Remember that old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Ever wondered if that’s really true? Can eating an apple a day literally keep you healthy enough to ward off most potential doctor visits? Ok, probably not, BUT apples do have tons of health benefits, including being packed with soluble fiber, which can help prevent cholesterol from building up on artery walls, as well as potassium, which can be beneficial for those who are watching their blood pressure. So if you’re chowing down on this autumnal fruit, your doctor will probably end up pretty pleased even if you do have to see them!
But what we can take away from that old saying, though, is not that eating that one specific fruit is a cure-all (or a prevent-all), but rather the simple fact that healthy foods can help keep you healthier. And it turns out that certain foods have some pretty surprising health benefits that you might not even know about. Eating the following foods might not mean you can delete your doctor’s number, but they might just keep you feeling your best!
We can hear the collective groans already. No, we’re not talking about that benefit of prunes, although you have to admit that’s a pretty good one. Recent studies show that prunes are great for digestion AND can also help prevent bone loss. Researchers found that when postmenopausal women ate about 10 prunes every day for a year, they showed decreased signs of bone loss, and that, after six months of regular prune consumption, they showed lower loss of total bone mineral density compared to those who didn’t eat the dried fruit.
This surprising benefit might actually be related to the way they help with digestion. Prunes cause beneficial changes in the gut microbiome, which leads to lower inflammation levels throughout the body, which can reduce the kind of oxidative damage to cells that affects bone density. And, on a bonus sidenote, they might also help you lose weight! Sounds like it’s time to pop a few prunes as a healthy snack!
2. Fatty Fish
Fish with omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, has been proven to have numerous benefits for your heart, brain, eyes, etc. But now there’s some research that might make you sit up and take notice. A study published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that couples who ate more omega-3-loaded fish had more frequent sex and higher fertility rates. So if you’re looking for some sexy times, make sure to include this type of seafood in your diet – just make sure to brush your teeth.
These fungi were once just a pizza topping afterthought, but turns out you can make some seriously delicious dishes from them (portobello pot roast, anyone?), as well as get some serious health benefits from them. In addition to being rich in B vitamins, mushrooms are one of the only natural food sources of vitamin D! Just as our skin can manufacture vitamin D from ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, mushrooms can manufacture vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. In fact, some varieties of mushrooms, such as maitakes, contain more than 100% of the daily recommended value of vitamin D per one-cup serving. So when rainy days are getting you down, use mushrooms in stir fries, or as a meat alternative, and get your dose of D!
There’s no mistaking the summery taste of cherries, or that beautiful red juice. And that gorgeous red color comes from an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which has been shown to help reduce the aches and pains associated with arthritis; research has even found that tart cherry juice can help speed up recovery time between workouts and decrease muscle pain after exercise. Not only that, but they’re also rich in melatonin – yep, the same stuff that helps you sleep better. Anyone for some cherry pie and a nice, restorative nap to get ready for the next workout?
Do you like to joke that coffee keeps you alive? You might be a little bit more right than you know! A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who drank one to eight (yikes!) cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of all causes of death than people who didn’t drink coffee at all. And the good news is, the same went for decaf drinkers, so if you’re pounding eight cups a day, it’s ok to switch to decaf for a little bit, and maybe get a few minutes of sleep.
6. Orange Fruits and Veggies
We know that fruits and veggies all have their own long lists of benefits for your insides, but did you know that some of them are also great for your outsides? Meaning, orange produce like mangoes, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, contain the antioxidant beta carotene, which gets converted to vitamin A, an important vitamin for repairing and growing cells – and that’s great news for your hair and skin. Want lustrous locks? Vitamin A helps regulate your hair growth cycle, and can help to slow hair loss. Worried about wrinkles? This vitamin aids in collagen production, which can help keep your skin firmer and less prone to the effects of aging. Dang, you look gooood holding that mango smoothie.
Nuts are crazy good for you in lots of ways (and no, they’re not off-limits when you’re watching your weight!), but walnuts specifically have one very surprising benefit: they can make you happier! Walnuts are one of the richest dietary sources of serotonin, a chemical in your brain that helps create calm and happiness, as well as improve your mood.
We hear a lot about exotic superfoods that can help to prevent cancer, but we sometimes forget about the (not so) ordinary strawberry. These luscious little fruits are nutritional powerhouses, and are bringing receipts for their cancer-fighting potential. In a small study of people with precancerous esophageal lesions who ate 2 ounces of freeze-dried strawberries daily for six months, 80% saw a decrease in the severity of the lesions. The researchers aren’t sure which of the vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients in the berries is responsible, but they plan to investigate the possibility that strawberries have something in them that could supplement cancer-treating drugs. In addition, strawberries might also help protect you against skin cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. We should note that a lot of the research around strawberries’ cancer-figthting properties has been primarily conducted on animals, but it is promising. For example, a study published in Scientific Reports found that strawberry extract can stop the spread of breast cancer cells in mice.
You might know that cranberries are good for your urinary tract system, but, along with some other benefits to these tart little guys, did you know that they can also make your checkups at the dentist go a little more smoothly? Research shows that antioxidants called proanthocyanidins in cranberries can help halt the activity of bacteria that cause dental cavities, supporting regular dental hygiene habits. Be careful how you choose to enjoy this fruit, though: jellies and juices have tons of sugar, which can cancel out your efforts to keep those pearly whites healthy!
Having a banana a day will pump you full of potassium, and give you an antioxidant and B vitamin boost, but there’s more! They might be a better weight loss aid than previously thought. Apparently, bananas that aren’t very ripe contain a lot of what’s known as “resistant starch,” which helps reduce appetite and might help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals by slowing the rate of stomach emptying. So, since they help curb appetite, they can actually help in your efforts to shed a few pounds (as long as you don’t go crazy with the banana bread)!
We are whole-hearted advocates of eating what you love, and enjoying it! But you know what? There are tons of delicious, whole foods out there that can be ingredients in some seriously delicious snacks and meals (or are great on their own), AND that can nourish your body in some seriously surprising ways. So get out there and get eating!