It is no secret that what we eat has the potential to help or harm us. Our addiction to processed food has left us consuming a diet that offers insufficient nourishment and is the cause of so many illnesses, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are foods that can leave you feeling energized, reduce your risk of illness, and allow you to maintain a healthy weight. If you want to live longer and be healthier, you have to fuel your body with the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Making natural plant foods a primary part of your diet will restore your health and vitality and have you wondering why everyone else isn’t eating this way too. Help spread the word.
1 Vegetable powerhouses with the unique ability to modify human hormones, activate the body’s natural detoxification system and inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.1 Cruciferous vegetables should be chewed thoroughly or eaten shredded, chopped, juiced, or blended in order to release their potent anti-cancer properties.
The cruciferous phytochemical sulforaphane has also been found to protect the blood vessel wall from inflammatory signaling that can lead to heart disease.2 Cruciferous vegetables are the most nutrient-dense of all the foods. Eat a variety in both raw and cooked form daily. Try broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, or cabbage.
2 Raw leafy green vegetables—some are cruciferous—contain less than 100 calories per pound, making them an ideal food for weight control. In addition to keeping weight down, greater intake of salads, leafy greens, or raw vegetables is associated with reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers.3
Leafy greens are also rich in the essential B-vitamin folate, plus lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that protect the eyes from light damage. Try kale, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, or lettuce. Fat-soluble phytochemicals, carotenoids in particular, found in leafy greens contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.4
3 A high-nutrient source of healthful fats, plant protein, fiber, antioxidants, phytosterols, and minerals, nuts are a low-glycemic food that also help to reduce the glycemic load of an entire meal, making them an important component for an anti-diabetes diet. Despite their caloric density, nut consumption is associated with lower body weight, potentially due to appetite suppression from heart-healthy components. Eating nuts regularly also reduce cholesterol and are linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease. Top your next salad with chopped walnuts or sliced almonds, or blend some raw cashews into a creamy salad dressing.5
4 The nutritional profile of seeds is very similar to nuts in that they provide healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidants, but seeds have more protein and are abundant in trace minerals.6 Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 fats.7 Flax, chia, and sesame seeds are also rich lignans, breast cancer-fighting phytoestrogens. Sesame seeds are rich in calcium and vitamin E, and pumpkin seeds are especially rich in zinc.8 For maximum nutritional benefits, nuts and seeds should be eaten raw or only lightly toasted. Try adding flax or chia seeds to your morning smoothie or oatmeal.
5 These antioxidant-rich fruits are very heart-healthy. Studies in which participants ate blueberries or strawberries daily for several weeks reported improvements in blood pressure, signs of oxidative stress, total and LDL cholesterol.9 Berries also have anti-cancer properties and are excellent food for the brain; there is evidence that berry consumption could help prevent cognitive decline with aging.10 Stick with the tried and traditional strawberry or blueberry, or try something new, like goji berries.
6 The pomegranate is a unique fruit, containing tiny, crisp, juicy arils with a tasty mix of sweet and tart flavors. The signature phytochemical of pomegranate, punicalagin, is the most abundant and is responsible for more than half of the antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice. Pomegranate phytochemicals have a variety of anti-cancer, cardioprotective, and brain-healthy actions.11
In another study of older adults, those who drank pomegranate juice daily for 28 days performed better on a memory task compared to those who drank a placebo beverage.12 Tip: To remove the edible arils from the fruit, score it around, a half-inch deep on the diameter, twist to split it in two, and then pound the back with the back of a large spoon.
7Daily consumption of beans and other legumes help to stabilize blood sugar, reduce your appetite, and protect against colon cancer. The most nutrient-dense starch source, beans act as an anti-diabetes and weight-loss food because they are digested slowly, which blunts the rise in blood glucose after a meal and helps to prevent food cravings by promoting satiety.13 Eating beans, peas, or lentils twice a week has been found to decrease colon cancer risk.14 Legume consumption also provides significant protection against other cancers too. Red beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas—they are all good, so sample them all and decide on your own favorites.
8 Consuming mushrooms regularly is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Because they contain aromatase inhibitors (compounds that inhibit the production of estrogen), white and Portobello mushrooms are especially protective against breast cancer.15 Mushrooms have quite an array of beneficial properties: Studies on different types of mushrooms have found anti-inflammatory effects, enhanced immune cell activity, prevention of DNA damage, slowed cancer cell growth, and angiogenesis inhibition.16 Mushrooms should always be cooked; raw mushrooms contain a potentially carcinogenic substance called agaritine that is significantly reduced by cooking. Include common white mushrooms regularly, and try some of the more exotic varieties like shiitake, oyster, maitake, or reishi.
9 The Allium family of vegetables, of which onions are a member, benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems as well as having anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects.17 Increased consumption of allium vegetables is associated with a lower risk of gastric and prostate cancers. These vegetables are known for their organosulfur compounds which help to prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, halting cancer cell growth, and blocking angiogenesis.18 These compounds are released when they are chopped, crushed, or chewed. Onions also contain high concentrations of health-promoting flavonoid antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention. Try leeks, chives, shallots, and scallions, in addition to garlic and yellow onions.
10 An abundance of health-promoting nutrients can be found in tomatoes—lycopene, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and flavonol antioxidants, to name but a few. Lycopene, in particular, protects against prostate cancer, UV skin damage, and cardiovascular disease.19
Lycopene is more absorbable when tomatoes are cooked—one cup of tomato sauce has 10 times the lycopene as a cup of raw, chopped tomatoes. Also keep in mind that carotenoids, like lycopene, are best absorbed when accompanied by healthy fats, so enjoy your tomatoes in a salad with nuts or a nut-based dressing for an extra nutritional punch. Another tip: Buy diced and crushed tomatoes in glass jars, not cans, to avoid the endocrine disruptor BPA in can liners
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