Eating healthy does not have to be difficult; there are lots of nutrient dense foods out there to include in your diet. We wrote this (quite lengthy!) article to help you discover new healthy foods, and to learn the benefits they bring with them.
We have also created a Healthy Food Finder tool, which allows you to visually compare the foods mentioned in this article. Give it a try when you have a minute!
These odd looking little beans have a slightly sweet and nutty flavour that makes them popular for use in dessert dishes in countries like Japan and China. They also come with a wonderful range of scientifically proven health benefits, making them a healthful choice for the store cupboard!
Adzuki beans could help prevent diabetes and manage its complications. Scientists are always testing new methods of managing diabetic complications, particularly through diet.
One such study used rats and mice that consumed a specialised diet designed for rodents. A test group also received the adzuki bean extract and this continued for eight weeks – the point of this exercise was to find out if type 2 diabetes could be prevented. In order to investigate how symptoms of type 2 diabetes could be improved, another group of older mice were fed the extract for four weeks.
The results showed that in the first group of rodents the extract had a lowering effect on things like blood glucose levels, insulin levels and total cholesterol levels; these kinds of effects were also noticed in the second group of older mice. The researchers concluded that adzuki beans have both preventative and healing effects on type 2 diabetes.
They can also help manage weight. In 2012, a study was published that examined the effects of adzuki bean extract on lipid metabolism in the blood, which is the rate at which fats are removed from the system. Four groups of rats were fed either a control diet or a high fat diet, then one of the control groups and one of the high fat groups also received adzuki bean extract. The researchers also used human fat cells to examine the effects of the adzuki bean extract.
The results showed that in the rats that had consumed adzuki extract, lipid metabolism was greatly improved in both groups. In the human fat cells, adzuki bean extract had lowered triglyceride levels and inflammation in the cells. These results show that adzuki beans are a promising natural weight management food.
Another great reason to eat them is that they can help lower cholesterol. The health effects of eating foods from the legume family have been known for a while, but a study conducted recently wanted to examine exactly what effect the consumption of adzuki beans and cowpeas would have on rats with high cholesterol.
All but one of the groups of rats had the same high cholesterol diet, the other group had a basic diet; one group also consumed adzuki beans, another consumed cowpeas, another consumed simvastatin and the other group only had the high cholesterol diet.
The results showed that the rats that had adzuki beans or cowpeas in their diet experienced a reduction in cholesterol levels, compared to eating a high cholesterol diet without them.
Finally, they could help lower blood pressure. A 2009 study examined how adzuki bean extract might affect the blood pressure of hypertensive rats. It is believed that the polyphenols that adzuki beans contain have blood pressure reducing effects. The rats were divided into two groups, both groups ate a regular diet, but one group received a supplement in the form of the adzuki bean extract.
After eight weeks, the results showed that the rats that had been receiving the supplement experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, compared to the rats that did not receive the supplement.
Almonds are a very popular nut and are found not only in the diet but also in many health and beauty products. This may be for a very good reason, as they are filled with loads of health-boosting properties.
Can fight against cancer and disease. Almonds are packed with antioxidants, which fight off free radicals, molecules created through radiation, pollution and other processes, which cause diseases such as cancer.
Liu et al (2013) found that consuming 56 g of almonds per day for 4 weeks led to a significant reduction in inflammation and free radical damage in patients with type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, Bostick et al (1993) found that consuming foods high in vitamin E (an antioxidant found in almonds) could significantly reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
Protects against damage to cell membranes. Almonds are one of the best sources of vitamin E (with one ounce containing a massive 37% of the RDA), which is very important for protecting cell membranes from damage.
This damage has been identified as a cause of metastatic cancer (cancer which spreads away from its place of origin, Jaiswal and Nylandsted, 2015), cell death following spinal cord injury (Creutz, 2012), and death of bone marrow cells (Xin et al, 2014) among other health problems.
Can protect against heart disease. Heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries due to cholesterol build up. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide (NHS, 2014), so it is an extremely important global health issue that needs to be tackled.
One very effective way to deal with the problem is to alter the diet, and almonds have been shown to significantly reduce both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and is particularly effective for LDL cholesterol which is also known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol (Lovejoy et al, 2002).
Excellent for weight loss. Almonds are rich in fatty acids which may put some people off when they are trying to lose weight, but research shows that they may actually be extremely good for weight loss.
Wein et al (2003) assessed weight loss in overweight women who either had an almond enriched or complex carbohydrate enriched low calorie diet. Those on the almond enriched diet ate 84g almonds per day.
The researchers found that those on the almond diet lost 7% more weight, saw a 5% greater reduction in their waist circumference, and had a 10% greater reduction in their fat mass. They also had a reduction in body water and systolic blood pressure.
A staple part of many a fruit bowl, you’ve undoubtedly heard the adage of “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” But did you know that there is now scientific evidence that supports this theory?
From helping to lower the risk of asthma to preventing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, it seems that the reliable apple is one superfood that keeps being overlooked.
Lower the risk of asthma. A study conducted in 2007, by Willers et al, showed that mothers who ate apples in pregnancy greatly reduced the risk of their children developing asthma in later life, by as much as 53%.
It is thought that the antioxidant flavonoid known as quercetin is a major contributing factor to this outcome. It is also understood that these results can be observed in adults who regularly eat apples as well.
Help lower cholesterol. It would seem that eating apples on a regular basis can help to lower overall cholesterol, particularly in postmenopausal women, according to a study by Dr. Arjmandi et al, published in 2012.
