Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C.
Eat Food. Not Too much. Mostly Plants. — Michael Pollan, renowned food expert and journalist, 2007 A.D.
The healing properties of food have been reported by cultures worldwide throughout history. However, the past decade has presented an explosion of clinical research to show specifically what health benefits individual foods can offer, identifying the various nutrients and phytochemicals associated with these benefits.
Many fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed whole foods have properties that can benefit our health. Studies in the past decade have taken nutritional research beyond protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Chemicals in the plants called phytochemicals have been a specific focus in the past decade, offering benefits such as cancer prevention, cholesterol reduction, and hormone regulation, to name a few.
There is truly a cornucopia of nutritional benefits that have been discovered. Here are a few “superfoods” that have received a lot of press in the past decade for their research-supported health benefits:
Honey has been revered throughout the ages for its healing properties. Some outstanding research has shown anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. Honey is being explored further for its role in digestive health as well as wound healing. The research on honey at the University of Waikatob is particularly impressive.
Among the fruits with the highest level of antioxidants, blueberries have been linked to lowering cholesterol, reducing diabetes risk, slowing the aging process, improving motor skills and supporting urinary and vision health. The compound, anthocynanin, gives blueberries their color and may be the main component of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Low in calories and saturated fat, and rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon has certainly received a lot of press this past decade. Research showing anti-inflammatory and cancer prevention properties are impressive. Its role in diabetes and Alzheimer’s prevention as well as its overwhelming cardiovascular benefits makes this fish a winner in every category. Look for wild salmon vs. farmed to avoid contaminants such as PCBs.
4. Green Tea
Study after study seems to support the benefits of including green tea in your daily life. Studies are pointing towards its cancer risk reducing properties, its potential in decreasing incidence of stroke and heart disease, and its role in reducing inflammation associated with several types of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). More recent research is indicating that green tea may help prevent type two diabetes and osteoporosis.
Loaded with vitamins such as A, B-6, folic acid, and K and minerals such as calcium and potassium, broccoli is continuing to earn top honors as a nutritional superstar. Its unique claim to fame comes from its cancer-fighting properties, activated by phytochemicals indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane.
Exceptionally rich in heart-healthy omega-3, walnuts made history in 2004 when they became the first food that the FDA allowed to make a qualified health claim: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 oz of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Turmeric, (anti-inflammatory and may reduce cancer risk and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s), cinnamon (studies show it can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar), and ginger (supports digestive health, is anti-inflammatory, and looks promising for cancer prevention) were stars of the decade, reminding us that flavoring our foods beyond salt and pepper can add great taste as well as outstanding health benefits.
The pomegranate has been long revered as a symbol of fertility and abundance. In modern times, the focus has shifted to its remarkable health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, the pomegranate research has shown its promise in reducing heart disease risk, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and reducing the risk of certain types of cancer.
9. Dark Chocolate
This decade brought us the guilt-reducing research showing us how chocolate, yes, chocolate, could actually be considered a health food. Benefits to our cardiovascular system and our moods have been researched, as well as cancer-protective properties and mood-enhancing effects. I dedicated a whole blog to chocolate’s delicious health benefits.
In addition to protein, vitamins such as B-2 and B-12, minerals such as calcium and magnesium, yogurt consumers also enjoy the benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are known as the “good bacteria” that can reside in the intestines, offering immune and digestive support. Research has shown improved vaginal health among women consuming yogurt, and the cholesterol-lowering properties of yogurt look promising. Plain yogurt with active cultures is recommended.