Eat these and be healthy!
Researchers agree these foods can help fight disease, enhance intelligence and protect organs
We wanted to know what foods pack the biggest health and nutritional punch, so we asked one of Canada’s most recognized experts on the subject, bestselling author Liz Pearson, to give us her Top 10 list and the scientific reasons behind her choices.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
You simply can’t ignore that a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet – one of the healthiest diets in the world – is olive oil. And while many foods contribute to the success of this diet, olive oil is an important part of the equation. People who regularly consume olive oil as part of a healthy diet live longer and have lower rates of heart and other diseases, especially breast and colon cancers.
Olive oil is very rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and, when substituted for unhealthy trans and saturated fats, it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
But that’s not all. Olive oil contains a multitude of health protective plant compounds called phenols with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that promote heart health and help protect against cancer.
Extra virgin olive oil is best because it’s less processed and has higher quantities of these disease-fighting compounds.
Research says: In a study by the University of Cordoba in Spain, 21 people with high cholesterol levels consumed olive oil either phenol-rich or with most phenols removed. Only the phenol-rich olive oil significantly increased levels of nitric oxide and reduced levels of oxidative stress in the blood. Nitric oxide is important for blood vessel health and dilation, while reducing oxidative stress helps prevent the damage to artery walls that leads to heart disease.
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that includes Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, rutabaga and turnips.
Among them, broccoli and kale rate highest in nutritional value.
But all members of this group contain potent anti-cancer compounds called indoles and isothiocyanates that block enzymes in the body involved in the initial stages of cancer development and help detoxify cancer-causing compounds before they damage cells.
Cruciferous vegetables are linked to a lower risk of many cancers, including lung, prostate, colon, stomach, ovarian and breast.
Getting girls to eat their broccoli during teen years when breast tissue is forming may be important for reducing their risk of breast cancer later in life. Eat raw or lightly steamed; boiling removes beneficial compounds.
Research says: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers have found that broccoli sprouts contain 20 times more cancer-fighting compounds than mature broccoli, but raw sprouts can be a source of harmful bacteria and food poisoning. Mature broccoli has considerably more nutritional value, including vitamins C and A, and fibre.
Popeye had it right. Spinach is a cancer-fighting superstar, loaded with beta carotene, the B vitamin folate and a large supply of antioxidant-rich plant compounds.
A daily helping of spinach can reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Along with other dark green leafy vegetables, it’s rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that absorb the most damaging of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and stop nasty free radicals from damaging eye tissues.
The folate in spinach can lower the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and, during pregnancy, reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects.
Spinach contains vitamin K that plays a crucial role in bone strength, blood clotting and possibly preventing hardening of the arteries.
Research says: Cornell University researchers put spinach at the top of the list as the vegetable we should eat more often, based on its exceptional antioxidant profile and ability to suppress cancer.
Darker greens like spinach provide more nutrition and better defence against disease. Spinach contains four times more potassium, seven times more folate, eight times more vitamin E, 18 times more vitamin A, 20 times more vitamin K and 44 times more lutein and zeaxanthin than iceberg lettuce.
Nuts, especially almonds, are loaded with nutrients. Almonds are especially high in calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E.
In the early 1990s, fat was considered the villain. People stopped eating nuts. Nut consumption dropped by a whopping 40 per cent.
Then came study after study showing that nuts deserve a prominent place in a diet designed for good health. Yes, nuts contain fat, but it’s mostly the healthy-for-your-heart kind.
They also contain an astounding mix of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds that amplify their disease-fighting potential. Plus, they easily fit into a busy lifestyle and they taste great.
Research says: In a USDA study of 10,000 adults, the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, only 8 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women met recommended intakes for vitamin E. Eating more nuts and seeds, especially almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, can help boost your intake of this important nutrient. Nuts are also an important source of magnesium and fibre.
While I generally recommend eating whole fruits rather than juice, pomegranate juice is an exception. Because the entire fruit is crushed to make the juice, including the skin, the juice contains more antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
The research is simply too impressive to ignore. It contains more polyphenols (plant compounds with exceptional antioxidant activity) than red wine, blueberry juice, cranberry juice and green tea.
It’s great for your heart, helping prevent bad cholesterol from building up on artery walls, and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. It helps prevent the development and spread of cancerous cells, helps boost the immune system and is beneficial to the brain.
It may help reduce your risk of inflammatory diseases like arthritis by protecting cartilage and other tissues from damage.
Due to its natural sugar content, drink no more than half a cup a day or one cup a day for those with heart disease.
Research says: In a study from the Lipid Research Laboratory in Israel, 10 patients with heart disease consumed one cup (250 ml) of pomegranate juice daily for one year. Thickness of their artery walls was reduced by as much as 30 per cent and systolic blood pressure by 21 per cent.
