Food is universal; each of us has something in common with another; we need to eat to survive. Food's value is not only in its nutritional benefit but also in the social aspect.
A meal shared has mental benefits; conversation, laughing, and mutual enjoyment and encourages us to let our guard down a bit (unless we are at a fancy restaurant which is usually laughed about upon reflection).
If we think of food as fuel, it’s very much worth looking into the micronutrients in food; vitamins, acids, and antioxidants are often neglected in a world obsessed with macronutrients such as high protein content as a love-hate relationship with fats and carbs.
If you want to expand your knowledge of foods and their underlying values to your wellness, absolutely go ahead. Some foods that have shown to benefit your longevity and health have somehow flown under the radar.
Phytonutrients and Longevity
Phytonutrients are the chemical compounds found in plants that are utilised for protective purposes, meaning the plant has better resistance to fungus, bacteria, pests and infection.
If you haven’t heard of the term phytonutrients before, they also go under several names such as phytochemicals, polyphenols or the most well-known term, antioxidants.
These chemicals are often what give the plants their unique colours. So, all the talk you hear of “eating the rainbow” may be right. The general guidance is that the brighter and bolder the colour of your food, the more phytonutrients it will contain.
Even though many humans have become city dwellers, buying pre-made food, sticking to deadlines and having an ever-growing selection of technologies aiding us with our daily life, we are still in symbiosis with nature.
We cultivate plants, ensure they are grown and looked after, and when we consume the phytonutrients which protect them, they, in turn, protect us just the same.
Olives and Longevity
Olives are somewhat loved or hated food, and there is such a variety that there may be an olive you’ll love. Did you know that the only difference between black and green olives is the level of ripeness? Black olives are fully ripe, whereas green olives are a bit less ripe, meaning they often have very different textures.
This also means that the black olives are usually more nutrient dense. There has been researching into the protective mechanisms of the nutrients found in olives, such as homovanillic acid and the catechol hydroxytyrosol, explored in preventing and delaying the onset of Parkinson’s disease.1
As well as this, hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein (which olives have an abundance of) are well recorded in literature and studied to be anti-oxidative and, in turn, have anticancer and immune boosting properties2 All olives are great to work into your diet. Still, black olives are the way to go if you’re eating them simply for health benefits.
Broccoli and Longevity
Along with the theme of love and hate foods, broccoli used to get a pretty bad press in the past. It is often remembered as the vegetable you “had” to eat growing up, regardless of how much you disliked it.
However, in recent times it’s become a bit of a staple food in high cuisine, and there’s no doubt as to why. People have always been aware that broccoli is good for you, but many don’t know just how good it is.
Broccoli is packed with vitamins, phytonutrients, and sulforaphane, which aid the body in bio-signalling. This is how well messages are sent and received to different areas and biomes in the body to keep the body in equilibrium.
The sulforaphane found in broccoli has also been shown to have antidepressant effects3 and protect the lungs from pollution4, which could be much needed with pollution increasing daily.
Dark Chocolate and Longevity
We all love chocolate; well, most humans do, and for a good reason! It can massively improve our moods.5 Dark chocolate contains small amounts of anandamide, a neurotransmitter that targets the same brain structures as THC found in the cannabis plant.
Anandamide is also referred to as the “bliss molecule'' due to its role in producing feelings of happiness6 Dark chocolate is not only a treat for your brain but also a treat for your gut due to dark chocolates' high concentration of flavanols.
Dark chocolate with a high concentration of flavonoids can increase lactobacilli and bifidobacterial production, which are probiotics that aid in preventing inflammation and maintaining a healthy gut.7
Apples and Longevity
Ever heard the term “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Well, it's research-backed. Apples contain polyphenols that cannot be found in any other foods. They are called phloretin and phloridzin and have the potential to aid with intestinal inflammatory disease8
As well as this, apple skin contains a high amount of quercetin which is associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.9
Also, keep in mind that apples are packed full of vitamins, too, meaning that an apple a day can also get you glowing skin, better immunity and more energy. They aren’t one of the most popular fruits in the world for no reason!
Blackberries and Longevity
Blackberries are a bit of an underdog in the berry world; they are often something you’d pick straight from the bush while walking as a child. By all means, forage them - it's sustainable, cheap, and just a lovely experience.
You could also pop some in your basket the next time you’re in the supermarket. Blackberries are highly nutrient dense and contain ellagic acid, which is linked to the reduction of visible ageing, protecting the skin from UV exposure, and reversing sun damage.10
They can also work wonders in blood sugar control, reducing the likelihood of diabetes and aiding with weight management.11 Strawberries and raspberries also contain ellagic acid if blackberries aren’t to your taste, but blackberries are much richer in it than the latter.
Dates and Longevity
Dates have quite the reputation in the health and wellness community nowadays, primarily due to being a widely used substitute for sweetener, used in baking rather than sugar or just a quick snack, often referred to as “nature's candy”.
There are many varieties, all with subtle flavours and texture differences. You can have them in salads or your cereal or leave them in the freezer, and they become almost caramel consistency.
Not only do they taste great, but they house an abundance of ferulic acid which means they can have anti-inflammatory properties anti-diabetic properties and reduce the likelihood of cancer development. Ferulic acid can also aid in healing and skin health12,13, which means it’s a sweet treat in terms of taste and for your general wellbeing.
Fennel and Longevity
Fennel is exciting food with a flavour reminiscent of aniseed or liquorice. Like olives, it can be a bit of love or hate food. However, if people knew just how good it is for you, they’d probably be tempted to try and get past the flavour even if they didn’t like it.
It can be great roasted with balsamic vinegar in a salad or as an addition to a Sunday roast. Fennel is rich in quercetin, which is researched for its protection benefits in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
As well as this, it helps treat inflammation linked to the gut and aiding in blood sugar control.14,15 That’s only some of the benefits; if you grew to like broccoli over time, you could love fennel. Either that or you will love what it can do for your health.
The Bottom Line
There are benefits to any food, whether or not they’re nutritionally dense. Sometimes a full English does help a hangover, and the soup your mum used to make you when you were ill did have you feeling “right as rain”.
It’s important to remember that foods are not all about what the packaging states - sometimes, it’s the situation it enjoys. It can be nicer to have lunch in the park rather than at the desk or in front of the laptop (unless it’s raining, of course!).
If you want to be nutritionally conscious, these foods can be a great place to start. There are a plethora of health benefits associated with these foods, and often they are easier to include in your diet than you may think at first glance. Why not give it a go and see what you enjoy?
Are you looking for prebiotic foods for gut health? Check out this article!