We’re going to get right to it, but first a primer on what you will, and will not, find on this list.
What you will find:
Foods, beverages, and herbs that have backing from real scientific studies and are reasonable to find in mainstream grocery stores.
What you will not find:
Foods, beverages, and herbs that are difficult to find or not readily available.
So, while this may be the ultimate preventive health shopping list, it is not an exhaustive preventive health shopping list. It provides a reasonable foundation for preventive health with common foods most of us can make good use of.
This is a list that most everyone can take with them to their local big chain grocery store and reasonably fit into their daily diets.
Nothing on this list is overly “fancy”. This is the bread and butter of preventive health which may even prevent the need for any of the fancy stuff.
So, without more adieu, let’s get right to it (and don’t forget to scroll all the way to the end to download your free printable version of this list!)
Apples are about as common of a food as it gets, but don’t mistake them for being just ordinary when it comes to your health.
The old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may be rooted in more scientific truth than we realized.
Studies have shown apples to potentially be effective in preventing cancer and in reducing the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
It may be a humble fruit, but it should be seen as much more than that.
Beets are a bit of an acquired taste, but if you can acquire it, they are a powerhouse for your heart health and physical performance.
Research has shown beet juice to have the potential to increase both endurance and performance when exercising for longer periods of time.
Even if it’s not your favorite flavor, beets make for a sweet, earthy-tasting juice that is at least palatable to those who aren’t big fans of it’s taste. When juicing, it mixes well with many other flavors so it is easier to find flavor combinations that suit you.
Maybe the opposite of beets, berries are one of the most widely-loved foods there is, so this item should be a welcome one.
And even though many of us have come to think that the healthiest superfoods are not usually the most delicious, berries turn that conventional wisdom on its head.
Research has found that berries have the potential to help prevent UTIs, help reduce obesity-related diseases, help reduce inflammation in the case of wild blueberries, and even help prevent cancer of all things.
Not bad for a fruit that is so tasty, we like to throw it into pies.
On top of all that, berries are a lower-sugar fruit and are often a favorite of diabetics for that reason (always check with your licensed healthcare practitioner before adding them to your diet though, particularly if you are diabetic or need to watch your blood sugar levels.)
Broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables)
Broccoli, another acquired taste, is well known for its health benefits stemming largely from a compound it contains called sulforaphane.
It is this compound that is believed to be responsible for broccoli’s (and perhaps other cruciferous vegetables’) potential to help prevent different types of cancers, such as breast cancer and bladder cancer.
However, these benefits can be reduced by cooking broccoli improperly. A great way to avoid that is by steaming fresh broccoli (not frozen as the process of freezing it destroys some of its nutrients as well). Steaming fresh broccoli can actually increase the extractability of sulforaphane as well as increasing its antioxidant capacity.
After steaming broccoli, there are a multitude of ways you can eat it. If you want to keep things simple, adding a little lemon juice is a simple and easy way to make broccoli a pretty delicious treat.
Our understanding of eggs seems to yo-yo back and forth from good to bad to good, so on and so forth.
Research is showing us we should probably settle on the side of good.
Eggs are at the top of the pyramid when it comes to protein quality, as they contain all the essential amino acids we need very close to the ratios in which we need them. Pretty amazing.
Plus, eating eggs can make you feel fuller, longer, helping to avoid overeating.
But when it comes to your health, much of the benefits of eggs come from their high amounts of the nutrient choline.
Choline is an amazing nutrient that research has shown is necessary for building cell wall membranes, producing the molecules needed for brain signaling, and to make the chemical acetylcholine, which is involved in storing memories in the brain and proper heart, muscle, and memory performance.
Choline is also known to help prevent buildup of homocysteine in the blood, the buildup of which is linked to heart disease and chronic inflammation.
Last but not least, choline is necessary to transport cholesterol from the liver, which means deficiencies in this nutrient can result in fat and cholesterol buildup.
Given all of this, there are more than enough benefits of eggs (and choline which can be found in other sources like liver) to warrant strong consideration in our diets.
Coconut oil is a versatile oil that can be used in cooking, added to coffee, or added to your oatmeal if you’re like me.
Research has shown it may be able to help aid in weight loss and it is also has strong antibacterial properties.
What a delightful, delicious, and inexpensive “fruit”.
Cucumbers are very hydrating, are believed to help aid in stress reduction, make for amazing salads, and are excellent to eat even on their own with just a touch of salt.
But they may also be real health powerhouses, with research showing they could aid in preventing memory loss in those with Alzheimer’s disease as well as increasing exercise performance.
Fish oils and omega 3s
Omega 3s are widely believed to benefit our cognition, or at least the proper balance of omega 3s to omega 6s and 9s is believed to. Some research has shown omega 3s to help with memory impairment from lack of sleep (although the best option may be to simply get more sleep).
