Many of us suffer from medical conditions linked to our diets. These nutritional powerhouses can make you healthier with every bite.
Looking for a health superhero? Head down to the supermarket. Some food have the power to fight weight gain, diabetes or heart diseases- in other words, they are literally life savers. And that’s not an exaggeration. A large study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people of any age who started including healthy foods in their diets improved their chances of living longer. Replacing one serving of red or processed meat a day with one serving of nuts or legumes, for instance, was linked to an 8-17% reduced risk of premature death.
But how do you choose the best options for you? Drawing upon the expertise of health experts and my own research, here are the 12 foods with the greatest health benefits
- Eye conditions
- Heart disease
Kale is packed with carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are particularly beneficial for eye health. Not to mention that it also contains quite a large amount of organic sulfur, which helps the body rid itself of toxic substances. Kale also has tons of vitamin C, which improves immune-cell function, magnesium for bone health, vitamin K for blood vessels and heart valves; and folate for brain health.
Serving size: ½ cup cooked (59g)
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol, Low energy
- Constipation, Anemia
- Weight gain, Diabetes
Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy fats, along with some protein. Depending on the nut, they also contain some fiber, calcium or magnesium. Almonds, for example, have 75 milligrams of calcium in a 28-gram serving and walnuts are high in antioxidants. If you have a handful of mixed nuts every day, you are getting all these great nutrients that the body needs to function properly.
Serving size: About ¼ cup (28g)
Good To Know: Oils in nuts quickly turn rancid if exposed to too much heat. Store nuts in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
- Stroke, Inflammation
- Heart disease, Rheumatoid arthritis
- Brain function
Salmon, whether farmed or wild caught, fresh, frozen or canned- is rich in protein, omega 3’s, B vitamins, vitamins D and A and selenium. All of these nutrients are critical for good health, particularly omega 3’s. These fatty acids help protect against age-related brain and eye diseases, reduce the risk of heart disease and depression, maintain healthy skin, calm inflammation and boost immune function (Other sources of omega-3’s include mackerel, anchovies, walnuts and flaxseeds.) Studies show that pregnant women who eat seafood 2-3 times each week during their pregnancy go on to have babies with optimal brain development, including an IQ boost.
Serving size: 85g
Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, folate and high levels of antioxidants. They may help interrupt the development of type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation in the bowel and slow cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years.
Serving size: Eight large strawberries
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and a great source of mono-unsaturated fats and omega- 3 fatty acids. It helps reduce triglycerides and the density of your ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and it may make your platelets less likely to stick together, decreasing your risk for heart attack or stroke.
Serving size: 1 tablespoon
This spice contains curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
- High blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis, Heart disease
- Diabetes infections, Colon cancer
Garlic is great for keeping high blood pressure at bay- something which is very useful for individuals under a lot of stress. One of the most underrated properties of garlic is its antifungal ability. Allicin is the biological compound responsible for this magical power. Fresh garlic and sometimes a garlic supplement are recommended when someone is dealing with athletes foot or even frequent urinary tract infections as a result of yeast over-growth. It is also believed that garlic can reduce the risk of various cancers, as well as prevent cognitive decline.
Serving size: 3 cloves or 3 teaspoons, minced (9g)
Good to know: Garlic is most potent when eaten raw, but it may upset your stomach. Lessen your chance of experiencing stomach irritation by eating raw garlic with a balanced meal.
- High cholesterol, High blood pressure
- Heart disease, constipation
- Weight gain
Overnight oats- raw rolled oats soaked in milk and refrigerated overnight- are a terrific source of resistant starch (Oats prepared by other means also contain some resistant starch, but some of it is lost when oats are cooked.) Resistant starch is not digested in the small intestine and is therefore fermented in the colon. This increases good bacteria and decreases bad bacteria, which can help with constipation and lower bowel cancer risk.
In addition, it reduces the amount of glucose released into the blood, therefore lowering insulin demand and reducing absorbed kilojoules. This helps with insulin resistance, diabetes and weight loss. Resistant starch is also one of the best sources of short-chain fatty acids, which helps control your hunger.
Serving size: ½ cup (114 g)
Good to know: Play around with your favorite flavours-add almond butter, chia seeds, flax and fruit, such as berries and bananas. Mix together, then put it in the fridge overnight, and you’ll have a nutrient-packed breakfast waiting for you in the morning.
- Blood sugar spikes
- High cholesterol, Weight gain
- Constipation, Anemia
- Heart disease, Reproductive Health
Lentils contain the highest amount of protein of any plant. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, which helps control blood sugar levels and provide excellent amounts of iron, folate, magnesium and potassium. They are consumed in the largest amounts in the Blue Zones, regions of the world identified by author Dan Buettner as having the longest living people.
Lentils, which belong to the legume family, have more fibre than beans. A ¼ cup of dry lentils contains about 13 grams of fibre and red lentils, 15 grams. A ¼ cup of kidney beans has about half that.
Serving size: ½ cup cooked (114 g)
Good to know: Don’t mix new lentils with older ones, because the older lentils will take longer to cook.
- Mood disorders
- High blood pressure, Heart disease
Flavonoids, which are found in dark chocolate, may boost mood by affecting blood flow in the brain and enhancing executive functioning. Additionally, flavonoids help increase the amount of serotonin as well as other naturally occurring mood boosting chemicals in the blood.
This is separated from the experience of enjoying what you’re eating, since chocolate can also stimulate the release of endorphins. Because of it’s antioxidant properties, dark chocolate is increasingly being researched for its effect on boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure and protecting the heart.
Serving size: 30 g
Good to know: To obtain the most flavonoids, choose a dark chocolate with 70% cacao or greater.
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease, Insulin resistance
- Cancer, Blood sugar swings
Avocados have been shown to help improve cardiovascular health and can significantly lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels because of their unsaturated fat content. These fatty acids have been shown to improve cognitive function, depression, anxiety and brain fog, as fats are a more efficient fuel source for your brain than glucose.
Avocados also contain essential fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K and important electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium. They are a great source of plant- based protein, with approximately 4 grams in one whole avocado, and also contain 4.6 grams of soluble fiber per serving.
Serving size: ½ cup cubed (75g)
Good to know: Avocado oil is one of the healthiest oils you can cook with. Plus it has a higher smoking point than olive oil, so you can cook at higher temperatures.
- Immune system, Bones
- Hypertension, Cancer
- Heart disease
Studies have shown that pomegranate juice has more anti-inflammatory compounds than blueberry juice, grape juice or black cherry juice. For women who are experiencing painful periods it reduces inflammation and cramping while also providing a small (but healthy) sugar boost during a time when many women experience low blood sugar.
Studies have also shown that pomegranate juice helps lower cholesterol levels and it has been used for hundreds of years for those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Pomegranate juice is recommended because the fruit is hard to find year-round. The juice also provides concentrated vitamins and anti-inflammatory phenols and is easier to digest than the whole fruit.
Serving size: 1 cup (250 ml)
Good to know: Tossing pomegranate seeds on your salad may be good for your skin. Scientists have discovered that nutrients in pomegranates can help protect skin from sun damage and possibly even from cancer