5 foods that fight disease

Longevity requires a daily prescription of specific foods, writes bestselling doctor

The vast majority of premature deaths can be prevented through simple changes in diet and lifestyle, writes Michael Greger, MD. The Cornell physician outlines 10 categories of foods alongside beverages and daily exercise which he tags the “Daily Dozen” in How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. When the right daily dose is consumed, he writes, you have a greater chance of preventing chronic illness and disease.

“The book is well referenced and uses legitimate research instead of fad trends,” says Stefania Palmeri, a registered dietitian at Medcan.  “His categories remind us about the strengthening and healing properties of individual foods and how widespread their effects can be  from preventing cancer to neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and depression.”

Palmeri and colleague Alexandra Friel provide insights on five of those foods below:

1. Leeks and other allium vegetables (garlic, onions, chives, scallions, and shallots)

Daily Dozen category:  Other Vegetables
How much: 2 servings per day – a serving is one cup raw leafy vegetables; ½ cup raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables; ½ cup vegetable juice; ¼ cup dried mushrooms.

“This doesn’t mean that cancer patients should eat leeks instead of getting chemotherapy.  We have standard treatment plans for a reason. But it is an interesting phenomenon that is being studied in an effort to better understand how we might selectively target cancer cells in the future. And if you like eating leeks to begin with, it certainly can’t hurt.” – Alexandra Friel, RD

2. Ginger

Daily Dozen Category: Spice (Greger recommends a ¼ teaspoon of turmeric daily in addition to any other spices, like ginger, you may enjoy for their benefits)
How much ginger:  As desired, maximum 1 tablespoon for pregnant women.

  • Ginger root is a potent spice that has medicinal properties. It is well recognized for being able to aid in digestion, reduce nausea and vomiting, which can help with seasickness, morning sickness during pregnancy and chemotherapy-induced nausea. More recent research shows ginger may also play a role in supporting cardiovascular health and also people with irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Helps with migraines. Researchers found that ½ teaspoon of ginger per day helps to reduce pain in migraine-sufferers, or left them pain free.
  • Ginger may be a lady’s best friend.  Ginger has been shown to reduce menstrual pain and relieve related discomfort. – Stefania Palmeri, RD

3. Pistachios

Daily Dozen category: Nuts
How much? Registered dietitians usually recommend starting with ¼ cup per day

  • Contains good levels of L-arginine. This amino acid is a precursor to a compound in our body, nitric oxide, which dilates vessels and improves blood flow.
  • Have the highest phytosterol component. This plant compound helps to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Protect your eyes. Pistachios contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are essential nutrients for eye health.
  • Has been linked to a reduction in erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. Men who ate 3 to 4 handfuls of pistachios a day for 3 weeks noticed a reduction in erectile dysfunction (improved blood flow, firmer erections).
  • Avoid salted and oil roasted varieties. And monitor portions closely and work them slowly into your diet.
  • RecipeBrussel sprouts with lemon and pistachios

Pistachios are thought to have originated from Syria, and then spread through migration to Italy and neighbouring countries.  They remain a large part of middle eastern cuisine and are routinely used in desserts.” – Stefania Palmeri, RD

4. Blackberries

Daily Dozen category:  Berries
How much: ½ cup fresh or frozen, or a ¼ cup dried each day

  • High antioxidant content protects against dementia, cardiovascular disease and cancer.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that people who eat the most berries are significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. The 2015 MIND diet trial investigated the effect of diet on Alzheimer’s risk.  The MIND diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet, was found to reduce Alzheimer’s risk by more than 30%.  Included on its good-to-eat list of foods are berries.  The cognitive benefits can be realized if you’re eating them only twice a week.  Imagine if you’re eating them every day?

 “I eat them year round – frozen in the winter or fresh in the summer.  What I love about frozen berries is that the majority of their nutrition is retained through the freezing process.  In the winter, I top steaming oatmeal with frozen blackberries and mix in the juices as they thaw.  In the summer, I make a quick and easy blackberry chia seed jam.  Essentially, I cook frozen blackberries in a pot over medium heat until much of the liquid has reduced.  Next I add a small amount of vanilla extract, maple syrup and a couple tablespoons of chia seeds.  It thickens as it cools.  The jam can be mixed in to cold oatmeal parfaits or plain Greek yogurt.” – Alexandra Friel, RD

 5. Hibiscus tea

Daily Dozen Category: Beverages
How much: 5 glasses of water a day, be they plain tap or recommended alternatives. No more than a quart/day of hibiscus tea due to its high maganese content.

  • Tea for hypertension. Its potent antihypertensive effects have been documented to lower blood pressure.
  • By any other name. Hibiscus tea goes by many names include sorrel in the Carribean and agua de jamaica in South and Central America – its sour taste is universal.
  • Rich source of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, also found in cranberries, are a type of antioxidant that help to protect cells against damage. Anthocyanins have the ability to relax blood vessels lower blood pressure in the same way that medications, like ACE inhibitors do.
  • Strong tea can be very acidic. Try a cold hibiscus brew with lemon and a natural sweetener for a low calorie, antioxidant rich drink. Avoid brushing your teeth within 1 hour of drinking hibiscus tea, as it can be very acidic.  Brushing shortly after drinking can damage softened enamel.  Consider limiting your intake to 1 to 2 cups per day or drinking with a straw.

“Always remember to aim for at least 1 to 2 litres of water per day.  Other healthy beverages to include as part of your fluid intake can include green, chai or matcha tea, and unsweetened coffee.” – Stefania Palmeri, RD

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