The women ate the equivalent of 2 apples a day for 12 months, with their blood being taken at 3 monthly intervals. It was found that their bad cholesterol had been reduced by as much as 24% within the first 6 months.
Help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s. Oxidative stress – which is an imbalance that can occur in one’s body, preventing it from counteracting the harmful effects of free radicals – damages neurological cells and thus causes diseases like Alzheimer’s.
A study, published in 2008, found that eating apples, oranges and bananas on a regular basis helped to protect the neuron cells from oxidative stress thanks to the antioxidants and phytochemicals they contain.
Reduce the risk of stroke. A 28-year long study of more than 9,000 Finnish men and women has shown that eating apples is associated with a significantly decreased risk of experiencing a thrombotic stroke – which is the kind of stroke affecting the brain.
Initially, the researchers thought that quercetin was responsible for decreasing the risk, but their study found no such link. Instead, apple consumption seemed to be the most prominent factor. It is not entirely known why this is, but the results clearly speak for themselves.
Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. A team of researchers sifted through piles of research relating to studies of more than 180,000 people regarding the effects that eating certain fruits had on participants with type 2 diabetes.
They published the study in 2013 and it clearly showed that regular consumption of most fruits, but particularly apples, blueberries and grapes, helped to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 7%.
Prevent breast cancer. Rui Hai Liu has conducted a number of studies relating to how cancer cells form and finding ways to prevent this. Two of her studies have concentrated on how apple extracts affect breast cancer cells in human cells (1) and the mammary glands of rats (2).
What she has found strongly suggests that certain phytochemicals found in apples significantly affect the ability of cancer cells to form and reproduce.
Apricots are related to plums and peaches; they are a soft orange-golden coloured fruit with a hard seed in the middle. They are enjoyed either on their own or as part of a healthy dessert.
100g of apricots provides you with 16% of your recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin C, 38% RDA of vitamin A and 8% of your RDA of fiber. They are also very low in calories with 100g containing only 48 calories. As with many other fruits, they come with a whole host of health benefits.
The high amounts of vitamin A and C in apricots means that they are great for your eye health. Vitamin C is responsible for forming and maintaining connective tissues, such as collagen within the eye. Additionally, it helps fight against the formation of cataracts.
Vitamin A is necessary for rhodopsin synthesis, which is found in the rod cells in the retina. A lack of rhodopsin can result in night blindness, which precedes xerophthalmia (two common eye related ailments), so consuming foods rich in vitamin A can help prevent these diseases from manifesting.
Apricots also contain quercetin, a phytochemical which protects against inflammation. Inflammation is present in quite a few bodily problems, including heart disease and arthritis. Quercetin helps reduce inflammation by encouraging the body to use its own anti-inflammatory system more effectively and fighting against free radicals, due to its antioxidant properties.
Apricots also help with weight loss as they are a good source of dietary fiber (which prolongs a feeling of fullness). They do contain a fair amount of sugar, however this could prove to be an advantage as people trying to lose weight can help satisfy their sweet tooth by eating apricots, rather than a bar of chocolate.
This article also shows that apricots maintain bone health, treat ear aches and may also improve fertility!
The artichoke is a rarity. It is a plant originally derived from the thistle, yet for a food that started out so unappetising, research is now showing that it may possess a multitude of health benefits for your heart, gut and liver.
In addition, the artichoke is a great source of vitamin C, and two hard to find essential minerals: potassium and magnesium.
Preparing an artichoke is a slightly harder task than it looks, so it’s important to know what you’re doing (this doctor ended up visiting the hospital, and could not go to work). Essentially, the artichoke ‘fruit’ (which is actually a flower that hasn’t bloomed) has two edible parts: the tender, inside portion of the leaves, and the heart.
Boil or steam the artichoke, then remember to remove the leaves and the hairy, prickly section (sometimes called the ‘choke’) so you don’t end up with any nasty surprises.
The artichoke provides a good amount of nutrition for the calories it contains. 1 medium artichoke (128g) contains 60 calories, and is high in three micronutrients: vitamin C (25% of your daily value per artichoke), magnesium (19% DV) and potassium (13% DV).
Vitamin C is important for iron absorption, gum health and may have cardiovascular benefits. Potassium is an essential mineral that may help with such disparate things as blood pressure complications and muscular strength, and magnesium intake is a great benefit to the heart and blood vessels.
What is important about artichoke having such high levels is that potassium and magnesium deficiency are quite common, and eating artichokes may go some way to preventing these.
The positive benefits of artichoke that are being researched, however, have less to do with the nutritional benefits.
Firstly, artichoke has a fantastic cardiovascular benefit, as it has been shown to reduce cholesterol, possibly helping with cardiovascular disease. With high cholesterol being a major risk factor for some of the top killers in the developed world, namely coronary heart disease and strokes, anything that reduces your cholesterol is a major plus point.
Also, the possible cardiovascular benefits of vitamin C, magnesium and potassium make the artichoke a great choice for a healthy heart.
Secondly, the artichoke has a number of digestive benefits. For those suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and dyspepsia, artichokes may have some positive effects on relieving the symptoms and discomfort associated with these conditions. One medium artichoke contains 28% DV of dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is important for the health of your colon, and may lower cholesterol.
Finally, the artichoke may have substantial benefits for your liver. One study showed that it had both liver-protecting (‘hepatoprotective’) and antioxidant benefits in rats that were exposed to dangerous chemicals that resulted in free radical damage.
