These are the foods you should eat every day, and they should make up a significant proportion of your diet – these foods are extremely effective at preventing chronic disease and promoting health and longevity.
*Raw leafy greens contain only about 100 calories per pound, and are packed with nutrients. Leafy greens contain substances that protect blood vessels, and are associated with reduced risk of diabetes. Greens are an excellent tool for weight loss, since they can be consumed in virtually unlimited quantities. Leafy greens are also the most nutrient-dense of all foods, but unfortunately are only consumed in miniscule amounts in a typical American diet. The majority of calories in green vegetables, including leafy greens, come from protein, and this plant protein is packaged with beneficial phytochemicals: Green vegetables are rich in folate (the natural form of folic acid), calcium, and contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Leafy greens are also rich in antioxidant pigments called carotenoids, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the carotenoids known to promote healthy vision. Also, several leafy greens and other green vegetables (such as bok choy, broccoli, and kale) belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables.
*All vegetables contain protective micronutrients and phytochemicals, but cruciferous vegetables have a unique chemical composition; they contain glucosinolates, and when their cell walls are broken by blending, chopping, or chewing, a chemical reaction converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates (ITCs) – compounds with a variety of potent anti-cancer effects. Because different ITCs can work in different locations in the cell and on different molecules, they can have combined additive effects, working synergistically to remove carcinogens, reduce inflammation, neutralize oxidative stress, inhibit angiogenesis (the process by which tumors acquire a blood supply), and kill cancer cells.
*Onions, along with leeks, garlic, shallots, and scallions, make up the Allium family of vegetables, which have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems, as well as anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects. Allium vegetables are known for their characteristic organosulfur compounds, Similar to the ITCs in cruciferous vegetables, organosulfur compounds are released when onions are chopped, crushed, or chewed. Epidemiological studies have found that increased consumption of Allium vegetables is associated with lower risk of gastric and prostate cancers. These compounds prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, halting cancer cell growth, and blocking angiogenesis. Onions also contain high concentrations of health-promoting flavonoid antioxidants, predominantly quercetin, and red onions also contain at least 25 different anthocyanins. Quercetin slows tumor development, suppresses growth and proliferation and induces cell death in colon cancer cells. Flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention.
*Consuming mushrooms regularly is associated with decreased risk of breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. In one recent Chinese study, women who ate at least 10 grams of fresh mushrooms each day (about one mushroom per day) had a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer. Even more dramatic protection was gained by women who ate 10 grams of mushrooms and drank green tea daily – an 89% decrease in risk for premenopausal women, and 82% for postmenopausal women. White, cremini, portobello, oyster, shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms all have anti-cancer properties – some are anti-inflammatory, stimulate the immune system, prevent DNA damage, slow cancer cell growth, cause programmed cancer cell death, or inhibit angiogenesis.In addition to these properties, mushrooms are unique in that they contain aromatase inhibitors – compounds that can block the production of estrogen. These compounds are thought to be largely responsible for the preventive effects of mushrooms against breast cancer – in fact, there are aromatase-inhibiting drugs on the market that are used to treat breast cancer. Regular consumption of dietary aromatase inhibitors is an excellent strategy for prevention, and it turns out that even the most commonly eaten mushrooms (white, cremini, and portobello) have high anti-aromatase activity.
*Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are true super foods. Naturally sweet and juicy, berries are low in sugar and high in nutrients – they are among the best foods you can eat. Their vibrant colors mean that they are full of antioxidants, including flavonoids and antioxidant vitamins – berries are some of the highest antioxidant foods in existence. Berries’ plentiful antioxidant content confers both cardioprotective and anti-cancer effects, such as reducing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, preventing DNA damage, inhibiting tumor angiogenesis, and stimulating of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Berry consumption has been linked to reduced risk of diabetes, cancers and cognitive decline. Berries are an excellent food for the brain – berry consumption improves both motor coordination and memory.
*Beans (and other legumes as well) are a powerhouse of superior nutrition, and the most nutrient-dense carbohydrate source. They act as an anti-diabetes and weight-loss food because they are digested slowly, having a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, which promotes satiety and helps to prevent food cravings. Plus they contain soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels.14 Beans are unique foods because of their very high levels of fiber and resistant starch, carbohydrates that are not broken down by digestive enzymes. Fiber and resistant starch not only reduce the total number of calories absorbed from beans, but are also fermented by intestinal bacteria into fatty acids that help to prevent colon cancer. Eating beans, peas, or lentils at least twice a week has been found to decrease colon cancer risk by 50%. Legume intake also provides significant protection against oral, larynx, pharynx, stomach, and kidney cancers.
*Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats and are rich in a spectrum of micronutrients including phytosterols, minerals, and antioxidants. Countless studies have demonstrated the cardiovascular benefits of nuts, and including nuts in the diet aids in weight maintenance and diabetes prevention. The nutritional profiles of seeds are similar to nuts when it comes to healthy fats, minerals, and antioxidants, but seeds are also abundant in trace minerals, higher in protein than nuts, and each kind of seed is nutritionally unique. Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are extremely rich sources of omega-3 fats. In addition to the omega-3s, flaxseeds are rich in fiber and lignans. Flaxseed consumption protects against heart disease by a number of different mechanisms, and lignans, which are present in both flaxseeds and sesame seeds, have anti-cancer effects. Sunflower seeds are especially rich in protein and minerals. Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron and calcium and are a good source of zinc. Sesame seeds have the greatest amount of calcium of any food in the world, and provide abundant amounts of vitamin E. Also, black sesame seeds are extremely rich in antioxidants. The healthy fats in seeds and nuts also aid in the absorption of nutrients when eaten with vegetables.
by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
1. Carter P, Gray LJ, Troughton J, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010 Aug 18;341:c4229.
Journal of Clinical Investigation (2011, March 24). High levels of dietary nitrate might in part explain the vascular benefits of diets rich in leafy greens. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 30, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2011/03/110323135631.htm
2. Stringham JM, Bovier ER, Wong JC, Hammond BR Jr. The influence of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance. J Food Sci. 2010 Jan-Feb;75(1):R24-9.
