Most of us know getting that all-important five-a-day and avoiding junk food is good for our health. But when it comes to exactly how specific foods can support and boost our health, things can seem a lot more confusing.
Public confusion over soya rests on a mistaken belief that an oestrogen-like compound found in soya can cause breast cancer, says Dr Li, who explains that research shows plant oestrogens in soya may actually be protective against breast cancer. Large epidemiological studies of women with breast cancer show that eating a diet high in soya foods is associated with decreased risk of breast cancer recurrence. “A reason to love and not fear soy foods,” he says.
Tomatoes contain a bioactive molecule called lycopene, Dr Li explains, that can starve cancer by helping to cut off the blood supply that feeds cancer cells. A large US study last year showed that consuming 470-700ml of cooked tomatoes per week was associated with a 30% reduced risk of prostate cancer.
3. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate, rich with cacao, doesn’t have to be such a guilty pleasure, as Dr Li says research shows cacao contains polyphenols that can raise levels of regenerative stem cells in the bloodstream, improving circulation and helping our bodies repair and regenerate organs as we age.
Green tea has been recognised for its health benefits for years, but Dr Li says black tea joins it as a health-booster. Both green and black teas can activate all five of the body’s health defence systems, including improving circulation, regeneration, healthy gut bacteria, DNA protection, and immunity.
The benefits of coffee go beyond a caffeinated jolt. Research has shown that drinking coffee can help slow cellular ageing by increasing the length of telomeres, the cap protecting the ends of chromosomes, which contain our DNA. Multinational studies also show drinking two or more cups of coffee per day is associated with a decreased risk for all-cause mortality.
Mango contains fruit sugars, but with this also comes fibre, vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting bioactives that can boost health defences. Dr Li identifies mangoes as a ‘grand slammer’ because the fruit activates all five health defence systems, from angiogenesis to regeneration, microbiome, DNA protection and immunity.
Packed with nutrients and healthy fats, tree nuts are also a health-activating food. Studies show two servings of tree nuts, like walnuts, each week is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer, as well as slowed cellular ageing, and a healthy microbiome. In addition, scientists have discovered that walnuts contain a natural substance that kills cancer stem cells.