You can nibble on goji berries, whip up noni juice smoothies and stock your shelves with antioxidants. But if you’re looking for what really works for optimal health and disease prevention, the best approach is to focus on foods that are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.
Basic foods that have proven health benefits: that’s what you want to emphasize. Less-than-exotic offerings, like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes, have been shown in dozens of peer-reviewed published studies to protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. And unlike fancy fruits and vegetables, they’re readily available, inexpensive and have other benefits, like a wicked high fiber content. And they’ve been used for thousands of years, with no drawbacks, side effects or toxicity.
None of the foods on this top six list will surprise you–but they may inspire you and help you feel good about the food you eat.
It’s still true: few foods measure up to broccoli for cancer- fighting potential. Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant linked with a reduced risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, stomach, colon and rectal cancers. The phytonutrients in broccoli help detoxify carcinogens found in the environment. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and we know that an important factor in reducing the risk of disease is to decrease inflammation. How to eat more: Saute broccoli florets with shallots and pine nuts, and drizzle with lemon juice; steam broccoli rabe and toss with a honey-mustard dressing.
It’s not just for pie: pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Like sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and other orange-red vegetables, pumpkin is rich in disease-preventive beta-carotene. And pumpkin is also one of the highest sources of alpha-carotene, a powerful member of the carotenoid family that’s inversely related to cataract formation and boosts immunity. How to eat more: Serve warm pumpkin puree with maple syrup and finely chopped pecans; make a simple pumpkin soup with pumpkin puree, vegetable or chicken stock, onions, black beans, cumin and cilantro.
Fragrant and sweet, blueberries are rich inanthocyanins, compounds that help protect the heart, and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies suggest the blueberry anthocyanins protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and can slow and even reverse age-related memory loss and decline in cognitive function. How to eat more: loss fresh blueberries with baby spinach leaves, chopped walnuts, thinly sliced red onions and olive oil; combine chopped blueberries, diced mango, minced jalapeno peppers and cilantro with lime juice for a tangy salsa.
It’s a great catch in terms of heart disease. Salmon and other fatty fish-like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna- are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and may cut your risk of death from coronary artery disease in half. Omega-3 fats also have immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects, reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancers, and ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and some psychiatric disorders. How to eat more: Top braised spinach with poached salmon, chopped tomatoes and black olives; combine chopped, cooked salmon with capers, minced onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and serve on crackers.
Boost your vision and protect against cancer with spinach, one of iln- richest dietary sources of an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein helps protect against heart disease and some cancers, and has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is also rich in beta-carotene, which may protect against cancer. Other lutein-rich foods include kale, collard greens, chard and beet greens. How to eat more: Saute baby spinach, diced tomatoes, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil; toss steamed spinach with tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Another reason to eat pizza: tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Research shows the absorption of lycopene is greatest when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil. In one study, a combination of tomato and broccoli was more effective at slowing tumor growth than tomatoes or broccoli alone. How to eat more: Simmer chopped tomatoes and broccoli in olive oil, top with black olives and grated Asiago cheese; drizzle halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper and minced rosemary leaves, and roast.