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10 Superfoods

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, which fight cancer-causing free radicals. See more pictures of fruit.
Alexandra Grablewski/Lifesize/Thinkstock

Industrialization brings countless benefits to everyday life, but there's a drawback. The more we rely on human manufacturing and technology, the farther we seem to move away from the natural world. Our overscheduled, stressful lifestyles and pre-packaged diets expose us to numerous health risks: cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, infections and cancer, to name just a few.

Medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies have developed various synthetic drugs to combat these illnesses. For some of these therapies, the potential side-effects seem to outnumber the disease risks.

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But natural disease preventatives and remedies abound. Hundreds of tasty "superfoods" contain nutrients, antioxidants and other elements that may fend off infections, suppress cancer cells, regulate blood glucose levels, strengthen bones and help you lose weight while you enjoy eating them.

Since early human history, foods and herbs have been used to combat and cure ailments. Modern research upholds the value of some folk remedies and has unveiled other benefits of certain foods. See what health benefits you might enjoy from the 10 superfoods explored in this article.

Native Americans believed that blueberries were magic. They used them to dye clothes. European colonists smashed them to color paint. But both cultures recognized the dietary -- and medicinal -- value of the berries.

Petite powerhouses of antioxidants, fresh, sweet blueberries protect you from top to bottom. High concentrations of anthocyanins create the blue color, but they also may protect eyesight and energetically combat cancer-causing free radicals. Another antioxidant, ellagic acid, seems to inhibit tumor growth.

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Blueberries may even reduce belly fat. The effects are best when blueberries are added to a low-fat diet, but a University of Michigan study on animals found that blueberries were beneficial even in high-fat diets. Blueberries affect the way fat is stored and burned, and also improve the body's glucose use.

See what honey, another sweet powerhouse, can do for you on the next page.

Cave paintings in Spain dating back to 7,000 B.C. show people collecting honey from beehives. Temples, tombs and sarcophagi of Egyptian pharaohs and kings buzz with depictions of bees and honey. Virgil and Pliny extolled honey. Hippocrates prescribed it. Invading Roman armies carried beehives with them for food, medicine and energy. Ancient Britons attributed strength to mead, a fermented honey beverage.

Unlike sugar, honey is a nutrient-rich sweetener, providing numerous minerals and B-complex, C, D, and E vitamins. Concentrated carbohydrates boost energy for sports. Paradoxically, honey also is thought to promote sleep. It soothes sore throats and quiets nighttime coughs.

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Studies showed lowered blood triglycerides in people who ate honey. It slowed tumor growth and cancer spread in mice. Honey inhibits cells that cause bladder cancer and protects against colitis. It has antiseptic properties that make it a good topical treatment for infections, sores and burns.

For pollen allergies, local honey is a more pleasant and cost-effective remedy than shots. Honey gathered within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of your home is said to inoculate you against nearby pollen. Noted pediatrician Dr. Leila Denmark, who graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1928 and practiced medicine until she retired at age 103, recommends adding 1 teaspoon (2.1 grams) of local honey to your daily diet to cure pollen allergies.

Beans, beans, good for your heart -- see what else they're good for on the next page.

Beans are low in fat, high in fiber, protein rich and cholesterol free. Like honey, dry beans (kidney, pinto, black, white, navy, Great Northern and garbanzo) lower triglycerides, the blood fat that can cause heart attacks. They also lower blood levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of good cholesterol (HDL). The high carbohydrate and high fiber content of beans helps regulate blood sugar to keep diabetes under control. Beans also may help prevent colon cancer, largely because they're so high in fiber.

The magic dose seems to be a 1/2 to 3/4 cup (50 to 75 grams) serving of cooked dry beans daily [source: Carper]. This amount has been shown to:

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  • Reduce triglycerides 17 percent
  • Lower cholesterol by an average of 10 percent
  • Neutralize stomach acid
  • Protect against breast cancer
  • Reduce plasma glucose and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes
  • Strengthen bones

As an added bonus, people who eat beans regularly tend to weigh less -- by almost 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms) -- than people who seldom eat beans [source: La Puma].

