We are what we eat. All of us have known for some time good nutrition is essential to prevent disease. According to the latest research, we also are what our parents and grandparents ate and our children will not only inherit our genes, they will inherit our food experiences as well.
Is there a list of healthy foods to eat?
Let us make one, including all the nutrients the human body needs to maintain health and stamina.
New technologies allow studying the relationship between food and disease much more efficiently. We know whatever we eat, drink, or breath can start a chemical reaction at gene level, activating or keeping them dormant, although our genes are unique and won’t change during our lifetime. Our diet can trigger or inhibit our genes, effectively regulating the risk of disease.
If the food we eat has will have an impact in our health and that of who will come after us, we want to know which foods have proved able to fight illness. Though we need all sorts of nutrients to keep healthy, if we were to prepare such a list, vegetables and fruits, or nutrients from plants, would make most of it.
The right diet can keep cholesterol or diabetes at bay, and it surely can prevent heart disease and cancer. Let's make a list of food and nutrients we should not forget.
Where to find the right nutrients
Capsaicin – you will find it in chili peppers of the hot sort -the hotter, the better - jalapeños and other chili peppers typical in Mexican dishes, Spanish guindillas or those hot chili peppers used in Thai cooking.
Why capsaicin? Capsaicin is supposed to rev up metabolism and help to lose weight this way, but the latest research revealed that capsaicin is able to kill cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth – at least in mice.
How do we get capsaicin and peppers in our diet? Soups and stews are the best bet as we should have between 3 to 7 habanero peppers – the hottest ones- each week. Start by adding a little chili to your stir fries to get used to the flavor.
Fiber – wholesome cereals are the best source, whole wheat, rye, oats, brown rice and their products. Find more about sources of fiber and how it benefits you in fiber facts.
Why fiber? This is one of the nutrients we don't have enough in developed countries. Studies revealed European countries could cut 40% the risk of colon cancer by doubling their fiber intake.
How do we add more fiber to our diet? Use whole wheat bread or pasta, instead of white ones, get your family used to brown rice, and add oat bran to your breakfast cereals, as a few ideas to get you started.
Sulfur – from garlic, leeks and onions. All varieties from the allium contain sulfur and they have anti-parasitic properties.
Why garlic, leeks and onions? They fight infection and many parasites, for instance helicobacter pylori, the bacteria believed to be responsible for many cases of stomach cancer. Onions, leeks and garlic act as blood thinners -garlic is particularly strong- and help to prevent heart disease.
How do we add garlic, leek and onions to our diet? Use onions and garlic raw in salads, with vinegar and olive oil. Prepare leek and potato soup frequently in the winter and leek based sauces in the summer.
Mono-unsaturated fatty acids – from olive oil; mind, only virgin or extra-virgin olive oil works the magic. Word about its advantages is going around and it is more frequent to find it in canned food, pre-prepared and ready to heat food; read the list of ingredients to be sure.
Why virgin olive oil? People at non live oil consumer countries have higher levels of cancer inducing substances than those of Spain and Italy -traditional olive oil consumers- but just by adding olive oil to the diet, those levels get closer to the ones found in Southern Europe. Oleic acid in olive oil can reduce the activity of a special gene present in some breast cancer tumors. Also, remember olive oil is a type of unsaturated fat, the kind that prevents cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.
How do we add olive oil to our diet? Best in salads or drizzling on soups and purees once cooked, or in lightly cooked dishes. Deep frying and long cooking oxidize oil.
Anti-oxidants and cancer fighting substances – from super vegetables. The list includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Savoy cabbage, cauliflower, beet greens, and similar.
Why super vegetables? Apart from having high levels of antioxidants and carotenoids key to preserve vision into old age, they have a substance able to incite the repair of damaged DNA in cells, preventing them from becoming cancer cells.
How do we add super vegetables to our diet? Best raw or lightly cooked to take advantage of their anti-cancer properties; most carotenoids don't spoil with cooking, keeping their anti-oxidant capability, so cooked super vegetables still are a healthy addition.
Immune system enhacing polysacharids – from mushrooms. Mushrooms have a beneficial effect, however oriental species of mushroom –maitake, reishi, shiitake- are the most efficient and apparently wild mushrooms would be a better choice than cultivated ones.
Why mushrooms? Mushrooms have chemicals that stimulate the immune system and help to prevent illness. Studies have proved compounds from mushrooms help to tolerate cancer treatment. Most studies have been about compounds extracted from mushrooms and not about the benefits of eating mushrooms, but the fact that oriental cooking uses a larger proportion of mushrooms than traditional western one and people in those regions have a lower incidence of certain types of cancer has been remarked.
How do we add mushrooms to our diet? Try scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms; a wild mushroom risotto is delicious, apart from any medicinal properties.
Curcuma – from turmeric. This spice is well known in India where it thrives and it is considered one of the great spices. In India, the spice mix for the curry is prepared on the spot -maybe enough for a week- and commercial curry powders don't have much appeal.
Why turmeric? Turmeric contains curcuma, a pigment known to fight some types of cancer and be beneficial to the liver.
How do we add turmeric to our diet? Prepare Indian curries - turmeric is one of the spices in the Indian curry mix- of all sorts, meat or vegetables, mild, medium or hot or try curried mayonnaise in sandwiches.
Resveratrol – from grapes, a powerful anti-oxidant found in the skin of grapes and in wine; also found in peanuts and fruits of the forest.
Why grapes? Grapes are the best source of resveratrol. Scientific have been studying the properties this substance for years because of its beneficial action in the case of heart disease. They have found resveratrol also has anti-tumor properties.
How do we add grapes to our diet? Wash and have as a snack, or halve, remove pips and add them to fruit salads. An option for adults only: drink a small glass of red wine 3 to 4 times a week.