This study found much the same effect more than 10 years later. What this means is that eating artichokes may prevent liver disease arising before it occurs, a fantastic benefit when liver disease is so prevalent (although there is no suggestion in these studies that artichokes will counteract the effect of alcohol!).
Arugula (also known as rocket), is a somewhat unconventional member of the brassica family, or the ‘cruciferous vegetables’.
In addition to being a great in salads & sauces, and boasting a distinct, somewhat peppery flavour, arugula also has a number of health benefits.
Nutritionally, arugula benefits from something a lot of the brassica family can boast: very high vitamin K. According to the USDA database entry, 100g of arugula gives 136% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K (based on a 2000 calorie per day diet). Vitamin K is important for a number of processes within the body, in particular for blood clotting and bone health.
Arugula is also high in several other important nutrients. 100g contains 47% of your DV of vitamin A, a vitamin important in eye health (vitamin A deficiency is the largest preventable cause of blindness worldwide), 16% DV of calcium, a micronutrient vital for bone health, and 11% DV of magnesium, a mineral with important cardiovascular benefits (like reducing high blood pressure).
Finally, possibly the greatest benefit of arugula lies in its potent cancer-fighting properties. The brassicas as a family are reputed to have great cancer-fighting potential, (this review focusing on the benefits of the brassica family is a good example). A lot of that reputation is based on their high levels of compounds called glucosinalates.
But whereas most brassicas have high levels of a compound called sulforaphane, arugula is a little special, as its major cancer-fighting compound is in fact something called erucin. This study demonstrates the potential of this compound in fighting tumours.
What’s great about the fact that arugula has a rarer cancer fighting compound is that if you eat say, broccoli and Brussel sprouts in large amounts you can only get so many benefits from that sulforaphane.
Eat broccoli and arugula, however, and get twice the anti-cancer benefit! Nutritious, cancer-fighting, and delicious (especially in Italian cuisine) arugula is a distinctive food with distinct benefits for your health.
Asparagus, something of a luxury in the vegetable world, is a spring vegetable that is delicious when blanched, steamed, griddled, roasted or eaten raw.
Asparagus has a good nutritional profile, and couple that with the fact that this vegetable could be one of the few that’s really easy to eat in large amounts (as much as I love kale, try eating 100g of it raw …), and it may just be really beneficial for your health. 100 g of raw asparagus contains 15% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin A, 11% DV of iron, and 9% DV of vitamin C.
Iron is an essential mineral, and deficiency is common – you may know someone who has suffered from iron deficiency, also know as anaemia. Iron deficiency can lead to tiredness, lethargy, and a pale complexion initially, and worse problems as it progresses. An added plus of eating your asparagus is that vitamin C helps with iron absorption!
However, asparagus’s main benefits might not be their helping hand with warding off nutritional deficiencies. Asparagus has been studied for a number of beneficial health effects, from cancer prevention to managing the symptoms of diabetes.
Firstly, asparagus has fantastic anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting properties. Not only will it help manage and treat the health issues related to stress management and inflammation, but it has also been studied for its broad anti-tumour properties and its beneficial effects on liver cancer.
With stress being such a big part of life in the modern world, and cancer risk a reality in most of our lives, a little asparagus may go a long way!
Secondly, asparagus may have some benefits for blood sugar management and weight loss, both helpful for managing diabetes. One study demonstrated that mice fed a high fat diet benefited from asparagus due to its liver-protecting and fat-lowering effects. There is some evidence that asparagus promotes insulin production. Finally, studies on models of diabetes in rats have shown that asparagus has beneficial effects on blood sugar and fat levels.
Avocados are a versatile, nutrient-dense and delicious addition to your diet. They are a fruit native to Mexico and Central America, with a wide range of culinary uses and a host of health benefits to go along with them.
Avocados are extremely nutrient dense; meaning that for every calorie consumed, a high number of your essential vitamins and minerals are consumed along with it. 100 grams of Hass avocado (the most commonly cultivated avocado) contains 15% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin B6, 14% of your DV of vitamin C, and more potassium than a banana!
In addition, avocado is one of the most abundant protein containing fruits. It is also very high in monounsaturated fats (and comparatively low in saturated fats), containing 10g per 100g of avocado. Finally, 100 grams of avocado contains 28% of your DV of dietary fibre.
Aside from the exceptional benefit in terms of nutrients, avocados also have a number of concrete health benefits. They help with weight control – despite their bad reputation, as a result of being a high calorie food. Avocados help with weight loss in four main ways: (see this review)
First, monounsaturated fat has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels and blood sugar. Avocado, along with olive oil, is extremely high in this kind of fat.
Second, its high fat content gives it a high satiety (fullness) rating. Third, the high fat content could possibly reduce the temptation to binge on unhealthier high-fat foods, hence the classic diet tip to replace butter with avocado when making toast.
Finally, the nutrient density of the avocado means that, although it is fairly high in calories, the rich supply of vitamins and minerals will lead to people feeling healthier and thus more energetic and satisfied, helping them to stick with weight loss programs.
Another major benefit of eating avocados is its importance in preventing serious (and common) health issues like strokes, heart disease, and cancer. These three are all in the top five causes of premature death in the UK and US.
The nutrients present in avocado have health benefits in this regard: the high level of potassium in an avocado is a plus, as research links potassium deficiency with an increased risk of strokes. Potassium and monounsaturated fats in an avocado may also be the reason behind its ability to lower blood pressure; further reducing the risk of strokes.
