20 Proven Foods To Heal

Looking for a health superhero? Head to the grocery store. Some foods have the power to fight diabetes, heart disease, or cancer—in other words, they can literally save your life. That’s not an exaggeration. A large study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people of any age who started including healthy foods in their diets improved their chances of living longer. Replacing one serving of red or processed meat a day with one serving of nuts or legumes, for instance, was linked to an 8–17 percent reduced risk of premature death.

But how do you choose the best options for you? We talked to health experts and asked them a tough question: What one nutrient-packed food would you like people to add to their diets? Here are their picks, along with some of the health issues each one may help prevent or treat.


Heals: Heart disease

• High cholesterol

• Cancer

• Low energy

• Constipation

• Anemia

• Weight gain

• Diabetes


1 “NUTS ARE A GREAT SOURCE of heart-healthy fats, along with some protein. Depending on the nut, you’ll also have some fiber, calcium, or magnesium. Almonds, for example, have 75 milligrams of calcium in a 1-ounce serving. Walnuts are high in antioxidants, which can help prevent certain cancers. If I have a handful of mixed nuts every day, I’m getting everything.” Serving size: Approximately ¼ cup (1 oz. or 28 g)

Maya Feller is a registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition for chronic disease prevention. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and runs a private nutrition practice.

GOOD TO KNOW: Oils in nuts quickly turn rancid. Store nuts in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to six months.


Heals: Eye conditions

• Heart disease

• Cancer

• Bones


2 “Kale is packed with carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are particularly beneficial for eye health. Not to mention that there’s a hefty amount of glucosinolates (organic sulfur), which help the body rid itself of toxic substances. Kale also has tons of vitamin C, which improves immune-cell function; magnesium for bone health; vitamin K for blood vessels and heart valves; and folate for brain health.” Serving

Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and using a wheelchair for four years, she restored her health by following a paleo-based diet and lifestyle program she calls the Wahls Protocol.

GOOD TO KNOW: People prone to kidney stones should opt for kale over spinach. Kale has a lower level of oxalates, so your body won’t create those painful masses of minerals and salts after you eat it.


Heals: Brain function

• Stroke

• Inflammation

• Heart disease

• Rheumatoid arthritis


SALMON—WHETHER FARMED or wild-caught, fresh, frozen, or canned—is rich in protein, omega-3s, B vitamins, vitamins D and A, and selenium. All of these nutrients are critical for good health, particularly omega-3s. These fatty acids help protect against age-related brain and eye diseases, reduce the risk of heart disease and depression, maintain healthy skin, calm inflammation, and boost immune function. (Besides salmon, the best sources of omega-3s are trout and anchovies; plant sources include walnuts and flaxseeds.)

“Studies show that pregnant women who eat seafood two to three times each week during their pregnancy go on to have babies with optimal brain development, including an IQ boost. Other research has associated low seafood intake with 84,000 annual deaths in the United States.” Serving size: 3 oz. or 85 g

Rima Kleiner is a North Carolina–based registered dietitian who educates people about the benefits of seafood at dishonfish.com and about healthy eating at smartmouthnutrition.com.

GOOD TO KNOW: Fish oil supplements may be advisable for some people, but check with your doctor before taking them. They may thin the blood, which could be a problem for those on warfarin, heparin, or other blood-thinning medications. Look for a product with a combination of DHA and EPA (two types of omega-3 fatty acids). Avoid fish liver oil capsules, which are a concentrated source of vitamins A and D; these vitamins can be toxic when taken in large amounts for long periods of time.


Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, iron, and magnesium. They provide a good amount of protein and healthy omega-6 fatty acids, along with antioxidants and various forms of vitamin E. Their high fiber content supports healthy digestion, heart health, and blood sugar regulation.


These green soybeans pack about 9 grams of plant protein and 4 grams of fiber in only ½ cup. They are a great source of vitamin K, folate, and fiber and contain no cholesterol. People who eat more whole soy may have lower rates of heart disease and certain cancers.


Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, folate, and antioxidants. They may help interrupt the development of type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation in the colon, and slow cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years.


Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and a great source of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. It helps reduce triglycerides and the density of your “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and it may make your platelets less likely to stick together, decreasing your risk for a heart attack or stroke.


Cauliflower contains a compound called indole-3 carbinol, which can decrease inflammation and slow cancer-cell growth. Plus it’s a source of folate, fiber, and vitamins C and K.


Higher in calories than most other grains, farro is also higher in fiber and protein. It provides magnesium, zinc, iron, and B vitamins, including niacin and thiamine. Farro is a major part of the Mediterranean diet, which studies show is great for losing weight, reducing inflammation, and preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.


This spice contains curcumin, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.


One 3.75-ounce serving of sardines has 17 grams of protein, close to 50 percent of your calcium requirement, and over 300 percent of your daily vitamin B12 need. Sardines are also full of niacin, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, an essential trace element lacking in many of our diets.


