The latest science on the muscle-building, brain-enhancing, wrinkle-erasing, heart-strengthening, bone-protecting, immunity-boosting, and inflammation-fighting foods you should be eating every day
These energy-rich snacks lower bad cholesterol, thanks to plant sterols, and benefit diabetics by lowering blood sugar. They’re also rich in amino acids, which bolster testosterone levels and muscle growth. Almonds are also stuffed with vitamin E, which helps defend against sun damage. In a study, volunteers who consumed 14 milligrams of the vitamin (about 20 almonds) per day and then were exposed to UV light burned less than those who took none. And because vitamin E is an antioxidant, it also works to keep your arteries free of dangerous free radicals. Low levels of vitamin E are also associated with poor memory performance and cognitive decline, says dietitian Sari Greaves of New York Presbyterian Hospital–Cornell.
Rich in protein and fiber, these little seeds offer a payload of omega-3 fatty acids, which erase spots and iron out fine lines in the skin. The British Journal of Nutrition reported that participants in one study who downed about half a teaspoon of omega-3s daily in 6 weeks experienced significantly less irritation
and redness, along with the better-hydrated skin. A recent study of people with high cholesterol (greater than 240 mg/dL) compared statin treatment with eating 20 grams of flaxseed a day. After 60 days, those eating flaxseed did just as well as those on statins. Try sprinkling ground flaxseed on oatmeal, yogurt, and salads.
There are two things you need to know about tomatoes: red is the best because they’re packed with more of the antioxidant lycopene; and processed tomatoes are just as potent as fresh ones because it’s easier for the body to absorb the lycopene. Studies show that a diet rich in lycopene can decrease your risk of
bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, and help eliminate skin-aging free radicals caused by ultraviolet rays. “Cooked tomatoes and tomato paste work best,” says celebrity trainer Gunnar Petersen.
Often confused with yams, these tubers are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. In addition to countering the effects of secondhand smoke and preventing diabetes, sweet potatoes contain glutathione, an antioxidant that can enhance nutrient metabolism and immune-system health, as well as protect against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, HIV, cancer, heart attack, and stroke. What’s more, they’re also loaded with vitamin C, which smoothes out wrinkles by stimulating the production of collagen. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that volunteers who consumed 4 milligrams of C (about half a small sweet potato) daily for 3 years decreased the appearance of wrinkles by 11 percent.
It may be green and leafy, but spinach—a renowned muscle builder—is also the ultimate man food. The heart-health equivalent of a first-ballot Hall of Famer, spinach is replete with the essential minerals potassium and magnesium, and it’s one of the top sources of lutein, an antioxidant that may help prevent clogged arteries. Plus its vitamins and nutrients can bolster bone-mineral density, attack prostate cancer cells, reduce the risk of skin tumors, fight colon cancer, and, last but not least, increase blood flow to the penis. “Popeye was on to something,” says Susan Bowerman, assistant director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The carnosic acid found in this spice has been shown to reduce stroke risk in mice by 40 percent, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry. Carnosic acid appears to set off a process that shields brain cells from free-radical damage, which can worsen the effects of a stroke. It can also protect against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and the general effects of aging.
A 4-ounce serving of salmon has approximately 2,000 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), omega-3 fatty acids that serve as oil for the brain’s hardware by helping nerve cells communicate with one another. Thirty-five percent of your brain consists of fatty acids like these, but they can decline as the years stack up.
A 2008 University of Cincinnati study, for instance, found that the brain tissue of 65- to 80-year-olds contained 22 percent less DHA than the brain tissue of 29- to 35-year-olds. “If you want to keep your wits about you as you age, start consuming omega-3s now,” says William Harris, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at the University of South Dakota. Why is wild so important? Because farmed fish, which are fattened with soy, can be as high in inflammatory omega-6 fats as a cheeseburger. If in doubt, opt for sockeye salmon, which can’t be farmed and is always wild. Aim for at least two servings a week, says dietitian Joan Salge Blake, author of Nutrition and You.
“This potent little fruit can help prevent a range of diseases from cancer to heart disease,” says Ryan Andrews, the director of research at Precision Nutrition, in Toronto, Canada. Think of blueberries as anti-rust for your gray matter, too. Besides being rich in fiber and vitamins A and C, they’re also packed with antioxidants—only açai, an Amazonian berry, contains more
than neutralize the free radicals that cause neuronal misfires. Eat a cup a day, and opt for wild blueberries whenever possible, as they contain 26 percent more antioxidants than cultivated varieties.
Green tea releases catechin, an antioxidant with proven anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. The research found that drinking 2 to 6 cups a day not only helps prevent skin cancer but might also reverse the effects of sun damage by neutralizing the changes that appear on the sun-exposed skin. Other studies show that green tea—infused with another antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—can boost your cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of most types of cancer.
Flavonoids, a natural nutrient in cocoa, improve blood flow in the brain, which helps boost cognitive function. Plus dark chocolate contains a tannin called procyanidin, which is also found in red wine, that can keep your arteries flexible
and your blood pressure low. It helps on the outside, too. In a study from the Journal of Nutrition, women who drank cocoa fortified with a chocolate bar’s worth of flavonols had better skin texture and stronger resistance to UV rays than those who drank significantly fewer flavonols. Indulge in 1 ounce a day to get all the benefits, says dietitian Sari Greaves of New York Presbyterian Hospital–Cornell.
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