Almonds: If you feel like snacking on nuts, almonds really are one of nature’s super foods. They are a good source of protein and fibre, and several minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc. They are also high in vitamin E, and contain smaller amounts of folic acid and vitamin B2. Almonds also contain monounsaturated fats, which can help to keep our arteries supple, and help prevent heart disease. Stick to the unroasted, unsalted nuts for the maximum hit of vitamins and minerals.
Apples: Apples have long been thought to be a healthy food, indeed many of us grew up hearing that they kept the doctor away! It is now known that apples contain the phytonutrient quercitin, which prevents the oxidation (damage) of LDL cholesterol thus lowering the risk of damage to our arteries and in turn, the risk of heart disease. They also contain pectin, a soluble fibre that seems to be very effective in lowering levels of blood cholesterol. Pectin also binds to heavy metals in our body, such as lead, and removes them from the gut.
Avocados: Pound for pound avocados provide more heart healthy monounsaturated fat, fibre, vitamin E, folic acid and potassium than any other fruits. As if this was not enough, they are also the number one fruit source of beta-sitosterol, a substance that can reduce total cholesterol. They also supersede other fruits in the antioxidant lutein, which, in studies has shown to protect people from cataracts. Lutein has also been linked with protecting your cardiovascular system and preventing prostate cancer. Avocados are very easily digested, which makes them ideal for people that have problems digesting fatty foods.
Beets: Beets are not only low calorie but also packed full of nutrients. They contain high levels of carotenoids and flavenoids; anti-oxidants that help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, protecting our artery walls and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is one of the richest sources of folic acid, which helps to protect unborn babies from spina bifida, and is also thought to help lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Beetroot also contains the mineral silica, which helps the body to utilise calcium, so is therefore important for musculo-skeletal health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Many people juice beetroot for its cleansing and detoxifying properties.
Blueberries: They not only look and taste great but blueberries contain antioxidants known as anthocyanidins, some of the strongest antidotes to oxidative stress, which many scientists believe to be the cause of aging in humans. Research carried out at the US Department of Agriculture found that blueberries had the highest antioxidant capacity of 40 tested fruits and vegetables. Berries also contain a phytochemical called ellegic acid, which is thought to prevent abnormal cellular changes.
Broccoli: If the other foods here are “super” foods then broccoli should be a “mega-super” food. Researchers are finding a wealth of healthy compounds in this vegetable, which include two power anti-cancer substances, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol. Sulforaphane destroys any carcinogenic compounds that you have ingested and then it creates enzymes that eat up any carcinogens leftover from that reaction. Sulforaphane also kills the bacteria Helicobacter pylori which causes stomach ulcers and greatly increases the risks of gastric cancers according to a study at the John Hopkins University, Baltimore.
Indole-3-carbinol helps your body to metabolise oestrogen, potentially protecting against breast cancer. Broccoli is also a good source of beta-carotene and potassium, which helps lower your risk of heart disease. Many therapists suggest eating broccoli at least three times a week and now we know why.
Cocoa: The main ingredient for chocolate provides plenty of antioxidant flavenoids, which can help fight heart disease and cancer. In a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 23 subjects added four tablespoons of cocoa and ½ ounce of dark chocolate to their daily diet. The results showed a lowering of cholesterol and increase of antioxidants in their blood. Before you get too excited about chocolate remember that there is a high fat content and you should choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage, and always remember to eat it in small quantities.
Cranberries: Phenols are plant chemicals that lower oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and cranberries posses one of the high levels of this healthy substance. Studies have indicated that the proanthocyanidins in cranberries can help protect against urinary tract infections, by preventing the bacterium E.coli from attaching to the bladder wall cells and infecting them. Some studies have also suggested that cranberries may be useful in aiding recovery from stroke. Although beneficial for most people, the Committee on Safety of Medicines has warned that those people on warfarin should limit consumption of cranberry juice.
Garlic:Numerous clinical trials have shown garlic to be an excellent cancer fighter – studies suggest that it has the ability to prevent development of cancers of the breast, colon, skin, prostate, stomach and oesophagus. Garlic also helps stimulate the immune system by encouraging the growth of natural killer cells, which directly attack cancer cells. It also has the ability to kill the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, a major cause of ulcers and stomach cancer.