Avocadoes have been linked to low cholesterol, improving your cardiovascular health generally, and decreasing your risk of heart disease.
Finally, avocados have strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants prevent damage by ‘free radicals’, particles linked to DNA and cell damage, possibly leading to mutations & cell death. The antioxidant properties of the avocado could conceivably lower the risk of cancer, and perhaps reduce some of the negative effects of aging.
Overall, avocado is an extremely versatile and delicious fruit that your body could really benefit from. It is nutrient dense, it promotes weight loss, it may help you live longer, and it can even be used as a cosmetic!
Whether you like eating them in cakes or straight from the fruit bowl, bananas are a regular staple in many households. They provide a delicious, naturally sweet treat and scientific evidence is able to show just how beneficial they are to overall health.
Here are some (of the many) benefits of eating bananas:
Lowers blood pressure. In 1999, a study found that bananas had a significant effect on systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Healthy volunteers were subjected to the cold test – which is where one of their hands is put in very cold water for up to a minute – and the changes in their blood pressure and heart rate were monitored.
It was found that consuming a banana beforehand resulted in lower blood pressure for participants in the experiment group.
Helps prevent kidney cancer. Like many fruits and vegetables, bananas are strongly linked to a reduction in the risk of cancer; a study published in 2005 showed that they may be the most effective fruit when it comes to preventing cancer. The research focuses on kidney cancer and followed 61,000 Swedish women over 13 years.
Naturally, the women who ate at least 75 portions of fruit and veg a month had a lowered risk of developing kidney cancer compared to those who ate roughly 11 portions a month; and those women who consumed between 4 and 6 bananas a week halved their risk of developing kidney cancer compared to those who didn’t.
Management of diabetes. When treating diabetes, it is important to ensure that the condition is managed properly through diet and lifestyle, as well as any necessary medication.
Finding tasty, sweet and satisfying snacks can sometimes be difficult, but this study has looked at the glycemic responses of 4 banana varieties and has said that they are all suitable for diabetic patients to have as snacks. This is true especially if they are on specialised dietary plans or receiving treatment for managing blood glucose levels.
The banana varieties tested were the Latundan/Silk banana (which is one of the most common types available in the supermarket), the Myrose banana, Gros Michel banana and the Pisang Awak banana.
Treats diarrhea. The thought of eating an unripened, green banana may not seem entirely appealing; but if you are suffering from diarrhea, then you may wish to give it a go. According to this study, eating cooked green banana can greatly assist in the treatment of diarrhea.
Nearly 3000 children in rural Bangladesh were followed during a bout of diarrhea and some of them were given cooked green banana from their mothers, whilst others were not. The children who ate banana were markedly improved by days 3, compared to 7 days for those who did not.
Helps prevent age-related neurological disease. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the proliferation of free radicals and the body’s ability to deal with them; this leads to a number of problems, including age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In 2008, a study was published that had looked at how the most commonly consumed fruits – bananas, apples and oranges – affected oxidative stress that causes neurological disease.
It was discovered that the phenolics found in bananas, apples and oranges played a huge part in protecting the neuron cells and preventing damage from oxidative stress, thus helping to reduce the risk of neurological diseases.
A true health food, beetroot is a valuable resource not only for those looking to maintain their long-term health, but also for those looking for their diet to have athletic benefits. Delicious when roasted, blended, or even in juice form, adding beetroot to your daily diet will have fantastic benefits.
The leaves of the plant (beet greens), are a low-calorie source of nutrients. Whichever part of the plant takes your fancy, eating beetroot is something wholeheartedly recommended.
Beets are an impressive source of nutrition. The beetroots themselves are a decent source of vitamins and minerals: 100g of raw beets contains 11% of your daily value (DV) of dietary fibre, 9% DV of potassium, and 8% DV of calcium. This will have great benefits for your digestive, cardiovascular, and bone health respectively.
But while the benefits of the root are more to do with athletic performance, beet greens are the real nutritional powerhouse here.
100g of raw beet greens contains 500% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, 127% DV of vitamin A, 50% DV of vitamin C, 14% DV of iron, and 12% of calcium. That’s a lot of nutrients! Deficiency in these could lead to anything from bad blood clotting to poor eye health, bleeding gums and tiredness. There’s a reason these nutrients are called essential, so always remember to eat your greens.
As mentioned above, the real benefits of beetroot comes with its remarkable and possibly unique benefits for athletic performance. This review notes that beetroot juice ‘appears to improve performance without any side effects’. This is great news for anyone engaged in athletic activity.
What is particularly impressive is the vast range of athletic pursuits that beetroot juice seems to improve. At first, the advantages gained from drinking it appeared to be just for endurance sports, like running and cycling, but there are papers that show that, for example, bursts of high intensity exercise are made easier by beetroot juice.
Even strength sports may be assisted by beetroot juice, as it appears to increase muscle contraction. For anyone who takes their sport seriously, or maybe even just enjoys feeling at their fittest, beetroot juice is an absolute must.
There are a few other benefits to drinking beetroot juice. In fact, the broader benefits for your long term health and the short term athletic benefits may even be due to the same mechanism, although research has not proven this.
Research into beetroot has shown that the nitrate in its juice has cardiovascular benefits, because it lowers blood pressure and protects blood vessels.
