The 10 Best Foods for Longevity

What we eat has the potential to help us or harm us. Our addiction to processed food offers insufficient nourishment and is the cause of illnesses like obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It doesn’t have to be this way — we should eat foods that leave us energized, reduce our risk of illness and allow us to maintain a healthy weight. To live longer and be healthier, we have to fuel our bodies with nutrient-dense foods.  Natural plant foods can restore our health and vitality.

  1. Cruciferous Vegetables
    • These are vegetable powerhouses with the unique ability to modify human hormones, activate the body’s natural detoxification system and inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Cruciferous vegetables should be chewed thoroughly or eaten shredded, chopped, juiced or blended in order to release their potent anti-cancer properties. The cruciferous phytochemical sulforaphane has been found to protect blood vessel walls from inflammatory signaling that can lead to heart disease. Cruciferous vegetables are the most nutrient-dense of all the foods. Eat a variety in both raw and cooked form daily — try some broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale or cabbage.
  2. Salad Greens
    • Raw, leafy green vegetables – some are cruciferous –contain less than 100 calories per pound, making them an ideal food for weight control. In scientific studies, women who ate a large salad at the beginning of a meal ate fewer calories from the rest of the meal, and larger salads reduced calories more than smaller ones. In addition to keeping weight down, greater intake of salads, leafy greens or raw vegetables is associated with reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and several cancers. Leafy greens are also rich in the essential B-vitamin folate plus lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that protect the eyes from light damage. Try kale, collard greens, mustard greens, spinach or lettuce. To maximize the health benefits of leafy greens, you must maximize your absorption of their fat-soluble phytochemicals, carotenoids in particular, and that requires fats – which is why your salad (or dressing) should always contain nuts and/or seeds.
  3. Nuts
    • A high-nutrient source of healthful fats, plant protein, fiber, antioxidants, phytosterols and minerals, nuts are a low-glycemic food that also help reduce the glycemic load of an entire meal, making them an important component for an anti-diabetes diet. Despite their caloric density, nut consumption is associated with lower body weight, potentially due to appetite suppression from heart-healthy components. Eating nuts regularly also reduces cholesterol and is linked to a 35 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease. Top your next salad with chopped walnuts or sliced almonds or blend some raw cashews into a creamy salad dressing.
  4. Seeds
    • The nutritional profile of seeds is very similar to nuts in that they provide healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants, but seeds have more protein and are abundant in trace minerals. Flax, chia and hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 fats. Flax, chia and sesame seeds are also rich lignans, breast cancer-fighting phytoestrogens. Sesame seeds are rich in calcium and vitamin E and pumpkin seeds are especially rich in zinc. For maximum nutritional benefits, nuts and seeds should be eaten raw or only lightly toasted. Try adding flax or chia seeds to your morning smoothie or oatmeal.
  5. Berries
    • These antioxidant-rich fruits are very heart-healthy. Studies in which participants ate blueberries or strawberries daily for several weeks reported improvements in blood pressure, signs of oxidative stress, total and LDL cholesterol. Berries also have anti-cancer properties and are an excellent food for the brain. There is evidence that berry consumption could help prevent cognitive decline with aging. Stick with the tried and traditional strawberry or blueberry, or try something new like goji berries.
  6. Pomegranate
    • The pomegranate is a unique fruit, containing tiny, crisp, juicy arils with a tasty mix of sweet and tart flavors. The signature phytochemical of pomegranate, punicalagin, is the most abundant and is responsible for more than half the antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice. Pomegranate phytochemicals have a variety of anti-cancer, cardio-protective and brain-healthy actions. Most notably, a study of patients with severe carotid artery blockages who drank one ounce of pomegranate juice daily for one year found a 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque; in the control group, atherosclerotic plaque increased by nine percent. In another study of older adults, those who drank pomegranate juice daily for 28 days performed better on a memory task compared to those who drank a placebo beverage. Tip: To remove the edible arils from the fruit, score it around a half inch deep on the diameter, twist to split it in two and pound the back with the back of a large spoon.
  7. Beans
    • Daily consumption of beans and other legumes helps stabilize blood sugar, reduce your appetite and protect against colon cancer. The most nutrient-dense starch source, beans act as an anti-diabetes and weight-loss food because they are digested slowly, which blunts the rise in blood glucose after a meal and helps prevent food cravings by promoting satiety. They also contain lots of soluble fiber which helps lower cholesterol, and resistant starch which is converted by intestinal bacteria into short-chain fatty acids that help prevent colon cancer. Eating beans, peas or lentils twice a week has been found to decrease colon cancer risk by 50 percent. Legume consumption also provides significant protection against other cancers too. Red beans, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas – they are all good, so sample them all and decide on your own favorites.
  8. Mushrooms
    • Consuming mushrooms regularly is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. Because they contain aromatase inhibitors, compounds that inhibit the production of estrogen, white and portobello mushrooms are especially protective against breast cancer. Mushrooms have quite an array of beneficial properties. Studies on different types of mushrooms have found anti-inflammatory effects, enhanced immune cell activity, prevention of DNA damage, slowed cancer cell growth and angiogenesis inhibition. Mushrooms should always be cooked; raw mushrooms contain a potentially carcinogenic substance called agaritine that is significantly reduced by cooking. Regularly include common white mushrooms in your diet and try some of the more exotic varieties like shiitake, oyster, maitake or reishi.
  9. Onions and Garlic
    • The allium family of vegetables, of which onions are a member, benefit the cardiovascular and immune systems and have anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects. Increased consumption of allium vegetables is associated with a lower risk of gastric and prostate cancers. These vegetables are known for their organosulfur compounds which help prevent the development of cancers by detoxifying carcinogens, halting cancer cell growth and blocking angiogenesis. These compounds are released when they are chopped, crushed or chewed. Onions also contain high concentrations of health-promoting flavonoid antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory effects that may contribute to cancer prevention. In addition to garlic and yellow onions, try leeks, chives, shallots and scallions.
  10. Tomatoes
    • An abundance of health-promoting nutrients can be found in tomatoes – lycopene, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and flavanol antioxidants, to name but a few. Lycopene in particular protects against prostate cancer, UV skin damage and cardiovascular disease. About 85 percent of the lycopene in American diets is derived from tomatoes. Lycopene is more absorbable when tomatoes are cooked – one cup of tomato sauce has 10 times the lycopene as one cup of raw, chopped tomatoes. Also keep in mind that carotenoids, like lycopene, are best absorbed when accompanied by healthy fats, so enjoy your tomatoes in a salad with nuts or a nut-based dressing for extra nutritional punch. Tip: buy diced and crushed tomatoes in glass jars, not cans, to avoid the endocrine disruptor BPA in can liners.
Joel Fuhrman, MD - Reviewed by a board-certified physician.

The information contained on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained, expressed or implied in this blog, is intended as medical advice nor should it be construed as such. This blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, medical diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician or health care provider. It is not meant to and does not cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects and reliance on the information on this blog is at your own risk. Always talk to your doctor or other qualified health care provider about any concerns or questions you have about your medical care and do not disregard professional medical advice based on the information herein. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.