Heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes are all among the leading causes of death in the US. Anything we can do to prevent these potentially fatal illnesses will help us to live longer and remain healthy and active in old age. Fortunately, several ordinary foods, available in any supermarket, have special properties that can protect us from deadly diseases.
1. Oily Fish
Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and other oily fish are rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids. Omega 3 reduces inflammation in the body and can help to prevent a wide range of inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some cancers. Omega 3 also reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease by lowering cholesterol, reducing atherosclerosis and helping to prevent blood clots from forming.
Tomatoes are the best source of a powerful anti-oxidant called lycopene. Anti-oxidants work to neutralize free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that can damage cells and cause cancers to develop. Several studies have found that people who eat a diet rich in tomato-based foods have a lower risk for cancers of the lung, stomach, and prostate. Lycopene also helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol which leads to the formation of plaque in the arteries.
Garlic contains a cancer-fighting organosulfur compound called diallyl disulphide. In laboratory studies, diallyl disulphide has been shown to prevent blood vessel formation within cancer cells, inhibit the growth of tumors and induce cancer cell death. Another organosulfur compound in garlic, allicin, helps to prevent heart disease by reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels, expanding blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.
Oats are effective at lowering LDL cholesterol to help prevent atherosclerosis, strokes and heart attacks. Oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. As oats are digested, the beta-glucan dissolves into a thick gel which binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract. The cholesterol is then excreted along with the fibre. When cholesterol levels in the gut are lowered, the body removes cholesterol from the bloodstream to aid in digestion. Beta glucan also lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes by helping to stabilize blood sugar levels.
5. Cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables contain isothiocyanates or ITCs. These anti-cancer compounds attach to a protein called tubulin that provides the supportive structure of cells. Laboratory studies have shown that when ICTs bind to tubulin in cancer cells, they slow down the rate of growth or cause the cells to die. Cruciferous vegetables are also a good source of folic acid. This important B vitamin may help to prevent dementia by reducing levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid that can damage brain cells.
6. Olive Oil
The monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil protect against heart disease by lowering levels of total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. The oleic acid, polyphenols and antioxidants in olive oil help to protect against breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Studies on rats have shown that olive oil switches off proteins that cancer cells need to stay alive and reduces the effect of an oncogene that turns cells cancerous.
7. Red Berries
Raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries contain a phytochemical called ellagic acid. Laboratory studies have revealed that ellagic acid is a remarkable cancer-fighting agent. It helps the liver to remove carcinogens from the blood, slows the spread of cancer cells and can even induce cancer cell death. Research suggests that ellagic acid can help prevent cancers of the lung, breast, esophagus, colon, prostate, and bladder.
Kidney, soy, lima, pinto and other beans are good sources of potassium, a mineral that most Americans are deficient in. Potassium seems to have a protective effect against stroke. In one study, participants who ate nine daily servings of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables lowered their stroke risk by 38% compared to people who ate four daily servings. Beans are low on the glycemic index and can help ward off type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar. Studies have also found that eating beans and other legumes lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.
9. Orange Vegetables
Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and other orange-colored vegetables are rich in carotenoids. These protective antioxidants can prevent free radicals from damaging cells and the DNA inside of cells, either of which can lead to cancerous growth. They also stimulate the production of white blood cells called Natural Killer Cells that have the ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The antioxidant effect of carotenoids also protects against heart disease by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Walnuts are rich in phytosterols and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). These natural compounds interfere with cholesterol absorption and help the body to remove excess LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream more efficiently. Walnuts also help to lower blood pressure by enhancing the function of the endothelial cells which line the walls of the blood vessels. The ALA in walnuts is anti-inflammatory and may help to prevent the formation of blood clots. Research shows that people who eat a diet high in ALA have a nearly 50% lower risk of sudden cardiac death.