3. Higdon JV, Delage B, Williams DE, Dashwood RH. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacol Res. 2007 Mar;55(3):224-36.
Cavell BE, Syed Alwi SS, Donlevy A, et al., Anti-angiogenic effects of dietary isothiocyanates: mechanisms of action and implications for human health. Biochem. Pharmacol., 2011. 81(3): p. 327-36.
4. Powolny AA, Singh SV. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):305-14.
5. Pierini R, Gee JM, Belshaw NJ, et al. Flavonoids and intestinal cancers. Br J Nutr. 2008 May;99 E Suppl 1:ES53-9.
6. Slimestad R, Fossen T, Vågen IM. Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Dec 12;55(25):10067-80.
7. Miyamoto S, Yasui Y, Ohigashi H, et al. Dietary flavonoids suppress azoxymethane-induced colonic preneoplastic lesions in male C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice. Chem Biol Interact. 2010 Jan 27;183(2):276-83.
Shan BE, Wang MX, Li RQ. Quercetin inhibit human SW480 colon cancer growth in association with inhibition of cyclin D1 and survivin expression through Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway. Cancer Invest. 2009 Jul;27(6):604-12.
Xavier CP, Lima CF, Preto A, et al. Luteolin, quercetin and ursolic acid are potent inhibitors of proliferation and inducers of apoptosis in both KRAS and BRAF mutated human colorectal cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2009 Aug 28;281(2):162-70.
8. Ravasco P, Aranha MM, Borralho PM, et al. Colorectal cancer: Can nutrients modulate NF-kappaB and apoptosis? Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;29(1):42-46.
9. Hong SA, Kim K, Nam SJ, et al: A case-control study on the dietary intake of mushrooms and breast cancer risk among Korean women. Int J Cancer 2008, 122:919-923.
Shin A, Kim J, Lim SY, et al: Dietary mushroom intake and the risk of breast cancer based on hormone receptor status. Nutr Cancer 2010, 62:476-483.
Zhang M, Huang J, Xie X, et al: Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer 2009, 124:1404-1408.
10. Hara M, Hanaoka T, Kobayashi M, et al: Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan. Nutr Cancer 2003, 46:138-147.
11. Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S, et al: Anti-aromatase activity of phytochemicals in white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Cancer Res 2006, 66:12026-12034.
12. Bazzano LA, Li TY, Joshipura KJ, Hu FB. Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2008 Jul;31(7):1311-7.
Hannum SM. Potential impact of strawberries on human health: a review of the science. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2004;44(1):1-17.
Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Willis LM. Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr. 2009 Sep;139(9):1813S-7S.
Stoner GD, Wang LS, Casto BC. Laboratory and clinical studies of cancer chemoprevention by antioxidants in berries. Carcinogenesis. 2008 Sep;29(9):1665-74.
Cassidy A, O’Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al: Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2011, 93:338-347.
Roy S, Khanna S, Alessio HM, et al: Anti-angiogenic property of edible berries. Free Radic Res 2002, 36:1023-1031.
13. Bickford PC, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph J. Effects of aging on cerebellar noradrenergic function and motor learning: nutritional interventions. Mech Ageing Dev. 1999 Nov;111(2-3):141-54.
Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, et al. Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):3996-4000.
14. Bazzano LA, Thompson AM, Tees MT, et al. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2011 Feb;21(2):94-103.
Aune D, De Stefani E, Ronco A, et al. Legume intake and the risk of cancer: a multisite case-control study in Uruguay. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Nov;20(9):1605-15.
15. O’Keefe SJ, Ou J, Aufreiter S, et al. Products of the colonic microbiota mediate the effects of diet on colon cancer risk. J Nutr. 2009 Nov;139(11):2044-8.
16. Singh PN, Fraser GE. Dietary risk factors for colon cancer in a low-risk population. Am J Epidemiol. 1998 Oct 15;148(8):761-74.
17. Aune D, De Stefani E, Ronco A, et al. Legume intake and the risk of cancer: a multisite case-control study in Uruguay. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Nov;20(9):1605-15.
18. Nash SD, Nash DT. Nuts as part of a healthy cardiovascular diet. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2008 Dec;10(6):529-35.
Sabaté J, Ang Y. Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1643S-1648S.
Mattes RD et al. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1741S-1745S.
Natoli S, McCoy P. A review of the evidence: nuts and body weight. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(4):588-97
19. Kendall CW, Josse AR, Esfahani A, Jenkins DJ. Nuts, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Br J Nutr. 2010 Aug;104(4):465-73.
20. Bassett CM, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN. Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Oct;34(5):965-74.
Webb AL, McCullough ML. Dietary lignans: potential role in cancer prevention. Nutr Cancer. 2005;51(2):117-31.
Saarinen NM, Wärri A, Airio M, et al. Role of dietary lignans in the reduction of breast cancer risk. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jul;51(7):857-66.
Coulman KD, Liu Z, Hum WQ, et al. Whole sesame seed is as rich a source of mammalian lignan precursors as whole flaxseed. Nutr Cancer. 2005;52(2):156-65.
21. Shahidi F, Liyana-Pathirana CM, Wall DS. Antioxidant activity of white and black sesame seeds and their hull fractions. Food Chemistry 2006;99(3): 478-483.