When it comes to taking care of your health, prevention is key. This means going to regularly scheduled doctor and dental appointments, but it also means getting plenty of exercise, fruits, and vegetables.
Most naturally occurring fruits and vegetables contain disease-combatting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Together, these three types of nutrients are called micronutrients and are known to promote immune health and protect against cancer. Some plant foods, however, have benefits beyond fighting cancer. Here are six that research shows have other distinct health advantages.
You can’t eat the first item on our list by itself, but the research on turmeric is too extensive to leave out. This tropical Asian spice is used heavily in curries and Indian cuisine, lending a yellow color to food. Before the Western world got ahold of it, herbalists used turmeric for centuries as a natural remedy for several ailments.
Turmeric contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, so it may be beneficial for such diseases as arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In addition, turmeric has been studied since the 1980s for its anticancer properties. Curcumin has shown promise in preventing and treating several types of cancers, including prostate, skin, and breast cancer.
Omega 3 fatty acids are what make fish like salmon and mackerel true superfoods; experts recommend three servings per week and for good reason. Fish oil has been known to be protective against heart disease for years and is recommended as part of any heart-healthy diet. In more recent years, fish oil was discovered to help improve memory and is being studied in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
But the anti-disease benefits don’t stop there. In clinical trials, fish oil has proven to be beneficial for patients with ulcerative colitis, making the disease less painful. In those with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s or rheumatoid arthritis, fish oil reduces relapses.
Like all cruciferous vegetables, broccoli has several anticancer components. Research shows that lung and breast cancer patients eat significantly fewer cruciferous vegetable servings than people who have never had cancer, and results have been mixed for similar studies involving prostate and pancreatic cancer patients. Many researchers believe this points to a protective effect of cruciferous vegetables against cancer.
But broccoli seems to have a greater protective effect against cancer than other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. For this reason, it has been studied more extensively in humans, and several components in broccoli and broccoli sprouts have been pinpointed as anticancer agents.
In addition to fighting cancer, the antioxidants in broccoli also appear to lower the risk factors for heart attack and stroke in men.
It seems like Popeye was onto something. Thanks to high concentrations of the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. Like many dark, leafy vegetables, it’s also a great source of several vitamins and minerals that keep the immune system in top shape.
The combination of all these micronutrients results in protective benefits against many diseases. Research has credited spinach with anticancer benefits in addition to heart disease protection for those who eat it regularly. As a bonus, lutein is also great for the eyes and can help preserve healthy vision.
Blueberries are one of the most famous superfoods available because they are densely packed with antioxidants and vitamins. Many of those antioxidants are known to be protective against cancer, but the benefits of blueberries don’t stop there.
These berries, which are the most commonly consumed in America, can also help lower blood pressure and stimulate your metabolism. They’re also a brain food and may have protective effects against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, which are neurodegenerative, according to newer research.
Like most foods on this list, tomatoes have anticancer benefits due to naturally occurring antioxidants found in all varieties of the fruit. The major antioxidant in tomatoes is called lycopene, and it has shown the most promise in protecting against prostate cancer in trials.
But lycopene also has a sunscreen effect that helps correct the damage done to skin cells after UV exposure. That means that not only can it help prevent skin cancer, but it may also protect against premature aging. More recent research shows that lycopene helps protect against brittle bones, the main cause of osteoporosis.
Lacie Glover writes for NerdWallet Health, a website that helps people reduce their medical bills.