On the next page: a medicine chest on a stalk.

Don't pass on the broccoli if you want a versatile superfood.
Don't pass on the broccoli if you want a versatile superfood.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Raw broccoli is your ally against a host of diseases. It's full of strong cancer-fighting antioxidants that protect you from lung, colon, prostrate, gastric and breast cancer. Indole-3-carbinol, a special sulphur-containing compound in broccoli, can:

  • Stop multiplication of breast and prostate cancer cells
  • Inhibit reproduction of herpes virus cells
  • Slow the growth of thyroid and goiter cancer cells
  • Stop H. pylori, a bacteria linked to stomach ulcers and stomach cancers [source: Fahey, Zhang and Talalay]

Broccoli contains numerous disease-fighting minerals and vitamins, including chromium, an element important in regulating blood sugar and insulin. Its high levels of beta-carotene and folic acid help ward off cataracts. Folic acid stops the virus that causes cervical cancer. Broccoli is a good source of non-dairy calcium, a necessary element for strong bones and an agent that can lower blood pressure.

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The vegetable may make you smarter, too. It provides iron, which is important for healthy brain function. It contains the trace mineral boron, which increases brain-wave activity and speeds up physical responses. And all that beta-carotene in broccoli improves your ability to think.

Sweet, hot and smelly, onions are one of civilization's oldest medicines. Read about them on the next page.

The potential health benefits of onions won't make you cry.
The potential health benefits of onions won't make you cry.
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

One of civilization's oldest medicines, onions have also been used to pay rent and congratulate newlyweds. Onions are rich in antioxidants and are possibly one of the best cancer-fighting foods you can eat. Shallots and red and yellow onions are the richest dietary source of quercetin, a potent antioxidant. The numerous anti-cancer agents in onions are effective against:

  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Throat cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Liver cancer [source: Galeone]

Eating plenty of onions can reduce your risk of throat cancer by 88 percent and prostate cancer by 71 percent [source: La Puma]. People who live in Vidalia, Ga., home of the Vidalia onion, have one-third the rate of stomach cancer as the rest of the U.S. [source: Carper].

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They're also good for your heart. Onions lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They contain anticoagulants that thin blood and reduce clogging of the arteries. Onions can even block the blood-clotting activity that fatty foods produce.

Onions are a centuries-old and research-proven treatment for diabetes. Cooked or raw, onions depress blood sugar. The more onions you eat, the greater the effect.

They'll help fight a number of other ailments, too. Onions are naturally antibiotic, antiviral, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. They help dilate bronchial tubes, making breathing easier for mild asthmatics, hay fever sufferers and people with chronic bronchitis. Onions can even help you deal with stress. Quercetin is a mild sedative that induces relaxation and sleep.

Find out about the health benefits of fish on the next page.

Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, are great brain food.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, are great brain food.
Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock

Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna are heart-healthy fish. All of them contain high concentrations of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are things that your body needs to function properly, but you have to eat foods containing them to get them.

Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly good at reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Eating fish high in these fatty acids reduces the symptoms of high blood pressure, thins the blood and prevents clots. It also steadies your heart rate and decreases triglyceride levels.

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Eating oily fish also protects against macular degeneration, an age-related condition that leads to vision loss, and promotes healthy brain function. It's even been linked to relieving depression.

Regularly eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may keep you from developing asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. That's because fish oil has an anti-inflammatory effect, and it works directly on your immune system. Fish oil also may fight colon and breast cancer, and it can reduce spread where it's already established [source: University of Maryland].

The name of next superfood provokes confusion, but there's no doubt about its health benefits.

A sweet potato heated in the oven for a few hours can taste like candy, but it still retains its health benefits.
A sweet potato heated in the oven for a few hours can taste like candy, but it still retains its health benefits.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Neither a potato nor a yam, the sweet potato is related to morning glories. Americans used to eat a lot more of this root -- it was a staple during the Revolutionary and Civil wars, and as late as the 1920s, people were eating around 31 pounds (14 kilograms) of sweet potatoes every year. Now they rarely show up outside of Thanksgiving.

