24 Fruits and Veggies That Will Add Years to Your Life
It may come as a shock to regular readers of health publications, but there is no such thing as a superfood. While sensational headlines are full of magical foods that can transform your life, no particular food can cure a disease unless your disease is caused by the lack of a particular nutrient a particular food may contain.
Real foods, on the other hand, contain all the valuable macro- and micro-nutrients that make them essential to maintaining your well-being. Fruits and vegetables, no surprise, top the list of real foods we should be eating plenty of. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Scurvy, for instance, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C, might be cured by consuming oranges. No single food will add years to your life, make you jump higher, melt your body fat, erase your crow’s feet or smooth your cellulite. Scientific studies have shown us that no particular diet, be it high-protein, low-carbohydrate, vegan, paleo, low-fat, gluten-free, low-glycemic, dairy-free or any combination thereof is the best diet. Rather, it seems the magic bullet is choosing a variety of real foods and avoiding processed foods as much as possible. Eating a diet rich in a variety of the right foods will increase the odds in your favor of living a longer life free of chronic illness.
Processed foods are all the products you find in your supermarket, mostly in the middle aisles, packaged in jars, cans, boxes and other assorted containers. While the long list of additives in these foods will not, for the most part, harm you (unless you have a particular allergy), these foods do not contain the nutrition that real foods, the ones you usually find on the perimeter of your supermarket, contain. Processed foods, in order to preserve them and fit them into packages, have had vital ingredients removed and then, to make them taste better, usually have had loads of sugar and salt added back in. Real foods, on the other hand, contain all the valuable macro- and micro-nutrients that make them essential to maintaining your well-being. Fruits and vegetables, no surprise, top the list of real foods we should be eating plenty of.
Here are 24 fruits and vegetables that you should consider including in your diet:
Raspberries are rich in quercetin and gallic acid, which are flavonoids linked to healthy heart function and they provide protection against obesity. Raspberries have also been shown to promote healthy cell life and regulate normal cell death.
Oranges are high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body against free radicals, which are roaming atoms with an unpaired electron. Free radicals can damage cells. Vitamin C renders free radicals harmless by pairing off the free electron. Oranges also contain a flavonoid called herperidin, which is contained in the white part of the orange peel. Hesperidin has been shown to help regulate blood pressure.
Technically an herb, not a fruit, the banana is a terrific source of potassium, which is essential to good cardiovascular health. Bananas also help the body absorb calcium and are a great source of vitamin B6, which helps the body produce serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that can help stave off depression.
Kiwi has even more vitamin C than oranges, along with vitamin E and other antioxidant nutrients. This along with potassium, fiber, magnesium and zinc make kiwi a nutritional powerhouse.
Another fruit rich in vitamin C, pomegranates have the additional appeal of being low in calories. They also contain a host of polyphenols, which are micronutrients linked to a possibly reduced risk of cancer.
Grapefruits are low in calories, high in vitamin C and other nutrients that help support clear skin, regulate digestion and strengthen cardio health.
Like oranges, tangerines are loaded with antioxidants, only more of them. Add to this plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber to help support weight management and digestive health and tangerines are an excellent food choice. Not only this, but they contain lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that support eye health and flavonoids that may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Blueberries are blue due to the presence of a natural plant chemical called anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that may help enhance vision health, regulate blood sugar and improve memory function.
Eggplant contains a host of phytochemicals that help support health, chief among them chlorogenic acid, which is one of the most powerful antioxidants found in our foods.
Tomatoes are a nutritionally potent fruit disguised as a vegetable. They are chock-full of a phytochemical called lycopene, which appears to protect cell DNA and is believed to act as a powerful anti-carcinogen.
This delicious fungi contains ergothioneine, an antioxidant that may help fight off cancer. Additionally, mushrooms are high in vitamin D and riboflavin.
Fennel has a variety of antioxidants and nutrients, as well as a phytonutrient called anethole that may help ward off chronic disease by reducing inflammation.
15. Broccoli sprouts
Broccoli sprouts are tiny little powerhouses that help support the lungs, skin, kidneys and liver, are rich in plant chemicals that may help fight cancer and have antioxidant properties to boot.
Kale seems to be the food fad of the moment, but it is no joke. Like tangerines, kale is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health, as well as various micronutrients that support bone health and may help lower cancer risk.
17. Swiss chard
Swiss chard is like a leaf that’s been working out in the gym: It contains vitamins A, C, E, K, the Bs, calcium, potassium, fiber, zinc, selenium and choline.
18. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes have a load of vitamin A to support eye health as well as sexual health. They also have a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, which is thought to enhance your immunity to disease, Lots of B vitamins, potassium and fiber, too.
Spinach is a great green veggie source for folate, which is essential for developing fetuses. Also, an excellent source of vitamin A, iron, potassium, zinc, calcium and selenium. Good for cell protection and thyroid function. And makes you strong like Popeye.
Cauliflower is chock-full of nutrients that can help fight cancer. Combined with turmeric, a spice used in many Indian dishes, it has been shown to offer particular protection against prostate cancer.
21. Collard greens
In the same family as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, collard greens contain vitamin A to support eye, skin and tooth health. Like the rest of its family, it may be a potent cancer and cholesterol fighter.
In addition to a bevy of antioxidants, beets have nutrients that help lower your blood pressure and your bad cholesterol level.
Like the equally smelly garlic clove, onions contain sulfurous compounds that have anti-viral properties. They are also a good source of quercetin, which appears to be a powerful anti-inflammatory that can support your heart and reduce allergy symptoms.
24. Winter squash
The beta-carotene that gives this squash its orange color helps support eye health, protects against infections and may possibly ward off age-related illnesses like macular degeneration.
Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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