There's more than caffeine in your morning cup of joe. It's loaded with antioxidants, which can protect against cell damage and lower your risk of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. A 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that coffee drinkers had significantly lower odds of dying during the 13-year study period than did nondrinkers.
Long known for its ability to fight bacteria, thyme, in tincture form, was recently found to be as effective as prescription creams in treating acne. Plus, new research suggests that thyme — as well as clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel and bergamot — may suppress inflammation in the same way as resveratrol, the beneficial ingredient in red wine.
Chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon can be a powerful ally in the fight against premature aging. According to exciting research from Ohio State University, a diet abundant in omega-3s can help preserve small bits of DNA on the ends of cells, called telomeres. Shorter telomeres have been linked to early aging and even premature death.
Rich in vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting, this dark, leafy green additionally contains lutein, a nutrient that reduces the risk of cataracts and other eye disorders. One serving of cooked kale contains nearly triple the amount of lutein as a serving of raw spinach.
Once reviled for their high fat content (a medium avocado has 22 grams of fat — about a third of the recommended daily allotment), avocados have regained favor as a great source of glutathione, an antioxidant that decreases inflammation and improves overall hormone function.
Basil and Mint
Used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to aid digestion and diminish inflammation, basil and mint are also strong sources of luteolin, which may play a role in boosting the immune system. In 2010 the Journal of Nutrition reported that luteolin may even improve memory.
Olives and Olive Oil
Key ingredients in the Mediterranean diet, olives and olive oil are known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A new study from the American Academy of Neurology found that olive oil may reduce the risk of stroke, too: People 50 or older who regularly used it both for cooking and on foods had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who never used olive oil.
Ounce for ounce, walnuts have almost twice as many antioxidants as any other nut, according to researchers from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Walnuts also contain high levels of vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to enhance heart health.
Abundant in catechins, a type of antioxidant known to protect cells, green tea may additionally reduce the risk of certain cancers. Researchers from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville found that women who drank green tea at least three times a week lowered their risk of developing cancers of the stomach and esophagus by 17 percent.
With their generous helpings of vitamin B6 and potassium, sweet potatoes can help protect the immune system and regulate blood pressure. When eaten with the skins, they have more fiber than a cup of oatmeal and four times the U.S. recommended daily allowance for beta-carotene.
Rich in flavonoids, dark chocolate can aid in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In fact, the British Medical Journal reports that daily consumption of chocolate with at least 60 percent cocoa may reduce heart attacks and strokes in high-risk individuals. While the study participants consumed 100 grams of dark chocolate daily (about 500 calories' worth), smaller amounts are also beneficial.
A natural diuretic, asparagus is high in potassium and vitamin B12, important for cell repair and maintenance. Research by scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia showed that B12 can boost the auditory system: People with low levels of this B vitamin have a 39 percent increased risk of hearing loss.
With very high levels of antioxidants, pomegranates can help keep the cardiovascular system healthy. Case in point: A 2011 British study found that drinking a 17-ounce glass of pomegranate juice every day lowered blood pressure.
Sulfur compounds in garlic give this herb both its potent smell and its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. When garlic is crushed, it releases allicin, which wards off heart attacks and strokes. Also, according to researchers at King's College in London, women who ate garlic and other vegetables in the allium family (onions, leeks) had a lower risk of hip osteoarthritis.
Well-known for restoring balance to the gastrointestinal tract, yogurt with live cultures may improve heart health. Research presented at the American Heart Association's 2012 Scientific Sessions showed that study participants were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure if they got at least 2 percent of their daily calories from yogurt. That's just one 6-ounce serving of low-fat yogurt every three days.
Loaded with antioxidants, blueberries rank among the top disease-fighting foods. Among the more recent findings: Three or more servings a week may reduce a woman's risk of heart attack by up to 33 percent, and a diet high in these berries can stave off memory loss by several years.