Moreover, this review lays out a whole host of potential therapeutic benefits of beetroot juice: from anti-oxidant properties, to reduction of inflammation, and preserving cognitive function as people get older. That paper was only published in April of 2015, so no doubt more benefits of beetroot juice are yet to be discovered!
Bell peppers are like a ray of sunshine and colour on any salad plate and they make a deliciously healthy alternative to breadsticks and crisps when dipping into salsa or houmous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their bright colours, especially the red ones, mean that they are chock-full of nutrients that are incredibly beneficial to your health and body.
Help Effect Weight Loss And Maintain Heart Health. There have been many rumours associated with the power of peppers in helping people to lose weight, but now a very recent study has examined whether or not this is the case. The researchers gave a group of mice either a high-fat diet supplemented with green pepper juice, a high-fat diet on its own or a control diet.
The results showed that the mice that ate the high-fat diet that was supplemented with the green pepper juice experienced less weight gain than those that did not receive the supplement. The juice group also experienced a decrease in triglycerides, overall cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, as well maintaining blood pressure and heart rate levels that were similar to the control group that had not eaten the high-fat diet.
These findings are certainly promising, but further research does need to be done into this area to fully appreciate the benefits that bell peppers can have on weight loss and maintaining heart health in human participants.
May Help Ease Allergic Reactions. Many foods claim to help ease or prevent allergic reactions, but few have actually been scientifically proven; the humble bell pepper, however, was the subject of a successful study that took place in 2011.
A mouse model of asthma was induced with egg whites and treated using an extract created from bell peppers. The extract was administered orally and the results showed a significant decrease in the symptoms associated with an allergic, asthmatic reaction such as inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
Of course, this doesn’t suggest that taking a pepper extract will prevent allergic reactions, and proper medication should be taken, but it does suggest that a diet rich in bell peppers could help to alleviate the symptoms of allergic reactions.
If You Eat Only One Colour, Make It Red! Red bell peppers are perhaps the most beneficial to our health and not without good reason. They contain a biological compound called capsaicin in large quantities, which has been extensively studied for its various health benefits. A recent study has reviewed the wealth of available scientific evidence regarding the benefits of capsaicin.
The review concludes that consumption of red bell pepper can help to maintain a healthy heart, assist weight loss, prevent cancer, provide anti-inflammatory effects and assist pain relief.
Black beans, also known as turtle beans because of their shape which is like a turtle shell, originate from Peru and are an important part of South American diets. They are also a staple for many vegans, vegetarians and health food fanatics alike because, like many legumes, they are full of protein, fibre and nutrients that are essential for maintaining a healthy body.
Can Help Inhibit Cholesterol Increase. In 2013, a study was published that had examined the effects of black bean extract on lowering cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol micelle solubility. Cholesterol micelles are tiny cells that carry fats to the intestinal cell wall. These fats are not very soluble and cannot be absorbed properly without the micelles; the micelles also carry cholesterol.
The results of this study, however, found that saponin, a compound in black beans, was effective at reducing the solubility of the cholesterol micelles, thus reducing cholesterol levels. It was also noted that the higher the concentrations of saponin, the higher the decrease in cholesterol absorption were.
Can Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels In Type 2 Diabetic People. Beans of almost every shape and size have long been associated with regulating blood sugar. In 2012 a study examined how eating rice either on its own or with one of three beans would affect glucose levels in type 2 diabetic participants.
Seventeen participants ate one of four meals – rice on its own, a black bean/rice combo, a pinto bean/rice combo or a kidney bean/rice combo. They fasted for twelve hours overnight and then consumed this meal for breakfast. Their blood glucose levels were measured immediately after eating and in thirty minute intervals afterwards, for three hours.
Not surprisingly, those who had eaten one of the bean meals had lower blood sugar levels, with both black and pinto beans having a significant difference compared to those who had just eaten rice.
Can Inhibit Cancer Cell Growth. The compounds saponin and genistein, as well as flavonoids that come from black beans have recently been shown to prevent cancer cells from growing.
The beans were sprouted for three days and then an extract was created that was tested on different cancer cell types. Genistein proved incredibly successful at inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells, whilst the flavanols and saponin were very effective at preventing liver and colon cancer cell growth.
Excellent Source Of Protein
Combining protein-rich pulses with a carbohydrate, such as beans and rice, will allow our bodies to form a complex protein from them, which is essential for good health.
In 2013, research investigated the actual levels of protein in black beans, pinto beans and bambara groundnuts. The results showed that they consisted of between 85.2% and 88.2% protein, making them an incredibly efficient source of non-animal protein.
Autumn not only precedes winter, but it signals the start of blackberry season – those plump, purple, juicy fruits that burst in your mouth and taste divine in a crumble! It is not surprising that these wonderful fruits are popular both to eat and within health-conscious circles – they are literally bursting with wonderful health benefits that have been scientifically proven as fact.
Help Prevent Cell Damage And Lower Levels Of “Bad” Cholesterol. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the levels of free radicals and the ability of the body to hunt them down and destroy them. This results in cell damage which in the long term can lead to the development of serious diseases like heart disease and cancer. Blackberries have an inhibitory effect on the processes that cause oxidative stress to occur.
A study on hamsters found that blackberry nectar significantly reduces the levels of “bad” cholesterol whilst not affecting the levels of “good” cholesterol. The researchers also discovered that lipid peroxidation was greatly inhibited – lipid peroxidation is the process whereby free radicals steal electrons from lipids, which results in cell damage. Therefore this study supports the aforementioned one regarding the ability of blackberries to prevent cell damage from occurring.
