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ScientIST Resolution: Eating Healthy A to Z

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The holidays are over, the merriment has ceased, and that means that reality now rears its ugly head. It's time to make resolutions to be better this year than we were last year, or any other year, or ever will be in the future. For a lot of us, this means promises to get healthy. Well, LAist believes in you, and so for the month of January, we'll be running articles on health, wellness, and fitness to help make sure those promises aren't empty. Good luck, and godspeed. - Health Editor, Jessica Pauline

So, we're supposed to watch our diet and increase our exercise, but these two little adages can seem nebulous and overwhelming. Assembled from a variety of sources, we bring you 26 foods to try in the New Year to help you meet your goals (the exercise is up to you). Utilize the extensive Farmers Markets in Los Angeles, buy seasonally, and supplement with your local grocer (we like Trader Joe's, but we're still holding out hope that Berkeley Bowl is going to be recreated in SoCal).

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The key is to start slowly, replacing some of your more egregious habits (late night fast food, sodas as fluid source, daily vending machine usage) with some simply prepared meals combining a few of the ingredients below. Check out your local bookstore for new recipes (we're thrilled to try the Top Chef one this year) or mine the internet for LA-based food and recipe blogs (try All Kinds of Yum, Burnt Lumpia, Fresh Approach Cooking, The Delicious Life, and Well Fed). Happy noshing!

Almonds: Don't go overboard, as this healthy seed packs calories along with its vitamin E (good for your skin) and monounsaturated fat (good for your heart). But a single serving (15 almonds, 100 calories) is a far better choice than anything you're going to get out of a vending machine.

Brussels Sprouts: Women's Health Magazine did a Vegetable Throwdown to find the best vitamin and mineral bang for your belly. The winner? By a landslide, the often maligned Brussels sprout, kicking veggie ass with high marks in folate, magnesium, iron, and selenium. Try 'em quartered and sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper until browned and soft.

Chamomile tea: Put down the Tylenol PM and sip a cup before bedtime.

Doctor's visit: Do you know what your cholesterol is? Or that there is "good" and "bad" cholesterol? Go. Find out. Feel better.

Eggs: Good egg? Bad egg? Here's the deal: You can eat one of these high protein foods per day without freaking about your cholesterol if you're a healthy individual. If you're paranoid, you can skip the yolk, but then you lose out on the majority of the nutrients (A, D, E, and choline).

Fennel: Whole Foods makes a killer beet and fennel salad in their prepared food section, and it makes the most amazing late night dinner. A tasty and savory way to get your folate, vitamin C, and dietary fiber.

Garlic (and Ginger): Like hot sauce, these two ingredients make everything taste better, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial components to boot. If raw garlic seems too intense, wrap it in foil and bake it until it mellows (45 min at 450F). And FYI, ginger will alleviate motion sickness and nausea.

Hydration: By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. If you change one thing this year, let it be ditching sodas and taking up water (in your reusable bottle, of course.) For the record, coffee, tea, milk, and fruit juice also count towards keeping you hydrated, following the 8 X 8 rule (8 glasses of 8oz each).

Instant Oatmeal: OK, it's a stretch in terms of the alphabet, but Men's Health Magazine includes this as a "power food" in their ABS DIET, and we already used O for Olives. We're talking unsweetened and unflavored (read: PLAIN) for lowering your cholesterol and keeping you full throughout the morning (so you're less likely to snack on donuts). Cook it with non-fat milk to add calcium and creaminess, and then add honey to taste.

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Jalapenos: Spicy foods rev the metabolism. And they're awesome.

Kale: Claiming antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, kale (and spinach) pack more per punch than your average peas and corn medley.

Lentils (and other beans): A kitchen staple in most vegetarian households, lentils are high in protein (especially lysine), iron, and folate. They also make a great substitute for meat or soy in soups, stews, and stirfrys.

Mango: Rich in antioxidants and fiber, mangos contain known cancer-fighting chemicals. Pair it with jalapenos, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes for a phytochemical juggernaut.

Eat better or else....| Photo by Melissa Moore/LAist

Non-fat dairy: Women aged 19-31 are encouraged to get about 1000 mg of calcium daily. Sources such as non-fat cottage cheese, milk, kefir, cheese, yogurt (see below), and ice cream (in moderation) can help meet this requirement. For those who can't tolerate lactose, calcium is also found in leafy green vegetables, beans, oatmeal, salmon, figs, kelp, etc.

Olives: A healthy way to get your salty and fat cravings met, olives shine at Mid-city neighborhood joints Tasca (served up with almonds) and CommeÇa (in their unparalleled Tuna Niçoise).

Pomegranates: High in vitamin C and phytochemicals, try throwing the seed casings in salads or on soups to gain the additional fiber boost.

Quinoa: Instead of the usual side dish suspects (potatoes, rice, pasta), try this ancient grain with the slightly nutty taste. Heralded for being a full protein, it also boasts high levels of magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, zinc, fiber, and folate. FYI, Swingers serves up quinoa with many of its dishes, so skip the 3 am fries and order this with your BLT.

Root vegetables: Parsnips, carrots, daikon, gobo, turnip, yam, rutabaga, taro, etc. Buy in season and get beyond the potato.

Salmon: You know the drill: High in protein and high in omega-3 fatty acids (which have cancer-fighting properties and lower leptin levels.) Spend the extra dough for the wild caught salmon - it's higher in DHA and EPA and lower in dioxins.

Tilapia: Lest you feel like you can't eat salmon indefinitely, tilapia gives you a low calorie source for protein, phosphorous, niacin, selenium, and vitamin B12.

Unsweetened cranberry juice: For your lady parts, cranberry juice has long been used as a naturopathic remedy for urinary tract infections. While the efficacy of cranberry juice as a remedy is controversial, it may prove beneficial as a prophylactic treatment given its ability to inhibit bacterial adhesion to host membranes.

Vine Ripened Tomatoes: In/on/under/around EVERYTHING, k thanks. (If you're prone to canker sores, limit your consumption as the acidity can worsen symptoms). Cooking them releases more lycopene (the stuff lauded for lowering cancer risk) and pairing it with fat allows it to be more readily absorbed.

Watermelon: Nothing says summer like this fruit. A recent "Top Chef" episode paired it with fresh tomatoes, feta, and aged balsamic vinegar. Simple, clean, full of vitamin C.

X-factor: Enjoy a treat meal each week. Have an extra cocktail, savor those nachos, or get bacon on that burger. Research suggests that consuming your favorite foods every now and again helps maintain long term healthy eating habits compared to avoiding cravings altogether. For the record, I waste mine on the white truffle French fries from Café Stella in Silverlake. (Uh. Mazing.)

Yogurt: An easy way to get your daily calcium requirements, even for those with a love-hate relationship with dairy. We single it out because it also contains probiotics which can help with digestive issues. Skip the sugar-laden flavored types for plain Greek style (which boasts about 20 g of protein per 8 oz cup), then add a small handful of nuts, blueberries, and a drizzle of honey.

Zucchini: I had completely blanked on a Z food, and could only come up with Zebra, which I feel is probably endangered and for all I know, fatty as hell. So zucchini it is, and for good reason. Low in calories, high in folate, potassium, vitamin A, and manganese, this dense food often gets a bad rap when overcooked and drenched in oil with eggplant and red peppers, the lazy restaurant's vegetarian go-to. Soggy foods are gross. Try them lightly sautéed with sriracha (the one with the rooster on it) and garlic as a quick side. Add tofu and you've got a quick and spicy little vegan entrée.

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