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Beans, mushrooms and berries are some of the healthiest foods you can eat.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

The foods you eat have a tremendous effect on your health, as an unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for chronic illness, disability and death in Canada. Reducing processed foods and increasing your consumption of healthy plant-based meals can help you live a longer, healthier life.

From sweet fruits to hearty legumes, these are some of the best foods that can help you live longer.

1. Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and may also help fight cancer. They’re rich in an antioxidant called sulforaphane that can potentially prevent DNA damage and the spread of cancer. Cruciferous vegetables may also play a role in protecting your brain health and eyesight.

Having a serving of cruciferous vegetables every day is one of the best things you can do for your health. You’re bound to find one you like since there are 40 different types of cruciferous vegetables. Some of the most readily available ones are:

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Daikon
  • Mustard greens
  • Radishes
  • Turnips

2. Berries

Berries are some of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. They’re bursting with disease-fighting nutrients that can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, help manage weight and improve heart health. They may also improve your ability to learn and remember things.

The vitamins and minerals in blueberries — including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K and prebiotics — are also associated with a healthier gut and immune system. Eat a cup of blueberries a day to reap the most benefits. Don’t worry if they’re out of season — frozen berries provide the same nutrients as fresh.

In addition to blueberries, try some other delicious berries such as:

  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cranberries

3. Leafy greens

Like berries, leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants that can help fight diseases. They contain nutrients such as folate, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene that are important for your heart, brain and eye health. Leafy greens are also beneficial for your gut. The good bacteria in your gut feed off a specific type of carbohydrate found in leafy greens called sulfoquinovose, helping them grow and multiply.

Try some of the following leafy greens:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Beet greens
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Microgreens

4. Beans

Beans are high in fibre, complex carbohydrates and protein, so they help you feel full longer. They’re also low in saturated fat. Animal studies have shown that white beans, in particular, may help slow the spread of cancer by as much as 70 per cent.

Beans have a low glycemic index, which means they won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. Eating beans is associated with lower blood pressure and lower levels of bad cholesterol, making them an excellent choice for heart health. The starch in beans is digested slowly by your body, so they can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar. Aim for 1/2 cup of beans daily.

5. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are full of good fats that benefit your heart. They’re high in an amino acid called arginine that helps keep your blood vessels strong. Nuts and seeds also contain a lot of fibre and protein.

Although they are calorie-dense, nuts and seeds can help you manage your weight. Like many other foods on the list, nuts are also high in different types of antioxidants. They can help reduce inflammation in your body that’s associated with heart disease and diabetes. Aim to include a 30-gram serving of nuts and seeds in your diet most days of the week to help you live longer.

6. Mushrooms

Making mushrooms a regular part of your diet may help reduce your risk of breast cancer. This benefit may be due to aromatase inhibitors, which are compounds found in mushrooms — especially white and portobello mushrooms — that decrease your body’s estrogen production. Studies of mushrooms have shown that they may have the following benefits as well:
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Increased immune system activity
  • Slowed growth of cancer cells
  • Prevention of DNA damage
Mushrooms are a fungus, but that hasn’t deterred most people from adding them to meals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats approximately three pounds of mushrooms a year. And now there’s even more reason to work mushrooms into your diet.

Mushrooms bring a savory flavor to meals without adding much fat, calories or sodium. But the health benefits don’t stop there. Researchers continue to uncover how mushrooms can ward off chronic disease and improve your everyday health. Read on to discover seven ways that mushrooms can benefit your health:

6.1. Decrease the risk of cancer

review of 17 cancer studies from 1966 to 2020 shows that eating just 18 grams of mushrooms (equal to about a 1/8-cup or two medium mushrooms) a day may lower your risk of cancer by as much as 45%. Mushrooms are a powerful source of ergothioneine, an amino acid and antioxidant that prevents or slows cellular damage.

Some mushroom varieties (such as shiitake, oyster, maitake and king oyster) have higher amounts of ergothioneine. But researchers found that incorporating any variety of mushrooms into your daily diet will lower your risk of cancer.

6.2. Lower sodium intake

Sodium and high blood pressure often go hand in hand. Sodium causes the body to retain excess fluid, which can increase blood pressure. To decrease your sodium intake, consider adding mushrooms to your meals.

