Let’s face it: you’re not going to eat much more kelp than you do already, no matter what we tell you here about the health benefits. You might, however, be tempted by superfood fads for which there is little or no scientific evidence. Can you say Açaí berries? No, you probably can’t, and there’s not much evidence you should be eating tons of them, either.
And even for foods known to be beneficial, they’re sometimes overhyped. Thanks, internet.
So what foods are known by people in lab coats to actually be especially beneficial to your health, and what specifically do they help with?
It does lots for your pizza and little for your love life, but garlic does appear to help with your blood pressure, at least a little. Evidence shows that garlic may also help with atherosclerosis. It thins the blood and reduces clotting, much like aspirin, which can be a good thing if you’re in danger of having a heart attack or stroke, or a bad thing if you’re having surgery or entertaining a vampire.
Cranberry may help prevent urinary tract infections (although note that there’s little evidence it’s effective against existing UTIs). There’s also some evidence that it’s effective in reducing H. pylori, a bacterium that causes digestive tract ulcers. It (cranberry, not ulcers) may also be good for your gums by reducing plaque on the teeth, which might also be of interest to vampires.
Here’s the thing: even when the evidence is mixed, sometimes it’s a good idea to eat the foods anyway. There’s some evidence that eating your broccoli (and similar veggies) prevents cancer by breaking down into indoles, isothiocyanates, and other compounds that fight cancer in various ways. So far, we see that they’re probably effective in lab animals and may be effective in humans. But regardless of the bottom line on cancer prevention, eating your veggies is good for you, so why not?
Yogurt is tricky, because most of what you can buy is probably not helpful. Look for low-sugar options with the Live & Active Cultures seal. There’s evidence that yogurt is helpful with a number of gastrointestinal issues, gut health, and immune system function. Modern Americans often shy away from the concept of foods with living bacteria in them, and fermentation (the process by which yogurt, cheese, some pickles and bread, beer, and a zillion others) has been described as “controlled rot.” But some of these foods are extremely good for you, and tasty to boot. Others taste like a boot. Let your taste buds and health goals be your guide.
“Botanicals” sounds vague because it is. This broad category includes leaves, stems, roots, and a lot of the herbs you often think of when you think of alternative medicine. There’s a surprising amount of potential here, and a bewildering array of options. Consider acquiring the Memorial Sloan Kettering app called About Herbs, available in iOS and web versions. While there’s not always a lot of research to prove the effectiveness of botanicals, the Sloan Kettering app provides specific information about the purported uses and how, in medical terms, the various herbs and other plant stuff are supposed to work to heal what ails you.