Beans are an incredible food. They’ve earned a first-class reputation for their exceptional nutritional content, as well as their ability to fight heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and more. Researchers and health experts have referred to them as the best human plant food there is. They contain a whole lot of nutrition in one little package.
They’re the best source of plant protein for building skin, muscle, bones and hair. They’re also a rich source of B vitamins, especially folate that helps prevent birth defects.
Beans contribute significant amounts of other nutrients, including magnesium (builds strong bones and enhances insulin), potassium (for healthy blood pressure, lower stroke and kidney stone risk), as well as calcium, iron, copper, zinc, phosphorous and manganese. They’re rich in carbohydrates, fibre and antioxidants.
Research says: A review of 25 years of research by nutrition experts from Michigan State University concluded eating two to four cups of beans a week can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancers of the breast, colon and prostate.
Other research has rated beans as the food most linked to a longer human life span in Japan, Sweden, Australia and Greece.
Yogurt, along with other milk products, is one of the best sources of calcium, essential for bone health, and it provides a concentrated hit of many vitamins and minerals.
People think of bacteria as being bad, but there are 1,500 kinds in your gastrointestinal tract and many of these are considered to be good for your health since they combat bad bacteria and help to maintain healthy cells lining the GI tract.
Yogurt is basically milk fermented by bacteria. Some yogurts contain additional good bacteria called probiotics.
Preliminary research suggests probiotics may help defend against viruses and harmful bacteria, reduce lactose intolerance, protect against vaginal and bladder infections, prevent food, skin allergies and asthma in children, ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, suppress bacteria that cause stomach cancer and ulcers, protect colon cells against cancer, and fight cavities.
Research says: In the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals involving 18,000 children, teenagers and adults, higher intakes of yogurt and other milk products resulted in statistically significant and often large increases in the intake of essential nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin and calcium.
All berries are antioxidant all-stars, but blueberries are the leader of the pack.
Few foods are as well equipped to wage war against those nasty, cell-damaging free radicals in your body that can cause heart disease, cancer, aging and more.
They’re good fresh, dried, frozen and cooked.
Frozen berries are also perfect for whipping into a tasty smoothie, or to heat in the microwave and serve over low-fat frozen yogurt. In fact, all types of berries can fit into a healthy diet, including blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, elderberries, black currant and chokeberries.
Research says: In animal studies at Tufts University, blueberries improved balance and co-ordination, and reversed short-term memory loss that comes with aging. A blueberry-rich diet prevented symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice genetically programmed to develop the disease.
University of South Florida research showed that mice fed blueberries suffered 50 per cent less stroke-induced brain damage. Berries appear to protect the brain through multiple mechanisms: as a shield against free radical damage, reducing inflammation, enhancing brain cell communications and increasing the formation of new brain cells.
For better health, you’ve got to eat the whole food. That’s one of the golden rules of nutrition today and whole grains are a perfect example of this.
They fight heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, and help you maintain a healthy body weight. In contrast, refined grains like white bread are tied to a higher risk of disease.
All grains, whether from wheat, oats, rice, barley or other sources, are made up of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each part has a special contribution to make.
When grains are refined to make foods like white bread or white rice, the bran and germ are discarded.
But when you throw away the bran and the germ, you throw away a whole lot of good stuff. More than 80 per cent of the health-protective plant compounds are found in the bran and germ.
Many nutrients are found in them as well. We can see this by comparing the nutritional value of white flour to whole-wheat flour.
Whole wheat contains two times more calcium and selenium, three times more copper and phosphorus, four times more potassium, zinc and fibre, six times more magnesium, 12 times more lutein and zeaxanthin, and 14 times more vitamin E.
Research says: In the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study involving about 75,000 women, those who ate the most whole grains reduced their risk of heart disease by 25 per cent, stroke by more than 30 per cent and diabetes by almost 40 per cent. They were also 50 per cent less likely to experience major weight gain.
Salmon is one of the most delicious and best sources of Omega-3 fats, which can help slash your risk of heart disease and stroke, chase away the blues, and protect your brain from the ravages of aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s.
It can cut your risk of the most common cancers (breast, prostate and colon), reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergies, and guard against eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Can the Omega-3 fats found in higher-fat fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and rainbow trout really do all that?
Accumulating research says yes.
Research says: Some researchers consider these fats the most important nutritional factor influencing heart disease risk.
Scientists first suspected their importance back in the 1970s, after observing rock bottom rates of heart disease among Greenlanders and the Japanese on Okinawa, where seafood consumption is high.
Much evidence has accumulated to support the heart-healthy benefits of higher-fat fish.
Not only are regular fish eaters less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, if one does occur, they are much less likely to die from it and damage to the heart muscle is greatly reduced.
Omega-3 fats are critical for brain development. They help preserve thinking skills and memory as we get older and are linked to better intelligence or school performance in children.