But they should have a place at the table every day. Sweet potatoes have mega amounts of the antioxidant beta carotene, loads of vitamins and minerals, and plenty of fiber. They only things they're skinny on are fat, cholesterol and calories. They've been linked to preventing heart disease, strokes, numerous cancers and cataracts. Eating sweet potatoes daily reduces a woman's risk for heart attack by 22 percent and lowers the chances of a stroke by 40 to 70 percent [source: Carper].

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Sweet potatoes also might boost your liver's health. A Japanese study published in 2007 showed significantly reduced levels of hepatitis indications in men who drank a beverage made from a purple-skinned variety. Sweet potatoes' activity in stabilizing blood sugar and improving insulin resistance can help you avoid diabetes.

During times of stress, British people always suggest a cup of tea. See what physical ailments this beverage combats on the next page.

A few comforting cups of tea per day may have significant health benefits.
A few comforting cups of tea per day may have significant health benefits.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Tea can be herbal, but we're going to talk about actual tea -- black, green, oolong and white -- that's made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis. This is a relative of the flowering camellias that many people use for landscaping.

Tea is loaded with cancer-busting catechins. Green tea has the most. Dr. Hirota Fujiki of Japan's National Cancer Center Research Institute suggests that drinking tea is a practical way to prevent cancer [source: Carper]. Catechins are also antibacterial, a quality that makes tea an asset in preventing stomach ulcers.

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Green and black tea reduce the risk factors for heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing total cholesterol. Tea also dilates blood vessels for better blood flow. It prevents platelets from clumping and works to dissolve blood clots. That helps reduce the damage that high-fat diets do on arteries.

In older women, drinking tea also may build bone density. It's a good source of manganese, which is important for strong bones.

Planning a trip? Don't travel without the next superfood.

Yogurt has been recognized for ages for its ability to prevent and cure diarrhea. Yogurt kills the bacteria that cause intestinal disorders, and more recent research shows that the antibacterial activity of yogurt can work throughout your body to boost your entire immune system. It even kills the bacteria that causes body odor.

This dairy product significantly reduces your susceptibility to pollen allergies, hay fever and colds if you start eating it three months before the pollen or cold season begin -- you could eat it all year for maximum benefits. It has antiviral and anticancer activity, too. It stimulates your body's infection fighting cells, called antibodies, to attack viruses and tumors. Acidophilus-containing yogurts prevent yeast infections and can reduce the incidence of colon cancer.

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We've saved the best for last: garlic.

Among the 61 medical uses that Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) attributes to garlic in his "Natural History" are:

  • Cleaning animal bites
  • Curing skin diseases
  • Expelling tapeworms
  • Eliminating tumors
  • Extracting arrows

Chances are you'll never need to extract an arrow, but you can get numerous health benefits from eating garlic. The antibacterial properties that made garlic an effective topical treatment for thousands of years work well inside your body, too.

Researchers have identified more than 30 cancer-fighting agents in garlic and its cousin, the onion. In studies with mice, dietary garlic reduced colon tumors 75 percent, prevented 100 percent of esophageal cancer, and blocked 70 percent of breast cancer [source: Carper]. A German study found garlic to be toxic to malignant cells. Garlic may be the best anti-cancer food around, especially for stomach cancer. Its antibacterial action kills H. pylori, the bacteria that supposedly causes stomach and colon cancer.

In matters of the heart, eating one or two cloves of garlic daily lowers triglycerides 13 to 25 percent and reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and blood clotting dangers. Garlic fights blood clots better than aspirin. It works in eight different ways to stop platelet clumping; aspirin has only one action [source: Carper].

Garlic also relieves joint pain, gas and diarrhea, and it gives you calm, happy feelings.

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Related Articles

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