Mushrooms are naturally low in sodium – an entire cup of white button mushrooms has just five milligrams of sodium. They offer savory flavor that reduces the need for added salt to keep your blood pressure low. A study from the Culinary Institute of American and UC Davis shows that swapping half of the meat for mushrooms in a traditional ground beef recipe can maintain flavor while reducing sodium intake by 25%.

6.3. Promote lower cholesterol

Mushrooms make an excellent substitute for red meat while minimizing calories, fat and cholesterol. Research shows that shiitake mushrooms, in particular, help to keep cholesterol levels low. They contain compounds that inhibit the production of cholesterol, block cholesterol from being absorbed and lower the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood.

6.4. Protect brain health

Researchers continue to study the effects of eating mushrooms on mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI causes memory and language difficulties and is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study in Singapore, participants who ate more than two cups of mushrooms a week had a 50% lower risk of developing MCI. Even those who ate only one cup saw some benefit. The mushrooms eaten by participants included golden, oyster, shiitake and white button mushrooms.

6.5. Provide a source of vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to maintain and build strong bones. Many people rely on supplements or sunshine to get vitamin D, but if you’re looking to get this nutrient through your diet, mushrooms may be the answer. They are the only type of produce that is a source of vitamin D.

Like humans, certain mushrooms exposed to UV light or sunlight can increase their vitamin D amounts. White button, portabella and cremini mushrooms provide the most vitamin D after exposure to UV light or sunlight. To get the recommended daily amount, slice three mushrooms (or one portabella), expose them to sunlight for at least 15 minutes and enjoy. Eating a little more than one cup of maitake mushrooms achieves the same goal without the need for sun exposure.

6.6. Stimulate a healthier gut

The microbiome in your gut is home to organisms and bacteria that play a large role in your health and mood. One way to keep your gut healthy is to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in that space with the use of prebiotics, such as mushrooms.

Research shows that mushroom polysaccharides, their most abundant carbohydrate, stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. While many foods break down with stomach acid, the polysaccharides found in mushrooms pass through the stomach unchanged and can reach the colon to encourage bacteria growth there.

6.7. Support a healthy immune system

Mushrooms contain macronutrients that support a healthy immune system. According to the Mushroom Council, your immune system will benefit from mushrooms whose nutrients include:

  • Selenium, which helps your body make antioxidant enzymes to prevent cell damage. Choose cremini or portabella mushrooms for the most benefit.
  • Vitamin D, which assists with cell growth, boosts immune function and reduces inflammation. Maitake mushrooms offer an easy way to add vitamin D to your diet.
  • Vitamin B6, which helps your body form red blood cells, proteins and DNA. Shiitake mushrooms are the best choice for vitamin B6.

7. Pomegranates

Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, especially polyphenols, that provide whole-body benefits. Polyphenols may help fight breast, lung, prostate, colon and skin cancers by slowing tumour cell growth. Pomegranates also have anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects, which can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

The polyphenols in pomegranates are also good for your gut and brain as they encourage the growth of good bacteria and compounds that may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

  • Packed with nutrients – Pomegranates are low in calories and fat and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They even contain some protein
  • Rich in antioxidants – Pomegranates are rich in an array of antioxidant compounds that help protect your cells from free radical damage.
  • May help keep inflammation at bay – Although more research is needed, pomegranates contain compounds that may help prevent chronic inflammation associated with increased chronic disease risk.
  • May have anticancer properties – Pomegranate has been observed to have anticancer effects. It may slow tumor growth and spread and reduce inflammation, although more research is needed to learn more.
  • May offer heart health benefits – Compounds in pomegranate may reduce blood pressure and inflammation in the arteries, help fight plaque buildup that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and reduce heart-related chest pain.
  • Support urinary health – Compounds in pomegranate may help reduce kidney stones, possibly as a result of their antioxidant properties.
  • Antimicrobial properties – Pomegranates contain compounds that help fight off potentially harmful bacteria, fungi, and yeasts — particularly germs in the mouth that can cause bad breath and tooth decay.
  • May improve exercise endurance – Pomegranates contain compounds that may improve exercise endurance and recovery.
  • Good for your brain – Compounds in pomegranate may help protect brain health, especially when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and recovery from brain injury.
  • Support digestive health – Pomegranate compounds may promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. The arils are also rich in fiber, which serves as fuel for probiotics and helps prevent certain digestive health conditions.