As anti-aging and other health experts know, the key to wellness is nutrient density and diversity—qualities that are found in colorful fruits and vegetables and legumes. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients. Legumes are full of fiber (one of my 26 FoodTrients) and B6 for energy. You literally can’t eat enough of them (except for maybe white potatoes and corn, which have starches and natural sugars that aren’t great for you in large quantities). The more fruits, vegetables, and legumes you pack into every meal, the more vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols—as well as the FoodTrients indoles, anthocyanins, and sulfur compounds, to name a few—you’ll get. My FoodTrients Top 70 list focuses on the most nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, and legumes from every corner of the world.
In The Encylopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray describes vegetables this way: “Vegetables provide the broadest range of nutrients and phytochemicals, especially fiber and carotenes, of any class. They are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein, and the little fat they contain is in the form of essential fatty acids.” The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods notes that fruits contain a form of sugar (fructose) that doesn’t spike blood-sugar levels as quickly as table sugar (sucrose) or even white bread and similar refined carbohydrates. So if you’re craving something sweet, grab a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar or pastry.
Most fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw, but some nutrients, such as the FootTrients lycopene and lutein (found in tomatoes and dark green leafy veggies), are more bioavailable when cooked. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, are easier on the digestive tract and thyroid when cooked. Stir-frying, roasting, and steaming veggies is preferable to boiling, because many vitamins are water-soluble and will be lost if you discard the water they have been boiled in. It can be beneficial to juice fruits and vegetables when they’re fresh, but keep in mind that juicing removes most of the fiber.
Color is an excellent indicator of the nutrients found inside fruits and vegetables. Yellow and orange veggies—such as squashes and pumpkins, citrus fruits, melons, papayas, jackfruit, mangoes, and camu camu—are a sure sign of the FoodTrient carotenoids. Carotenoids (beta-carotene and such) are crucial for making vitamin A. They inhibit certain cancers and tumor growth. They reduce the risk of heart disease. And together with vitamin C, another FoodTrient found in yellow and orange fruits and veggies, carotenoids support immune function.
Red and blue fruits and vegetables—such as acai, berries, beets, eggplant, cherries, red chiles, figs, grapes, and plums—almost always contain the FoodTrient anthocyanins. Sometimes called anthocyanidins, this class of antioxidant inhibits the growth of cancer cells and improves capillary function, which is vital to a healthy brain. Some red vegetables and fruits—such as tomatoes, watermelons, guavas, and pink grapefruit—contain the FoodTrient lycopene. Lycopene lowers cancer risk, promotes prostate health, and aids cognitive function. Another FoodTrient, resveratrol—a heart-healthy anti-inflammatory—is found in red grape skins, cranberries, and currants.
Dark green leafy veggies are in a class by themselves. That’s because produce such as arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, rapini, and spinach all contain the FoodTrients isothiocyanates, choline, and indoles. Isothiocyanates neutralize carcinogens to fight cancer. Choline (also found in soy, celery, and fava beans) prevents cholesterol accumulation, protects the liver, and balances acetylcholine levels in the brain. Indoles smell bad while cooking but detoxify the body and help prevent cancer. They are also found in every color of cabbage, cauliflower, onions, radishes, and garlic. Lutein, an eye-protective antioxidant, is another FoodTrient prevalent in dark green leafy veggies.
The FoodTrient quercetin shows up in apple skins, pear skins, onions, and citrus. Quercetin supports the immune system, reduces inflammation, and may reduce allergic sensitivity. Legumes such as lentils, beans, peas, and peanuts, contain lots of the FoodTrients fiber and zinc, as well as B6, lysine, and D-chiro-inositol. Together these compounds reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, lower blood cholesterol, boost energy, increase resistance to infection, and repair tissues like muscles and skin. It seems like there’s nothing fruits, veggies, and legumes can’t do. We picked our Top 70 based on nutrient density and flavor, but we could have easily included another 100 picks.
Here are my Top 70 fruits, veggies, and legumes for defying aging with every bite.
- apples (skin on)
- bell peppers (red or orange)
- bitter melon
- black beans
- blackeyed peas
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- fava beans
- garbanzo beans
- goji berries
- grapes (red or purple) and raisins
- green beans
- green chiles
- kabocha squash
- mandarin oranges
- mushrooms (especially wild ones)
- mustard greens
- Napa cabbage
- pears (skin on)
- plums (especially prunes)
- rapini (sometimes called broccolini)
- red chile peppers
- red cabbage
- Savoy cabbage
- sweet potatoes and yams
- Swiss chard
- tomatoes (especially tomato paste)
- white beans (cannellini)