It seems like every day we’re bombarded with marketing for some exotic “superfood” with seemingly magical qualities that supposedly justify an outrageous price tag. But while the benefits of some hysterically hyped foods are still unconfirmed, other fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and beverages sitting in your fridge right now get little fanfare despite the fact that they’re truly super. Red wine, oats, broccoli, soybeans, carrots, yogurt and walnuts are just a few examples of “˜bioactive’ foods, which go beyond mere calories and nutrients, to actually interact with our bodies in beneficial ways.
These seven bioactive foods can help you lose weight, reduce blood pressure, eliminate potential carcinogens from the body and even actively fight cancer cells. Want to pack all of these nutritional powerhouses into one meal? Pour yourself a glass of red wine and whip up some vegetable tofu stir-fry, then indulge in some sweet yet ultra-healthy apple walnut muesli with yogurt.
Not that you really needed an excuse to break open that bottle of organic California Pinot Noir, but the knowledge that red wine really is good for your health certainly doesn’t hurt. Compounds in red wine lower risk of certain cancers and heart disease, reduce blood pressure, relieve constipation and can even be helpful in weight loss.
A 2009 study on the bioactive compounds in red wine found that regularly imbibing low to moderate quantities may prevent damage to cells thanks to a complex cocktail of flavonols, anthocyanins, phenolic acids and the star of the show, reservatrol.
“The breadth of benefits is remarkable – cancer prevention, protection of the heart and brain from damage, reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more,” says Biomedical Sciences professor and study author Lindsay Brown.
Back when you were a wee vegetable-hater who pushed spinach around on your plate, your mama really wasn’t trying to punish you by telling you to eat your greens. As it turns out, that’s one piece of parental advice that is backed up by solid science. Sure, leafy green vegetables are full of vitamins and fiber – but they also contain those awesome bioactive compounds that make otherwise ordinary foods super.
Green vegetables – particularly cruciferous vegetables like broccoli – contain phytochemicals called glucosinolates that our bodies convert into bioactive substances called isothiocyanates. These “˜ITCs’ are a triple threat against cancer: they stop certain cancer-promoting enzymes, help eliminate some potential carcinogens from the body and induce the death of damaged cells that could otherwise turn cancerous, especially in the digestive tract.
Soy: friend or foe? There’s a lot of conflicting information out there. It all started when the phytoestrogens in soy were found in some studies to prevent breast cancer – and then other studies found that they could actually contribute to cancer risk. The jury’s still out, but according to the latest research, moderation is the key.
There’s much more to soy than just phytoestrogen. This powerful little bean can lower bad cholesterol, reduce risk of heart disease, stabilize blood sugars, heal stomach ulcers and help you gain muscle. All those saponins, phytic acids, phytosterols, trypsin inhibitors, and peptides can be a big boon to your health when eaten in small quantities as part of a balanced, diverse, healthy diet.
Scientists have been telling us for years that if we want to prevent cancer, carrots should be on the menu. But why? It took years of research to identify the compounds in these root vegetables that prevent the growth of tumors, but a natural pesticide and fungicide called falcarinol was finally singled out. Researcher Dr. Kirsten Brandt recommends that we all eat at least one small carrot every day.
Carrots have also been found to improve eyesight, strengthen the immune system, promote digestive health, increase good cholesterol and protect against heart disease.
If you’re concerned about your breast cancer risk, go into the kitchen and make yourself some walnut baklava – not to distract yourself from the fear of tumors, but to actually prevent them. Bioactive compounds in walnuts may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
“Among the many bioactive compounds found in nuts are phytosterols and flavonoids,” says Anna Denny, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “More research is needed before it will be possible to attribute specific health benefits of nuts to specific bioactive compounds because nuts contain a complex mixture of different bioactive compounds.”
Ever wonder about those claims on cereal boxes that simply eating a bowl of oat-based breakfast can lower bad cholesterol dramatically? It’s true, but it’s not just a matter of fiber physically pushing cholesterol out of your body – it’s yet another bioactive compound at work. Oats contain beta glucans, sugars that increase bile production and prevent the absorption of cholesterol in the stomach and intestines. That’s what makes oats and, to a lesser degree, barley such a great choice for cholesterol management.
It’s easy to see why yogurt is able to interact with our bodies. After all, it’s alive. Live beneficial bacteria in yogurt, known as probiotics, populate our digestive systems and fight off harmful bacteria. It’s like sending an army of microscopic soldiers into your intestines to stand guard. Luckily, since yogurt is tasty, the process is a lot more pleasant than that statement suggests.
A recent study even found that certain bacteria in yogurt could someday be used as a natural alternative to chemotherapy. Bifidobacteria can actually hunt down tumors in the body and grow inside them, destroying malignant cells. Researchers at the Cork Cancer Research Center in Ireland say that it could be as simple as handing a patient a cup of yogurt with a high concentration of specific bacteria.