16 age-busting power foods
"Great nutrition and great taste cannot sit at opposite sides of the table," declares Rebecca Katz, chef and coauthor of the book The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods. Along with coauthor Mat Edelson, Katz focuses on 16 key ingredients that "offer the highest levels of antioxidants, those invaluable nutrients that help sweep the dangerous metabolic by-products known as free radicals out of the body." In addition to fighting free radicals, most of Katz's Super 16 also happen to be anti-inflammatory foods, meaning they quell inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, stroke, fatigue, joint pain, Alzheimer's disease, and sagging skin. When you add up all the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, plus healthy fats, probiotics, and lots of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium, you have a Super 16 diet that can help you live long and well, fight disease, boost immunity, strengthen bones, lubricate joints, and make you feel better overall.
Read on to familiarize yourself with the Super 16, and try to maximize your intake of antioxidants and other nutrients.
A natural detoxifier and diuretic, asparagus is perfect for "spring cleaning" your body, says Katz. These spears are filled with fiber, including inulin, a "prebiotic" that helps the probiotics in your digestive tract flourish. Asparagus is also a very good source of vitamins and nutrients, especially folate.
Though they're a good source of antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins C, K, and folate, avocados really earn their superfood stripes by providing a whopping dose of heart-healthy oleic acid. Studies show that this monounsaturated fat can help lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Basil and mint, which are in the same family, are "a mini-culinary pharmacy" that can help suppress inflammation, among other benefits. Since these herbs' beneficial volatile oils are diminished by drying, Katz recommends eating them fresh, infusing them in tea, or freezing them—in pesto, for example—for later use.
Dark-colored berries—and especially blueberries—are well-documented superfoods that benefit the brain, heart, and skin. Studies have linked anthocyanin, the flavonoid that gives these berries their color, with improved memory.
It's not just the caffeine in your morning cup of Joe that makes you feel mentally alert. In fact, Katz says, coffee is loaded with antioxidants that may improve cognitive function. Of course, if coffee makes you jittery, feel free to strike it from your superfoods list—or try decaf coffee, which still contains antioxidants. And don't forget, coffee has a place in cooking, too.
The health benefits of dark chocolate are well known, including improved heart health attained by reducing blood pressure and protecting red blood cells, all thanks to the antioxidant flavonoids found in the treat. Small amounts of dark chocolate may also improve your mood. For maximum antioxidant intake, choose chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao (the darker, the better)—three squares per serving should do it, says Katz. In addition, use chocolate to add depth to savory dishes. "Look to the Oaxacan mole for inspiration," Katz advises.
Garlic and other members of the allium family—including onions, chives, leeks, and shallots—contain sulfur compounds that may protect blood vessels and help prevent heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that these compounds also have cancer-fighting properties. Katz says you don't need to consume garlic raw, but she does advise chopping, slicing, or smashing the garlic and letting it sit for about 10 minutes before cooking it to get the maximum health benefits.
For a coffee alternative, look no further than green tea. It's a "superstar for cancer prevention," says Katz, and has also been credited with helping to lower blood pressure and suppress appetite. Green tea can also boost immunity. Katz suggests that if straight green tea is too bitter for you, add a bit of lemon, ginger (steep a piece of the root with the tea), or honey, or mix iced green tea with a little juice (she makes a cooler with ginger, papaya juice, lime, and green tea). She also uses green tea in recipes like the soup below.
As a cruciferous vegetable, kale—along with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy— gets high marks for fighting disease, particularly cancer. "Kale is the mini–vacuum cleaner of the cruciferous set," says Katz. "It sucks up all those little free radicals running around in our bodies." In addition, kale is "off the charts" for certain nutrients, particularly vitamin K, which Katz says is a key regulator of inflammation.