10 Foods that Heal: Must-Eats Recommended by Top Experts
These nutritional powerhouses can make you healthier with every bite.
Looking for a health superhero? Head to the grocery store. Some foods have the power to fight diabetes, heart disease or cancer—in other words, they can literally save your life.
That’s not an exaggeration. A large study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people of any age who started including healthy foods in their diets improved their chances of living longer. Replacing one serving of red or processed meat a day with one serving of nuts or legumes, for instance, was linked to an eight to 17 per cent reduced risk of premature death. But how do you choose the best options for you?
We asked health experts a simple question: What one nutrient-packed food would you like people to add to their diets? Here are their picks.
1. MIXED NUTS
Heals: Heart disease • High cholesterol • Cancer • Low energy • Constipation • Anaemia • Weight gain • Diabetes
Selected by Maya Feller, MS, RD, CN
“Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy fats, along with some protein. Depending on the nut, you’ll also have some fibre, calcium or magnesium. Almonds, for example, have 75 mg of calcium in a 28 g serving. Walnuts are high in antioxidants, which can help prevent certain cancers. If I have a handful of mixed nuts every day, I’m getting everything.”
Good to Know: Oils in nuts quickly turn rancid. Store nuts in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Serving size: Approximately ¼ cup (28 g)
Maya Feller, a registered dietitian and an adjunct professor at New York University, runs a private nutrition practice.
Heals: Eye conditions • Heart disease • Cancer • Bone health Constipation •Immunity
Selected by Daljit Kaur, PGDP Dietetics
“Spinach is an excellent source of carotenoids, such as lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. These phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties. Its high vitamin A content makes spinach particularly helpful for healthy eyesight. It is also rich in iron, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen in the body, and is an excellent source of vitamin C, K—for healthy bones—folate, manganese and magnesium.”
Good to Know: People prone to kidney stones should opt for kale over spinach. Kale has a lower level of oxalates, so your body won’t create those painful masses of minerals and salts.
Serving size: 2 cups (60 g)
Daljit Kaur is a nutrition expert with more than 29 years of experience in the field and is the chief of dietetics at New Delhi’s Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.
No. 3: Flavonoids in dark chocolate may boost mood and enhance executive functioning.
3. DARK CHOCOLATE
Heals: Mood disorders • High blood pressure • Heart disease
Selected by Ash Nadkarni, MD
“Flavonoids, which are found in dark chocolate, may boost mood by affecting blood flow in the brain and enhancing executive functioning. Additionally, flavonoids help increase the amount of serotonin and other naturally occurring mood-boosting chemicals in the blood. This is separate from the experience of enjoying what you’re eating, since chocolate can also stimulate the release of endorphins. Because of its antioxidant properties, dark chocolate is increasingly being researched for its effect on boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure and protecting the heart.”
Good to Know: To obtain the most flavonoids, choose a dark chocolate with 70 per cent cacao or greater, and limit yourself to 30 g per day.
Serving size: 30 g
Dr Ash Nadkarni teaches at Harvard Medical School and is an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Heals: Poor gut health • Immune system • Inflammation • Weight gain • Gastrointestinal disorders
Selected by Shonali Sabherwal
“Sauerkraut, essentially, is fermented cabbage, a food that is a rich source of dietary fibre, antioxidants, vitamins C and K as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, iodine, calcium, magnesium, manganese and sodium. It contains strains of bacteria (probiotics) and beneficial digestive enzymes which strengthen gut bacteria and builds immunity.”
Good to Know: If you have never taken sauerkraut before, start by including only one teaspoon at first. While experiencing mild gas is normal as you transition to sauerkraut, excessive gas or bloating could indicate that you are histamine intolerant. Those with known allergies or food intolerances must first strengthen their immunity before including sauerkraut in regular meals.
Serving size: 1 to 2 tablespoons at meals
Shonali Sabherwal is an award-winning macrobiotic nutritionist, chef and author of The Detox Diet, The Love Diet and The Beauty Diet.
Heals: Blood sugar spikes • High cholesterol • Weight gain • Constipation • Anaemia • Heart disease • Reproductive health • Cancer
Selected by Robert Graham, MD
“Lentils contain the highest amount of protein of any plant. They are also a great source of dietary fibre, which helps control blood-sugar levels, and provide excellent amounts of iron, folate, magnesium and potassium. They are consumed in the Blue Zones—regions of the world identified by author Dan Buettner as having the longest-living and healthiest people. A quarter cup of dry lentils contains about 13 g of fibre. A quarter cup of kidney beans has about half that.”
Good to Know: Don’t mix new lentils with older ones, because the older lentils will take longer to cook.
Serving size: ½ cup, cooked (114 g)
Dr Robert Graham is an internal, functional and integrative medicine specialist and the founder of FRESH Med at Physio Logic in New York City.