A recent study at the University of East London claims that garlic has the ability to not only kill many of the antibiotic resistant strains of MRSA, the “hospital super bug”, but is also able to destroy the newer super-super bugs that are resistant against the most powerful antibiotics used against MRSA
Finally, a new study has shown that eating raw garlic after heart surgery may help to limit the damage done to the heart, due to its strong anti-oxidant properties.
Ginger: This root has long been thought to have medicinal properties and research is now confirming these suspicions. Ginger contains several antioxidant plant chemicals including gingerol and zingerone. In preliminary studies these antioxidants have been shown to fight cancer and heart disease. One study found that gingerol was as effective as aspirin at preventing blood clotting, making it a potential aid against heart disease (although it is not recommended for people who are already taking anti-coagulants). Ginger has effective antimicrobial effects on wounds and sores and is also thought to fight inflammation, cleanse the colon, and stimulate circulation.
Olive Oil: Unlike other oils, olive oil is packed with hearty healthy monounsaturated fat as well as antioxidant polyphenols. Spanish researchers confirmed what we have suspected for years, that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables and olive oil, can reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Onions: The Journal of National Cancer Institute published a paper stating that onions were the food most strongly associated with lower rates of lung cancer. The sulphur compounds and flavonoid quercetin are though to be responsible for the anti cancer properties of onions. Quercetin also appears to boost the immune system, promotes detoxification, and reduces inflammation. The consumption of onions and other alliums like leeks and garlic also appear to lower breast, oesophageal and stomach cancers.
Oranges: Oranges prove even ordinary foods can offer an array of disease fighting compounds. Hesperetin, the main flavonoid in oranges has been shown to help protect against cancer, heart disease, infections and inflammation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a report connecting a higher intake of hesperetin with lower rates of heart disease. Oranges are also a
rich source of pectin, which lower cholesterol, potassium, which reduces blood pressure, and folic acid, which reduces levels of homocysteine, according to studies.
Pumpkin: Pumpkins and squash are packed full of beta carotene (only carrots and sweet potatoes have more) and are the number one source of alpha carotene, a cancer inhibitor potentially more powerful than beta-carotene. Research of 100,000 people found that those that consumed the most alpha carotene had as much as 63% lower incidence of lung cancer. They also provide vitamins B5, C, E, potassium, calcium and fibre. And don’t throw out the seeds, as they are an excellent source of zinc, essential fatty acids, and are a great source of plant protein
Salmon: One of the best oily fish providing an excellent source of Omega 3. Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked with protecting against breast and other cancers and relieving autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Omega 3 is also essential for a brain as well as heart health, and has been linked with accelerated learning and attention span in children and helping mental functions in the elderly. Other oily fish include herring, tuna and mackerel.
Soy: Soy must be one of the most heavily investigated foods in terms of health benefits and most of the research has been around the prevention of cancer, particularly of the breast and prostate. It contains two phytoestrogens; genistein and daidzein, which are able to reduce the activity of the body’s own oestrogen, thus protecting the breast. Strong epidemiological evidence associates soy intake with low cancer rates although there is still some debate about whether everybody can receive its benefits.
Tea: Black, green, and now white teas have all been hailed for their antioxidant properties. According to epidemiological and animal evidence, green tea may inhibit breast, digestive and lung cancers. The polyphenols in green tea are powerful antioxidants (100 times as effective as vitamin C) and may protect cells from free radical damage. Tea may also prevent your bones from osteoporosis as you age, according to a study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine. They found that people who drank two or more cups of green or black tea per day for 10 years, had higher bone density.
Tomatoes: Dozens of epidemiological studies point to tomatoes significantly reducing the risk of cancer according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. They found strongest results for prostate, lung and stomach and the source of this protection is lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes. It is best to cook your tomatoes before you eat them as this makes the lycopene more easily absorbable. Tomatoes also contain potassium, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, which is essential for the immune system and helps keep skin healthy.
Whole Grains: Several epidemiological studies show that people who consume large amounts of whole grains every day have a lower risk of heart disease. Whole grains include brown rice, millet, oats and wholegrain bread. Population research also suggests that whole grains help prevent colon, breast and prostate cancer. The complex carbohydrates and fibre slow the release of blood sugar providing a great slow energy source. Fibre can also help to prevent constipation, encourages the growth of “friendly “bacteria in the gut, and aids the removal of toxins from the body.