By Lisa Turner
Forget trendy superfoods and pricey powders; research shows a handful of everyday eats slash the risk of cancer, keep your ticker ticking, minimize joint pain, maintain your brain, and more. Simplify your life—and stay disease-free—with these healthy aging foods that really work.
- Broccoli. Few foods have the cancer-fighting power of broccoli. Like other cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale), it's rich in sulforaphane, a compound known to slow tumor growth and block the ability of cancerous cells to multiply and spread. Dozens of studies link sulforaphane with a lower risk of cancer, and research shows eating more crucifers can significantly reduce your chances of breast, prostate, stomach, colorectal, lung, kidney and other cancers.
- Blueberries. They're loaded with anthocyanins, antioxidants that protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Studies link increased intake of blueberries with improved learning, recall and memory, and a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and some research suggests anthocyanins may even reverse age-related memory loss and cognitive decline. Blackberries, raspberries, red cabbage, purple potato and other red-purplish-blue fruits and vegetables are also high in anthocyanins.
- Legumes. Beans, peas and lentils are packed with resistant starch, a type of starch that resists digestion, passing into the lower intestine where it functions like fiber. Because it's not metabolized in the small intestine, it blunts the release of glucose and decreases the demand for insulin. Research shows resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels, especially after meals, and some studies link a higher consumption of legumes with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. And they're an excellent plant-based protein—important, since red meat is associated with the development of diabetes.
- Tomatoes. They're one of the most concentrated sources of lycopene, a heart-protective antioxidant that tames inflammation and lowers total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides. Guava, papaya, red bell peppers, watermelon and pink grapefruit are also high in lycopene. To maximize disease prevention, cook tomatoes with olive oil; heat enhances lycopene availability, and research shows adding olive oil (also heart-protective) measurably improves its absorption.
- Spinach. It's rich in lutein, an antioxidant that lowers inflammation, blocks free radical damage and keeps eyes healthy during aging; studies link lutein with a significantly reduced risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. And spinach is high in beta carotene, converted by the body to vitamin A—shown to protect against cataracts and age-related changes to vision. Kale, collard greens, chard, and other dark leafy greens are also loaded with lutein, plus beta carotene.
- Turmeric. Curcumin, the primary disease-preventive compound in turmeric, dampens inflammation, supports the immune system and protects the joints from age-related deterioration and loss of mobility. Research suggests curcumin stems the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that impacts joints, easing pain, minimizing swelling and increasing mobility. Other studies link curcumin with improvements in osteoarthritis as well.
- Green tea. It's one of the few significant sources of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), an antioxidant shown to dampen inflammation, fight free radicals, repair DNA and shield cells from damage. It's especially protective against skin cancer, blocking the development of cancer and promoting apoptosis, or cancer cell death. And research suggests green tea antioxidants lessen the likelihood of melanoma—the most dangerous and malignant form of skin cancer.
Is a chef, nutritionist, researcher and book author with more than 25 years of experience in the field of food, health and nutrition. After earning her master's degree in journalism, she worked for the Los Angeles Times and other leading dailies and weeklies. She is the author of five books on health and nutrition. She is also a second-degree black belt and instructor in Ninjutsu martial arts, and is developing a national program to train young women in self-protection. You can reach Lisa at: inspiredeating.com or follow her on Facebook @inspiredeatingnutrition or Instagram: @inspiredeating