Heals: Inflammation • Cancer • Hypertension • Heart disease • Bones • Ageing skin • Weight gain
Selected by Neelanjana Singh
“Pomegranates are like a pharmacy in themselves. They contain three times the antioxidants found in red wine and green tea, and helps reverse arterial plaque and maintain general cardiovascular health, fight inflammation and assist in weight management. Available almost all year round, pomegranates are also full of fibre and rich in vitamins C, K, some B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron. They prevent skin damage and ageing, as well as certain types of cancers.”
Good to Know: Diabetics and those with certain renal diseases should consult a doctor about correct portion sizes.
Serving size: One medium-sized fruit daily
Neelanjana Singh is a nutrition therapist, member of the Indian Dietetic Association’s National Executive committee and author of Our Kid Eats Everything and Why Should I Eat Healthy.
No. 7: One of the most underrated properties of garlic is its ability to act as an antifungal.
Heals: High blood pressure • Atherosclerosis • Colon and rectal cancers • Heart disease • Diabetes • Infections
Selected by Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN
“Garlic is wonderful for keeping high blood pressure at bay—something I find very useful for individuals under a ton of stress. One of the most underrated properties of garlic is its antifungal ability. I often recommend fresh garlic and sometimes a garlic supplement to someone dealing with athlete’s foot or even frequent urinary tract infections as a result of yeast overgrowth. It is believed that garlic can reduce the risk of various cancers, as well as prevent cognitive decline.”
Good to Know: Garlic is most potent when eaten raw, but it may upset your stomach. Lessen your chance of experiencing stomach irritation by eating raw garlic with a balanced meal.
Serving size: 3 cloves or 3 teaspoons, minced (9 g)
Kylene Bogden is a Cleveland-based registered dietitian nutritionist. She is also the co-founder and COO of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition.
No. 8: Avocados have been shown to help improve cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol levels.
Heals: High cholesterol • Heart disease • Insulin resistance • Cancer • Blood-sugar swings
Selected by Will Cole, IFMCP, DC
“Avocados have been shown to help improve cardiovascular health and can significantly lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, because of their mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content. These fatty acids have been shown to improve cognitive function, depression, anxiety and brain fog. Avocados also contain essential fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K and important electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium. They are a great source of plant-based protein, with approximately 4 g in one whole avocado, and boast 4.6 g of soluble fibre per serving.”
Good to Know: If you want your avocados to ripen faster, store them in a paper bag at room temperature, and they should be ready to eat within two to three days. Don’t want to wait? Avocado oil is one of the healthiest oils you can cook with.
Serving size: ½ cup, cubed (75 g)
Will Cole is a Pittsburgh-based functio-nal-medicine practitioner and doctor of chiropractic. He is the author of the book Ketotarian.
9. OVERNIGHT OATS
Heals: Diabetes • High cholesterol • High blood pressure Constipation • Weight gain
Selected by Elena Ivanina, DO
“Overnight oats—raw rolled oats soaked in milk and refrigerated overnight—are a terrific source of resistant starch. (Oats prepared by other means also contain resistant starch, but some is lost when oats are cooked.) Resistant starch is fermented in the colon. This increases good bacteria and decreases bad bacteria, which can help with constipation and lower colon-cancer risk. In addition, it reduces the amount of glucose released, therefore lowering insulin demand and reducing absorbed calories. This helps with insulin resistance, diabetes and weight loss. Resistant starch is also one of the best sources of short-chain fatty acids, which help control your hunger.”
Good to Know: Play around with your favourite flavours—add almond butter, chia seeds, flax and fruits such as bananas. Mix together, then store in the refrigerator overnight for a nutrient-packed breakfast in the morning.
Serving size: ½ cup (114 g)
Dr Elena Ivanina is a gastroenterologist at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital and an assistant professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
10. Broccoli sprouts
Heals: CancerLiver dysfunction • Inflammation • Diabetes • Heart conditions • Age-related mental/physical decline
Selected by Lisa Reed, MS
“Broccoli sprouts have sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that has also been found to be anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective; it may even protect against ageing and diabetes. Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy have it, too, but broccoli sprouts have the highest identified concentration—up to 100 times the amount found in mature broccoli. Because cooking destroys sulforaphane, I put the sprouts in a salad or throw them on top of my egg-white omelette in the morning.”
Good to Know: To grow your own broccoli sprouts, place two to three tablespoons of broccoli seeds in a one to two litre Mason jar and cover with a few inches of filtered water. Put a wire sprouting lid on the jar and place it in a slightly warm, dark spot. After 8 hours, drain the water and rinse the seeds. Leave the jar upside down in its dark place and rinse the seeds twice a day. Eat the seeds when you see some dark green leaves (after about a week).
Serving size: ½ cup (64 g)
Lisa Reed is a Washington, DC–based fitness expert and the owner of Lisa Reed Fitness. She has a master of science in exercise physiology.