Beyond it’s assumed benefits in the area of cognition, research even shows omega 3s to potentially aid in physical issues such as protection of the rotator cuff.
Fish oils, and fish generally, are a great source of omega 3s when eaten in moderation. But did you know that pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed meat have omega 3 to omega 6 ratios that rival these foods?
Garlic has been at the top of many preventive health lists for quite some time now, and with good reason.
Research has shown garlic to have the potential to help prevent or fight the big ones, both heart disease and cancer, including helping to prevent colorectal cancer, potentially lowering the risk of lung cancer, helping the body’s immune response against advanced cancer, and helping to protect the heart’s arteries and protect against heart disease generally.
Garlic is a potent antibacterial food and research has even shown garlic may have the potential to help prevent the common cold!
It’s no wonder people have revered it for such a long time.
Just remember that not all garlic is equal. Cooking it can severely degrade its medicinal properties which come mainly from a compound called allicin. Allicin is highly present in raw garlic and is activated when raw garlic is crushed.
Some of the research conducted on garlic has also used one of its supplement forms, aged garlic extract, or AGE. This may be a good option as well.
Green tea is known for its antioxidant properties, attributed mostly to one of its main polyphenolic compounds, Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG.
It is also known for assisting in weight loss and has some caffeine, although less than what you would find in regular coffee.
Kefir is a fermented dairy product, like yogurt, but it is a beverage.
In the past I may not have included kefir on a list like this. It was not commonly found in stores. But those days are gone and today just about every major grocery chain carries it, much to our benefit.
Research has found kefir, like many other fermented foods loaded with probiotics, to help protect our microbiome, which is the very important collection of colonies of bacteria that line our gut. This bacteria is responsible for proper digestion of our food, it contributes to our immune system, and it even can influence our mental state.
Kefir can be an important tool to keep that system healthy. And it is a great source of calcium to boot, so it is also helpful in terms of keeping our bones strong and us safe.
(Side note: taking care of our bones through proper diet and resistance/strength training should be one of our highest priorities, especially as we age. Resistance/strength training is a lifelong pursuit for all of us. The conception that it is the domain of gym rats is a great crime perpetrated against the people. Take it from someone who once got tripped up by an ill-mannered Los Angeles sidewalk. If it weren’t for pushup strength to break my fall, that could have been dangerous. And for far too many older people, it is. So stay strong!)
While it can be easy to go overboard eating nuts, they still hold a firm place on this list.
Besides being chock full of all the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat (different ratios depending on the nut), they are a delicious way to also help improve your cognition.
Improving cognition grows in importance as we age, but it is also very important in our developmental years, especially for children who may live in neglectful or difficult circumstances as that can play a role in brain development.
To that end, along with proper omega 3 oil consumption, we can add some tree nuts to our repertoire.
The superstar of the bunch is probably the walnut, which has a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids in its own right and has long been hailed for its ability to help improve cognition.
For fun, the next time you see a walnut, take a look at half of one. Interestingly enough, it bears a lot of resemblance to a brain. Coincidence?
But if you like all the other tree nuts as well, the good news is research has shown that mixed tree nuts might be able to help improve cognition, and perhaps even enrich some very important gut bacteria.
So while you may need to find a way to help keep your nut consumption in check, a little could be helpful to your health.
(Note: as with everything on this list, you must make sure you are not allergic to any of these foods nor are you sensitive to them. That is especially true of nuts for many of us.)
Teaming up with garlic to keep your breath in good shape, onions deserve their own spot on this list as well.
Onions, like garlic, contain compounds that are believed to be able to help prevent cancer.
In fact, some research has shown that, along with apples, onions contain compounds called quercetin and naringin that might be able to help prevent lung cancer.
Raw onions contain the most of this healing potential, so be sure to add a breath freshener to your shopping list as well.
Why such a broad category?
Because orange foods have a real tendency to help our eyesight due to their high vitamin A content.
Although, strangely enough, not actual oranges believe it or not.
But this list of orange foods can include foods like carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, all of which contain well more than the daily recommended amount of vitamin A (retinol) per serving, when cooked. They are also fairly inexpensive and easy to find.
The absolute highest amounts of vitamin A can be found in various types of animal livers, such as beef, lamb, liver sausage, and cod liver oil. Since some of these are a bit harder to find or, in the case of cod liver oil, found in supplement form only, they do not get their own spot on this list. However, they may be an important part of a healthy diet that protects eyesight.
See the section on kefir above for an abbreviated discussion of the benefits of probiotics, of which kefir is a great source.
However, there are additional sources and perhaps a much greater variety than what is offered in a single food like kefir, so probiotics get their own spot on this list.
There are other delicious foods loaded with good probiotics, such as yogurt (the real kind, not the desserty commercial kind) and pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Of course there are high quality supplements on the market as well.
