One in five women have a history of painful urinary tract infections. "I had three in one year," says Patty Buxton*, a Colorado middle-school teacher. Reading that cranberry juice may help prevent these infections, Buxton went on a regimen a year ago, and since then she's been infection-free. She thinks cranberry juice did the trick.
1. Papaya. This tropical fruit packs about twice the vitamin C of an orange. Add it to your arsenal against gallbladder disease, which afflicts twice as many women as men.
After analyzing the blood of over 13,000 people, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who had lower levels of vitamin C were more likely to have gallbladder illnesses. One medium papaya (about ten ounces), with its 188 mg of vitamin C and a mere 119 calories, is a refreshing source of the vitamin. The once exotic fruit now can be found in most supermarkets.
2. Flaxseed. Bakers use this nutty-flavored seed mainly to add flavor and fiber. But scientists see the tiny reddish-brown seed, rich in estrogenlike compounds called lignans, as a potential weapon against breast cancer. An exciting report at last year's San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium showed that adding flaxseed to the diet of women with breast cancer effectively slowed tumor growth. You can flavor your muffins with flaxseed, but the easiest way to get the beneficial lignans is to sprinkle a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed on your morning cereal. Look for the seeds in health food stores or in supermarkets on the flour aisle. They're easy to grind in a blender or coffee grinder. But get seeds -- there are no lignans in the oil.
3. Tofu. Foods high in soy protein can lower cholesterol and may minimize menopausal hot flashes and strengthen bone. Isoflavones, plant chemicals in soybeans that have a structure similar to estrogen, may be the reason. Though animal studies form the bulk of the evidence, a human study found that 90 mg of isoflavones was beneficial to bone (specifically the spine). And two other studies suggest that 50 to 76 mg of isoflavones a day may offer some relief from hot flashes. A half-cup of tofu contains about 25 to 35 mg of isoflavones.
4. Collard Greens. This humble vegetable may help fight osteoporosis, which afflicts many women late in life. In addition to getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, some studies suggest that vitamin K may have a bone-protective effect as well. Based on data from one of the largest studies of women, the Nurses' Health Study, researchers discovered that women who ate enough vitamin K-rich foods (at least 109 micrograms of the vitamin daily) were 30 percent less likely to suffer a hip fracture during ten years of follow-up than women who ate less. Researchers point out that dark-green leafy vegetables -- Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli -- are all good sources of the vitamin. But collard greens, with about 375 micrograms per half-cup, are among the best.