Helps Prevent Problems Related to Obesity. Obesity not only causes problems for the skeleton and joints, it can often lead to inflammation of cells which in turn can cause problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
A recent study has examined how beverages made from blackberry and blueberry juice might affect such inflammation from occurring. The results found that because of the high levels of anthocyanins that both types of berries contain, the juices had a significant impact in lowering the inflammation caused in relation to obesity.
Prevents Risk Of Cardiovascular Problems. Endothelial dysfunction is usually the catalyst for a number of cardiovascular-related problems such as high blood pressure and heart attacks; a compound called peroxynitrite can often be the cause of endothelial dysfunction. Thankfully, blackberries have been shown to scavenge and remove the harmful peroxynitrite.
The anthocyanin that gives blackberries their colouring – cyanidin-3-O-glucoside – is responsible for removing the peroxynitrite and protecting the endothelium. This anthocyanin is available naturally in a number of foods, but has been shown to account for around 80% of the total anthocyanins available in blackberries. This means that regular consumption of them can offer protection to and maintenance of cardiovascular health.
Blueberries have long been touted as the superfood that everyone should include in their diet and there is growing scientific evidence for some of the claims relating to the health benefits of blueberries, including lowering blood pressure, preventing heart disease and fighting cancer.
Lower blood pressure. A recent study looked at how consuming freeze-dried blueberries on a daily basis can help to lower blood pressure in postmenopausal women.
The researchers followed 48 women over 8 weeks; their blood pressure was measured at the beginning, at 4 weeks and at the end of the trial. A control group received a placebo and the study was conducted on a double blind basis.
The results showed that there was no improvement for the women who received the placebo powder, but those who received the blueberry powder did experience lower blood pressure. This lead to the conclusion that regular consumption of blueberries can help to lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
Lower risk of developing diabetes. This study looked at a huge amount of data relating to which foods carried a higher risk of causing type 2 diabetes.
The researchers waded through information on nearly 190,000 people and came to the conclusion that consuming 3 portions of blueberries, grapes and apples each week was linked to a far lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than many other foods, with blueberries having the lowest risk.
Help prevent heart disease. Blueberries are packed full of an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which has long been thought beneficial in maintaining heart health.
A study collated data from a long-term study of more than 93,000 women, aged between 25 and 42 years old, over an 18 year period. Their lifestyles and diets were examined and then cross-referenced with incidents of heart attacks.
The results suggested that consumption of anthocyanin-rich blueberries and strawberries, at least 3 times a week, helped to lower the risk of experiencing a heart attack.
Help fight against cancer. Natural killer cells are an important part of the immune system and play a pivotal role in the fight against cancer. In 2014, a study was published that looked at the effect blueberry consumption might have on these cells.
25 men and women participated in the trial; half of the group were given blueberry powder to consume daily that was equivalent to 250g of berries, the other half were given a placebo.
Tests were performed before the trial began and then again after 6 weeks. The group that consumed the blueberry powder experienced an increase in the number of natural killer cells, whereas the placebo group did not.
The researchers concluded that regular consumption of blueberries could help increase the number of natural killer cells, which in turn can help in the fight against cancer.
Improve age-related cognitive decline. A study looked at how anthocyanin-rich foods affected cognitive function on a long-term basis. Beginning in 1980, a questionnaire was given to more than 16,000 participants every 4 years, with the aim of recording their dietary habits.
Between 1995 and 2001, the researchers began examining the cognitive functions of participants who were 70 years of age or older and continued with follow-up assessments every 2 years.
The results found that the participants who consumed the highest levels of blueberries and strawberries experienced cognitive decline at a far slower rate than those who did not. This concluded that regular consumption of berries is key to maintaining cognitive health, particularly in old age.
Bok choy, also known as pakchoi or Chinese cabbage, is a food popular in China and Southeast Asia, commonly used in oriental cuisine.
A member of the brassica family, bok choy is becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world, firstly because it is easy to grow (being resistant to cold winters), but also because of its recognised health and nutritional benefits.
Bok choy benefits from being a vegetable with a lot of nutrients and a lack of calories. 100g contains just 13 calories, placing it second in lowest number of calories out of all the foods in this list, beaten only by watercress, which contains 11 calories.
In those 13 calories however, you get 57 % of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, a vitamin essential for blood clotting and bone health, and 75% DV of vitamin C, a vitamin crucial for the creation of connective tissue and a powerful antioxidant.
Beyond the nutritional strengths common to brassicas, bok choy benefits from some other high nutrient values. 100g contains 89% DV of vitamin A equivalents, which is great for the long-term health of the eye. It also contains 10% DV of both calcium and vitamin B6. Calcium plays a role in bone health and regulates muscle activity. Vitamin B6 is essential to a plethora of processes in the body, and helps everything from digestive to immune health to flourish.
The real benefits of bok choy, and the brassica family, lie not in the ‘micronutrients’ (vitamins and minerals), but in the ‘phytonutrients’ (compounds that are beneficial to health but not essential). In particular, compounds called glucosinalates (sulphur-containing compounds unique to brassicas) have been shown to have great cancer-protective properties.
Most brassicas contain high levels of two really beneficial compounds, sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (arugula being an exception). Studies on cruciferous vegetables have shown that increased intake of brassicas seems to have benefit for a whole range of cancers; breast cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer have all been studied and have all shown the power of cruciferous vegetable intake.
Sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol have further beneficial effects, as shown when they are studied independently. This review paper notes that sulforaphane has been shown to have general tumour prevention properties. Indole-3-carbinol is not only being linked with the anti-cancer properties mentioned, but also with a broad ‘chemo-protective’ effect, meaning that it may protect healthy tissue from the toxic effects of chemotherapy (and possibly other) drugs.
The bottom line: the brassica family are great when it comes to fighting cancer!
There are some things to bear in mind, however. Firstly, different brassicas contain differing levels of glucosinalates, meaning it’s best to get a wide variety of them for the full health benefits, and bok choy does not have the highest concentration of glucosinalates (but Brussel sprouts, horseradish, kale and broccoli do).
Also, glucosinates, while fantastic in reasonable doses, do come with a health warning. Extremely high levels of brassica intake have been associated with hypothyroidism: in one tragic case, an elderly woman who attempted to cure her diabetes by eating over a kilo a day of raw bok choy developed hypothyroidism and died.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat brassicas! Obviously those with pre-existing thyroid problems have to be careful, but there seems to be no reason to worry aside from that – this study, for example, found that eating 150g of cooked Brussel sprouts a day had no effect on thyroid function.
So long as you don’t suffer from thyroid issues, bok choy is a great addition to your diet and proof that it should include large amounts and a variety of cruciferous vegetables. Bok choy is low in calories, high in nutrients, and fantastic for your health!
Brazil nuts are large, creamy sources of selenium, which is an important contributing factor to a properly functioning immune system. Indeed, Brazil nuts actually contain the highest known levels of selenium of any food and so a lot of study has been done on the effects of eating these delicious nuts.
Reduces Inflammation And Lowers “Bad” Cholesterol Levels. Brazil nuts are so packed with selenium that consuming just one nut a day can have a significant impact on your health, according to research that investigated how their consumption would affect cell damage and inflammation in patients receiving haemodialysis treatment.
Participants consumed one nut a day for three months. The results showed that the levels of oxidative stress had been reduced. Additionally, the inflammation that led to cell damage fell. It was also noted that the levels of “bad” cholesterol had decreased, whilst levels of “good” cholesterol had increased. This isn’t surprising really since Brazil nuts, like most nuts, are a rich source of unsaturated, good fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
Helps Prevent Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease. Whilst being overweight or obese is not the only factor that can cause cardiovascular disease to develop, it is certainly an important one. Losing weight in a healthy way is obviously the best option, but whilst this process occurs, how do you prevent cardiovascular disease becoming a big problem? According to this study, you consume one Brazil nut a day!
Thirty-seven morbidly obese women consumed one nut a day for eight weeks, then they underwent tests to measure factors that would contribute to heart disease. The results found that their lipid profile – levels and types of fat in the blood – had improved and their levels of selenium and”good” cholesterol had increased.
The increase of selenium is important because, as evidenced above, it helps to significantly reduce inflammation that can lead to cell damage that leads to disease. All of these factors contribute to a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular related diseases.
Improves Cognitive Functions. A very recent study has examined how the consumption of just one Brazil nut a day can affect cognitive function in older adults who have mild cognitive impairment. It is understood that a reduction in selenium in the diet over time can have a major impact on the levels of antioxidants in the body that fight against cell damage. Consumption of selenium-rich Brazil nuts can help to restore this balance.
The participants were on average 77 years old and 70% of them were female; they consumed one Brazil nut a day for six months, the control group did not. After this time, the group who had consumed Brazil nuts experienced an improvement in their verbal fluency, as well as their constructional praxis – which is the ability to build simple shapes out of things like sticks and blocks.
Broccoli is not only a nutritional wonder, but was probably also one of the first members of the brassica family you came across, especially if your family were keen on you eating healthy.
While overcooking and other preparation mistakes may have ruined broccoli for some, by making it taste excessively bitter, those who eat broccoli enjoy huge health benefits. Most notably, broccoli has one of the highest concentrations of cancer-preventing compounds of any brassica.
The USDA database states that 100g of broccoli not only provides 127% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, great for blood clotting and bone health, but it also provides a huge 148% DV of vitamin C, a vitamin that is essential not only for essential processes like the formation of connective tissue and wound healing, but also iron absorption.
Many people are under the false impression that high doses of vitamin C can only be obtained from fruits such as oranges and strawberries, however this is far from the truth. Vegetables such as kale and broccoli contain much more vitamin C.
Broccoli is not only beneficial for its great nutritional breakdown, however. The anti-cancer effects of cruciferous vegetables are extremely powerful, and broccoli may even have some unique advantages. It has an extremely high concentration of glucosinalates (the anti-cancer compounds found in brassicas). In fact, broccoli sprouts have the highest concentration of any food!
The brassica family has been shown to have great anti-cancer effects (see ‘Bok Choy’). Brassica intake results in tumour prevention, has benefits for breast cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, and may have a ‘chemo-protective’ effect, possibly limiting some of the damage caused by chemotherapy drugs.
Broccoli may even be an especially great cancer-fighting food among cruciferous vegetables. Sulforaphane was studied in conjunction with other compounds found in broccoli, as this review paper notes, and the results showed that broccoli is even better than isolated compounds.
Inhibition of breast cancer cells, and lowering your risk of colon cancers are important, but particularly interesting is the finding that broccoli inhibits certain digestive tract infections that cause gastric tumours, and potentially stomach cancer. So for those of you looking for a way to pack nutritious and cancer-fighting foods into your diet, broccoli has to be near the top of the list.
Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a cruciferous vegetable (or brassica) associated with Italian, French and Portuguese cuisine. High in both micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients (non-essential but beneficial compounds), rapini is a great addition to any diet, and a must for those whose diet lacks vegetables from the brassica family. Specifically, rapini helps fight cancer and promote bone, blood, eye, and cardiovascular health.
Before we get into all that, a word on preparation. Like many brassicas, rapini suffers from being widely considered too bitter to be tasty. But it doesn’t have to be this way! If you undercook rapini, it tastes bitter, if you overcook, it tastes stringy. Instead, try blanching it in salt water to get the most out of this vegetable (it also goes great with garlic).
With that said, let’s talk about rapini’s impressive nutritional profile. According to the USDA database 100g of cooked rapini has just 33 calories. But like many brassicas, rapini is very high in vitamin K and C: 100g contains 256% of your daily value (DV) of vitamin K, vital for blood and bone health, and 61% DV of vitamin C, important for creating connective tissues, absorbing iron, and promoting cardiovascular health. Rapini is also extremely high (90% DV) in vitamin A, which is vital for eye health.
Rapini’s nutritional benefits continue to impress with high levels of somewhat more uncommon micronutrients. 100g contains 11% DV of vitamin B6, 10% DV of calcium and 9% of potassium. Vitamin B6 is important for a plethora of processes in the body, including those involved in digestive and immune health, calcium is great for bone health and muscle regulation, and potassium is a vital part of maintaining your cardiovascular health. Deficiencies in all three are not uncommon, so pack in those greens!
Finally, like most brassicas, the phytonutrients are where much of the real benefit of rapini is, specifically those compounds with anti-cancer effects (see ‘Bok Choy’). Eating cruciferous vegetables has benefits for tumour prevention, breast cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer, and may protect from chemotherapy drugs.
Overall, rapini is a great addition to any diet wanting in cancer-fighting green vegetables, and an adventurous choice for those looking to dabble in European cuisine.
Rice is a popular food and is eaten either as a main course or as a side dish. Unfortunately, most of the rice eaten world wide is white rice, which is far less healthy than brown rice. Brown rice is the whole grain of rice (with only the outer hull removed), whereas white rice has the bran layer removed as well.
100g of brown rice contains approximately 3.4g of dietary fiber. It is also a good source of manganese, niacin (vitamin B3) and selenium. Manganese is required by the body for the synthesis of fatty acids and for the derivation of energy from proteins and carbohydrates. Selenium helps fight against a number of diseases, including cancer.
Due to its high fiber content, brown rice can help with satiety and therefore weight loss. The fiber makes you feel fuller for longer, meaning you eat less throughout the day. Its high fiber content also helps keep your digestive system in check as it helps with regular bowel movements.
Brown rice regulates blood sugar levels much better than white rice. This is because it releases sugars into your blood stream much more slowly. Unlike white rice, which actually increases your chances of developing diabetes, brown rice does the opposite.
However, since brown rice is a high glycemic food, your best option would be to eat a small portion of it together with lots of vegetables and healthy sources of protein. Quinoa is a grain similar to brown rice, but it contains almost 6 times more protein, so you could perhaps consider mixing the two together?
Brussels sprouts are not just that well known staple of Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, they are also a great way of incorporating those super healthy brassicas into your diet.
While cooking Brussels sprouts you may have experienced bad smells and a bitter taste, but this is actually due to overcooking (especially over-boiling), so don’t worry, they probably don’t taste as bad as you may remember.
Packed with nutrients that are sure to benefit your long term health, Brussels sprouts are fantastic cancer-fighters and anti-inflammatories, and have extremely high levels of fibre.
Brussels sprouts have a great nutritional profile. Many brassicas such as broccoli and rapini have fantastic amounts of vitamins K and C, and Brussels sprouts are no exception, boasting 221% DV and 142% DV respectively (see USDA database).
However, the real benefits of Brussels sprouts lie in their preventative effects on a number of health issues. For example, 100g contains 15% DV of dietary fibre.
Fibre lowers cholesterol levels. This is because it binds to bile acids, resulting in less bile acids in the body. This is important because the liver needs to produce bile acids from cholesterol, so when intake of fibre reduces the level of bile acids, the liver must use up more cholesterol to produce bile acids. That’s quite a mouthful! In short: the more fibre, the less bile acids in the body, and therefore the more cholesterol broken down.
Fibre is also important for digestion. Not only does it improve the mechanism of digestion itself, but it may increase satiety, and help you feel fuller.
The sulforaphane in Brussels sprouts also protects the digestive tract by inhibiting the growth of Heliobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to a multitude of gastric problems, potentially even stomach cancer.
Another important property of Brussels Sprouts is the antioxidant benefits they possess. Antioxidants prevent ‘free radical’ damage (that may lead to DNA damage, cell death and mutations), and so are an important part of any healthy diet. They are extremely high in these compounds.
Vitamin C we have already discussed, but there are also a number of ‘flavonoid’ antioxidants (isorhamnetin, quercitin, and kaempferol) present in Brussels sprouts that make this a particularly potent source of antioxidants.
Finally, it benefits from being high in a number of compounds with anti-cancer effects (see ‘Bok Choy’). In fact, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, Brussels sprouts possess one of the highest concentrations of glucosinalates of any food.