Food can save your life. That's no exaggeration. But if you're saying "yes" to the wrong diet—one crammed with sugar, industrial fat, salt, excess meat, and refined flour—you could be headed for a health disaster. Put the right foods on your plate, though, and you're making a choice that could ward off weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. We turned to integrative medicine expert Tasneem Bhatia, MD, author of What Doctors Eat, to see which foods the nation's top docs pile on their plates.
Powerhouse Profile: Packed with antioxidants, protein, and fiber, beans help lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even obesity. This high-fiber food also serves as a natural detoxifying agent, pulling toxins, cholesterol, and estrogen from your body.
Bonus Tip: To avoid dangerous bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in most canned-food liners, and save money in the process, choose dried organic beans, soak for several hours, and rinse before cooking.
Powerhouse Profile: Green tea is loaded with potent antioxidant polyphenols called catechins, most notably one called EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate. Study after study shows green tea can lower your risk of colon, breast, gastric, lung, and prostate cancers.
Bonus Tip: Enjoy it cold, too. Iced green tea is just as potent as a hot cup. Just hold the milk. The jury's out on whether adding dairy can erase green tea's health benefits.
Powerhouse Profile: Pomegranates top many superfood lists, and with good reason. Their antioxidant-rich seeds are also crammed with important amino acids and immune-supporting minerals like zinc and copper and other compounds that could lower cholesterol and protect your skin from sunburn.
Bonus Tip: Look for 100 percent pure pomegranate juice; skip versions with added sugar…that will actually damage your body.
Powerhouse Profile: Broccoli is packed with sulforaphane, a compound that can protect against cancer or recurrences of certain cancers. Turn to dark, leafy greens like kale for anti-inflammatory vitamin K and lutein, a carotenoid that helps lower your risk of macular degeneration. Eat green for your heart, too.
Just one serving of raw greens a day (or ½ cup cooked) lowers your risk of heart attack by 23 percent, according to the Harvard Nurses' Health Study.
Bonus Tip: Steam broccoli until it becomes bright green; overcooking increases bitterness and zaps nutrients. Serve with whole grains, nuts, red peppers, or carrots if you don't like broccoli's natural flavor.
Powerhouse Profile: Of all the berries, blueberries pack the biggest dose of anthocyanin compounds, potent cancer antioxidants that give the fruit its blue color. Another sweet benefit? Eating just one cup of blueberries a week can cut your diabetes risk by 23 percent.
Bonus Tip: Buy organic berries in bulk while they're in season and freeze them for a year-round healthy treat.
Powerhouse Profile: Your brain wants you to eat eggs. The popular breakfast food helps produce the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, bolstering your alertness, energy, and mood. Eggs are also rich in choline, a B vitamin mandatory for proper cell functioning.
Bonus Tip: Look for pastured eggs. Hens raised outside on pasture produce eggs with 1/3 less cholesterol and up to six times the amount of immune-boosting vitamin D. Pastured eggs are also two times richer in brain- and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from caged hens.
Powerhouse Profile: Similar to yogurt, kefir is high in protein and calcium, boasting higher levels of healthy bacteria and lower levels of lactose. These fermented beverages help populate your gut with immune-boosting healthy bacteria and aid weight loss.
Bonus Tip: Whether you're reaching for yogurt or kefir, be sure to look for plain options with low or no added sugars.
Powerhouse Profile: Wild salmon are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that help boost your mood, improve cell repair functioning, and ward off wrinkles. Just one 3½–ounce serving of wild-caught salmon also touts a day's worth of vitamin D, a component vital for bone health and cancer prevention.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon; farmed salmon—the norm in grocery stores—are often raised with harmful pesticides and disinfectants to ward off sea lice and overcome filthy conditions.
Powerhouse Profile: There's science behind the old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." The popular fruit is full of soluble fiber, the kind that helps lower your cholesterol. Powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients help quell inflammation, too. Added bonus? Apples are good to your waistline. One study found eating an apple 15 minutes before a meal will curb your calorie intake at dinner by 15 percent.
Bonus Tip: Choose organic apples. According to a recent Environmental Working Group report, apples are consistently among the most pesticide-tainted produce picks.
Powerhouse Profile: Great news! U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists found almonds and pistachios have fewer calories than originally reported, something that could hold true for all nuts. Elderly people who opt for diets rich in vitamin E and omega 3s, nutrients common in nuts, experienced less brain shrinkage.
Bonus Tip: Reach for nuts during your snack break. Georgia Southern University in Statesboro researchers found that eating high-protein, high-fat snacks increase calorie burn for three hours and beyond.
Powerhouse Profile: Don't shy away from fat—just the wrong fats. Once written off as a no-no fat because of saturated fat content, coconut oil is actually a healthy source of medium-chain fats that help bolster your metabolism without stressing out your heart.
Bonus Tip: Choose less-processed, raw forms of coconut oil, like those from Wilderness Family Natural and Nutiva. Perfect in vegan baked goods and sautéed vegetable dishes.
Powerhouse Profile: Fat + fiber = appetite suppression. Avocados' unique blend of fat and fiber makes you feel full longer. Eating just half an avocado is scientifically proven to increase your production of leptin. (That's the hormone that makes you feel full.) Bonus Tip: Adding avocado to salad can boost your absorption of potent antioxidants found in other salad staples like lettuce, spinach, and carrots.
Powerhouse Profile: Coffee is one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants on the planet. The studies pan out, too, suggesting coffee reduces the risk of aggressive breast cancer and liver malignancies. The caffeine in coffee has even been shown to boost metabolism by 16 percent.
Bonus Tip: Avoid store-bought coffee drinks. Often, they are loaded with body-damaging sugars. For coffee that's good for you and the planet, choose Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified.
Powerhouse Profile: Perhaps the most decadent of fruits, mangoes are packed with vitamins A and E; studies have linked eating mangoes regularly for a month to healthier blood fat profiles—including slashed levels of triglycerides that increase the risk of heart disease.
Bonus Tip: Add mangoes to your smoothies, or as a flavorful side dish or topping for poultry, pork, or fish. The exotic fruit actually helps your body break down protein more easily.