Heals: Blood sugar spikes

• High cholesterol

• Weight gain

• Constipation

• Anemia

• Heart disease

•Reproductive health

• Cancer


“LENTILS CONTAIN THE HIGHEST amount of protein of any plant. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, which helps control blood sugar levels, and provide excellent amounts of iron, folate, magnesium, and potassium. They are consumed in the Blue Zones, regions of the world identified by author Dan Buettner as having the longest-living and healthiest people. Lentils, which belong to the legume family, have more fiber than beans. A quarter cup of dry lentils contains about 13 grams of fiber, and red lentils, 15 grams. A quarter cup of kidney beans has about half that.” Serving size: ½ cup, cooked (4 oz. or 114 g)

Dr. Robert Graham is an internal, functional, and integrative medicine specialist and the founder of FRESH Med at Physio Logic in New York City. He also received a culinary degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute.

GOOD TO KNOW: Don’t mix new lentils with older ones, because the older lentils will take longer to cook.


Heals: Memory

• Cancer

• Diabetes

• High cholesterol

• High blood pressure

• Birth defects

• Macular degeneration

• Constipation

• Aging skin


“BLUEBERRIES HAVE a ton of nutrition packed in such tiny berries! They have plenty of fiber to keep you full and keep your colon moving. They have folate, which helps make DNA. They also have vitamin C, which helps create collagen in your skin and joints, and they are very rich in phytonutrients, which can help protect our cells against damage. Eating blueberries has also been shown to improve memory and potentially reverse cognitive decline. In preliminary studies, blueberries were helpful in reducing the risk for breast, pancreatic, stomach, colon, and lung cancer.” Serving size: ½ cup (2.6 oz. or 74 g)

L. J. Amaral is a clinical and research registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition. She works at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Cancer Center in Los Angeles.

GOOD TO KNOW: Though it’s not a health risk, blueberries can make stools dark and tarlike, which could be mistaken as a sign of intestinal bleeding.


Heals: High blood pressure

• Atherosclerosis

• Heart disease

• Diabetes Infections

• Colon and rectal cancers


“GARLIC IS WONDERFUL for keeping high blood pressure at bay—something I find very useful for individuals under a ton of stress. One of the most underrated properties of garlic is its antifungal ability. Allicin is the biological compound responsible for this magical power. I often recommend fresh garlic and sometimes a garlic supplement when someone is dealing with athlete’sfoot or even frequent urinary tract infections as a result of yeast overgrowth. It is believed that garlic can reduce the risk of various cancers, as well as prevent cognitive decline.” Serving size: 3 cloves or 3 teaspoons, minced (â…“ oz. or 9 g)

Kylene Bogden is a Cleveland-based registered dietitian nutritionist who works with NBA athletes. She is also the co-founder and COO of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition.

GOOD TO KNOW: Garlic is most potent when eaten raw, but it may upset your stomach. Lessen your chance of experiencing stomach irritation by eating raw garlic with a balanced meal.


Heals: Diabetes

• High cholesterol

• High blood pressure

• Heart disease

• Constipation

• Weight gain


“OVERNIGHT OATS—RAW rolled oats soaked in milk (preferably nondairy) and refrigerated overnight—are a terrific source of resistant starch. (Oats prepared by other means also contain resistant starch, but some is lost when oats are cooked.) Resistant starch is not digested in the small intestine and is therefore fermented in the colon. This increases good bacteria and decreases bad bacteria, which can help with constipation and lower colon cancer risk. In addition, it reduces the amount of glucose released, therefore lowering insulin demand and reducing absorbed calories. This helps with insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight loss. Resistant starch is also one of the best sources of short-chain fatty acids, which help control your hunger.” Serving size: ½ cup (4 oz. or 114 g)

Dr. Elena Ivanina is a gastroenterologist at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. In addition to gastroenterology, she is board-certified in preventive medicine and public health, obesity medicine, and internal medicine. She is also an assistant professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

GOOD TO KNOW: Play around with your favorite flavors—add almond butter, chia seeds, flax, and fruits such as berries and bananas. Mix together, then put in the refrigerator overnight, and you’ll have a nutrient-packed breakfast waiting for you in the morning.


Heals: High cholesterol

• Heart disease

• Insulin resistance

• Cancer

• Blood sugar swings


“AVOCADOS HAVE BEEN SHOWN to help improve cardiovascular health and can significantly lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, because of their monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content. These fatty acids have been shown to improve cognitive function, depression, anxiety, and brain fog, as fats are a more efficient fuel source for your brain than glucose. Avocados also contain essential fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K and important electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium. They are a great source of plant-based protein, with approximately 4 grams in one whole avocado, and boast 4.6 grams of soluble fiber per serving.” Serving size: ½ cup, cubed (2.6 oz. or 75 g)

Will Cole is a Pittsburgh-based functional-medicine practitioner and doctor of chiropractic. He is the author of the book Ketotarian and the co-host of goop.com’s newest podcast, Goopfellas.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you want your avocados to ripen faster, store them in a paper bag at room temperature, and they should be ready to eat within two to three days. Placing an apple in the bag with them speeds up the process even more. Don’t want to wait? Avocado oil is one of the healthiest oils you can cook with. Plus it has a higher smoking point than olive oil, so you can cook at higher temperatures.


