicious, cherries contain potassium and Vitamin C.

Peaches: This fruit was given a rave review in 5th century Europe, where it was believed that peach leaves and flowers made into a syrup or preserve would purge cholera and jaundice. In fact, peaches contain only moderate amounts of Vitamins C and A, and only a little potassium. However, they're too delicious to omit from any diet!

Pawpaw: This fruit, indigenous to South America, is a good source of Vitamins A and C, as well as beta-carotene, and is low in both sugar and kilojoules. It's high in proteolitic enzymes that help us digest protein and contains fibrin, not commonly found in the fruit kingdom. In the Caribbean regions, the skin of the pawpaw is used to treat wounds that are slow to heal. Advocates of natural remedies recommend pawpaw juice after antibiotic treatment to restore the stomach's natural bacteria.

Tomatoes: Strictly speaking, the tomato is a fruit, though it's frequently treated like a vegetable. Those picked from a more mature plant have a higher Vitamin C and iron content, and tomatoes also provide lycopene, which is thought to help prevent pancreatic cancer. Raw tomatoes are very low in kilojoules.

Fish: Not only is fish low in saturated fat, but it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in preventing heart disease. Eating adequate amounts of fish may also prevent or help treat conditions such as breast cancer, asthma, arthritis, migraine headaches and multiple sclerosis. Canned fish, especially pilchards, is an economical source of protein, iodine and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Pilchards contain higher levels of omega-3 than any other fish and, since the bones are rich in calcium, these should be mashed into the flesh before eating.