Beyond the benefits of probiotics discussed above, research has also shown them to have the potential to prevent urinary tract infections, along with fresh fruit juices, particularly from berries.
Yes, and before you think up all the reasons you believe red meat is bad for you, let’s discuss a bit of the research in its favor.
And before we get to that, let’s also remember that not all red meat is created equal. Commercially-raised red meat, while still having benefits, is not as high quality as free range and humanely-raised sources of red meat.
In fact, did you know that grass-fed red meat has a similar omega 3 to omega 6 ratio as salmon, which is widely regarded as one of the utmost stalwarts in that regard?
If you are a vegan, I get it. I was a vegan for over eight years so I understand. But red meat consumed in the proper amounts and, importantly if you can afford it, from the right sources, can have very positive impacts on health.
Wow, where do you begin with turmeric?
Turmeric is one of the most-studied natural foods/herbs there is, and for good reason.
Just a smattering of the research has shown turmeric has the potential to prevent or fight cancer (see here, here, and here), it could help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and it could even work as an anti-depressant!
These benefits are largely due to one of turmeric’s major compounds called curcumin. Among other things, curcumin is also believed to be a strong antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral agent, so it is no surprise it has received so much attention.
Vitamin C foods
It goes without saying at this point that vitamin C is essential for proper immune function. The good news is, there are plenty of delicious foods that are chock full of vitamin C, and they are all commonly found in your grocery store.
Citrus fruits, like oranges, are typically at the top of everyone’s list for good reason. But did you know that most of the vitamin C in these fruits is found in the pith and the peel? Maybe a little pith stuck on the outside of your orange after you peel it isn’t such a bad thing.
And you don’t need to stop there. Some other items in the produce section rival, or even surpass, oranges in the vitamin C department. These can include:
- Red and green bell peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables (already on this list, so you get a two-for-one there)
- and more…
And if you’re having a hard time squeezing enough of these foods into your daily diet, there are more good quality, whole food vitamin C supplements on the market now than ever before. Take a look around and see what’s available.
Honorable Mention: Wheatgrass
Although wheatgrass is not as common as most of the other foods on this list, its availability is growing so it deserves to shoehorn its way to at least being mentioned.
Wheatgrass is not only one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, but research has also found it to have numerous anti-cancer properties.
When you combine wheatgrass’ nutrient density, its ability to help detoxify impurities, along with its high antioxidant content, it has many of the tools to help prevent degradation of our cells and body, leading to an anti-aging effect.
So, while it may not be particularly delicious and while it may not be as easy to find as the other foods on this list, wheatgrass juice deserves an honorable mention if it fits in your budget and you can find a good product.
Honorable mention #2: Good sources of calcium
While kefir is a great source of calcium, you will likely need more in order to get the amount you need for strong and healthy bones. There are many good sources of calcium, so these foods get an honorable mention spot on the list since as they all provide a decent amount and each have their own unique health qualities.
These foods can include:
- Leafy greens, such as collard and kale (beware of spinach, which is high in calcium but also oxalates, which bind to calcium and prevent absorption
- Milk and cheese
- Some beans
- Canned sardines and salmon (be careful to not overeat these as that can increase consumption of heavy metals to an unsafe and dangerous level)
When it comes to getting the most out of your calcium, please be sure to get enough magnesium and vitamin D. Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption and magnesium aids in converting Vitamin D into its active form. Deficiencies in either could lead to a calcium deficiency.
And lastly, know that bones are made up of more than just calcium. Calcium teams up with collagen proteins to form strong bones, so ensuring you are getting enough protein, or collagen specifically when warranted, is vital to having strong bones.
The beauty of whole body preventive health with common foods!
Look at all the issues we’ve targeted with common foods found at the supermarket:
- Brain health
- Eye health
- Skin health
- Heart health
- Bone health
- Immune health
- Cancer prevention
- and the list goes on…
Lists of common foods like this are a great way to look at the foundation of our diet, ensuring we are covering all of our bases when it comes to holistic health. Then, if we have any special issues that require attention, we can turn that attention to them when necessary.
How may of the foods on this list should you eat regularly?
The answer is different for everybody and should be reached in consultation with your licensed healthcare professional. There are many factors at play when choosing the right diet, including food allergies and sensitivities, personal needs, appropriate quantities, and more.
This list is meant to be a foundational list to provide ideas to begin your own research journey to find what is best for you. And to provide an example of just how many “superfoods” you can find at reasonable prices at a regular grocery store, including common foods that unfairly do not get their due as “superfoods”.
So the next time you start to think that superfoods are rare, expensive, and hard to find, making great health not very accessible, take a look at this list and see just a sampling of how many common and ordinary foods are, in reality, quite super.
Be sure to click the shopping list below to print and keep as a reference. And, as always, all the best on your pursuit of great!
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