Heals: Inflammation

• Immune system

• Bones Hypertension

• Cancer

• Heart disease


“STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT pomegranate juice has more anti-inflammatory compounds than blueberry juice, Concord grape juice, or black cherry juice. With my clients, I recommend pomegranate juice if they’re having painful periods because it reduces inflammation and cramping while also providing a small (but healthy) sugar boost during a time when many women experience low blood sugar. Studies have also shown that pomegranate juice helps cholesterol and prostate-specific antigen levels in men with prostate cancer, and it has been used for hundreds of years for those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. I choose pomegranate juice because the fruit is hard to find year-round. The juice also provides concentrated vitamins and anti-inflammatory phenols and is easier to digest than the whole fruit.” Serving size: 1 cup (8 oz. or 250 ml)

Samantha Attard is a yoga instructor, doula, and Ayurvedic coach in Washington, DC. She hosts the podcast Happy Healthy Human Radio. She received her PhD in nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

GOOD TO KNOW: Tossing pomegranate seeds on your salad may be good for your skin. Scientists have discovered that nutrients in pomegranates can help protect skin from sun damage and possibly even from cancer.


Heals: Mood disorders

• High blood pressure

• Heart disease


“FLAVONOIDS, WHICH ARE found in dark chocolate, may boost mood by affecting blood flow in the brain and enhancing executive functioning. Additionally, flavonoids help increase the amount of serotonin and other naturally occurring mood-boosting chemicals in the blood. This is separate from the experience of enjoying what you’re eating, since chocolate can also stimulate the release of endorphins. Because of its antioxidant properties, dark chocolate is increasingly being researched for its effect on boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, and protecting the heart.” Serving size: 1 oz. or 30 g

Dr. Ash Nadkarni teaches at Harvard Medical School, is an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and conducts research on health-care innovation and medical psychiatry.

GOOD TO KNOW: To obtain the most flavonoids, choose a dark chocolate with 70 percent cacao or greater and limit yourself to one ounce per day.


Heals: Poor gut health

• Immune system dysfunction

• Infection

• Inflammation

• Cancer

• Low energy

• Allergies and asthma


“WATER KEFIR, a fizzy, fermented drink, is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to get live probiotics to your gut. Making your own kefir—preferably with organic coconut water—is the superior option (see recipe on the next page). In just one day, the coconut water is bubbly like soda and wonderfully tart. I can’t overstate the importance of eating fermented and cultured foods: The live probiotics and enzymes are essential for gut health, which ripples out into every other area of wellness. Most of our immune system lives in the gut, so when the gut is functioning well, we see benefits beyond digestion. Probiotics help protect from illness, increase your energy, improve the appearance of your skin, and contribute to cognitive function and positive mental health.” Serving size: 1 cup (8 oz. or 250 ml)

Robyn Openshaw is a psychotherapist turned nutrition researcher who promotes plant-based eating. She is the founder of greensmoothiegirl.com and the author of 15 books on health and wellness.

GOOD TO KNOW: It’s easy to make your own kefir. You can find water kefir grains online and at health food stores. Also known as tibicos and Japanese water crystals, they are not actual grains but rather clusters of bacteria, yeast, and dextran (a type of sugar) that look like grains of jelly. Add 3 cups organic coconut water (or a sugar-water solution) to 2 to 4 tablespoons of grains. Cover and keep warm (68 to 85 de – grees F) to let it ferment. Pour the liquid out after a day (drink it or use it in smoothies or other drinks), leaving behind the crystals and the jellyfish-looking “mother.” Then add more liquid to make a batch for the next day. You can use the same grains numerous times.


Heals: Cancer

• Liver dysfunction

• Inflammation

• Diabetes

• Heart conditions

• Age-related mental/physical decline


“BROCCOLI SPROUTS HAVE sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that has also been found to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective; it may even protect against aging and diabetes. Broccoli, cauliflower,brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy have it, too, but broccoli sprouts have the highest identified concentration—up to 100 times the amount as mature broccoli. You can buy broccoli sprouts, but it’s fun to grow them in a Mason jar (see instructions below). Because cooking destroys sulforaphane, I put the sprouts in a salad or throw them on top of my egg-white omelet in the morning.” Serving size: ½ cup (2.25 oz. or 64 g)

Lisa Reed is a Washington, DC-based fitness expert and the owner of Lisa Reed Fitness. She was the first female strength and conditioning coach at the United States Naval Academy. She has a master of science in exercise physiology.

GOOD TO KNOW: To grow your own, place 2 to 3 tablespoons of broccoli seeds in a quart or half-gallon Mason jar and cover with a few inches of filtered water. Put a wire sprouting lid on the jar and place it in a slightly warm, dark spot. After 8 hours, drain the water and rinse the seeds. Leave the jar upside down in its dark place and rinse the seeds twice a day. Eat the seeds when you see some dark green leaves (after about a week).