Olive, Canola, and Walnut Oils
Like avocados and olives, these cooking oils aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals. A study last year showed that when a salad of spinach, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots was topped with fat-free salad dressing, fat-soluble carotenoids were not absorbed. A better bet: monounsaturated oil (olive, peanut, walnut, avocado) or polyunsaturated oil. Both types lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase "good" HDL levels. When selecting a polyunsaturated oil, chose those with a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, such as canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil, over corn and safflower oil. "Omega-6 acids can increase the amount of inflammation in the body, while omega-3s have the opposite effect," says Daniel Nadeau. We need both kinds, but our modern Western diet is overrun with omega-6 sources, which may add to the inflammation that’s been linked with increased risk for heart and neurodegenerative diseases.
Like black teas, green varieties contain antioxidants called catechins that have a protective effect against heart disease. But a recent study of postmenopausal women showed that only green tea can significantly decrease your risk of breast cancer. The green tea "turns down" levels of circulating estrogen, which have been implicated in the development of the disease. Animal research suggests that a daily cup of tea (bagged or loose) will provide the benefits.
Ginger, Curry, and Other Spices
A recent study found that one half-teaspoon daily of antioxidant-rich herbs and spices — fresh or dried oregano, sage, peppermint, thyme, clove, allspice, and cinnamon — can help prevent chronic disease. Ginger, in particular, has high antioxidant power and anti-inflammatory properties. But the "hottest" spice these days is curcumin, a component of turmeric and yellow curry, which animal studies suggest may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. "Indians who eat a lot of curry blend have much lower rates of Alzheimer’s, but at this point researchers don’t know yet if that’s what makes the difference," says Greg M. Cole, PhD, of the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
Vices — or Anti-Aging Devices?
These guilty pleasures may actually help your health.
Coffee: Roasted coffee — regular or decaf — contains a compound that ramps up certain enzymes in rats, protecting them from colon cancer. In people, this seems to hold true only for decaf, notes a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. But a Finnish study suggests that the more caf you drink, the lower the risk for type-2 diabetes.
Chocolate: Cocoa has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of blood clots. Dark is better. When chocolate is made with milk, the antioxidants aren’t absorbed. Rx: a small piece of dark chocolate a day.
Wine: We already know red wine may protect your heart. But a recent study by a Harvard pathologist showed that resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, may increase the lifespan of yeast cells. It significantly lengthens the lives of fruit flies, too. Will it work in humans? We hope.
Beer: Canadian researchers found that one beer ups antioxidant activity, which may protect the heart and brain from oxidative damage. A Tufts study suggested that it has bone benefits, too.
Eggs: Now absolved of their bad cholesterol rep, dig into those yolks, rich in carotenoids. Go for the omega-3-enriched kind for an additional anti-inflammatory boost.Originally published in More magazine, May 2005.