Super Foods

A new superfood could give the flu shot a powerful run for its money. But it’s not the food, exactly—it’s the bacteria growing on a traditional Japanese pickle that has amazing flu-fighting benefits.

Human clinical trials have been launched after researchers found that an immune-boosting probiotic from Suguki (a pickled turnip popular in Japan) blocked transmission of the H1N1 virus in mice who were exposed to it, according to a new study published in the SfAM journal, Letters in Applied Microbiology.

The probiotic bacterium, called Lactobacillus brevis, increases production of flu-specific antibodies, the scientists report, and may also help ward off other viral infections, including the deadly H7N9 flu, which has recently emerged in China.

This pickled treat isn’t the only new superfood on the horizon—let’s take a closer look at the latest research on six other foods that may soon bear the “super” title.

Jicama Cuts Cancer Risk And Keeps You Looking Young

This tasty root vegetable is being hailed as the “next big superfood,” due to its bounty of health benefits. It’s a good source of a prebiotic called inulin, a belly-flattening fiber that helps raise levels of “friendly bacteria in the gut and may reduce risk for colon cancer.

Also known as the Mexican yam or water chestnut, the crunchy vegetable may also combat wrinkles by increasing collagen. What’s more, Japanese researchers reported earlier this year that an extract of jicama fiber appears to have beneficial effects on the immune system in animal and lab tests.

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Chia Seeds Reduce Triglycerides and Blood Sugar

An ancient healing food whose name is derived from the Mayan word for “strength,” these super-seeds have similar benefits to flax seeds, including heart-protective Omega fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and protein.

A 2012 randomized clinical trial reports that people whose diet included a beverage containing Chia seeds, nopal (prickly pear), oats, and soy protein had striking improvements in triglycerides, levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker), blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, compared to those given a placebo beverage.

All the participants had metabolic syndrome and followed a reduced-calorie diet for two months, resulting in loss of weight and belly fat.

Tart Cherries: Ultimate Antioxidant and Natural Painkiller

This tangy fruit may be the ultimate antioxidant, as well as a natural painkiller, with a 2012  study reporting that it has “the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.”

The researchers found that when osteoarthritis sufferers drank tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks, their inflammatory markers fell significantly.

“With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it’s promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications,” said Kerry Kuehl, MD, Dr.PH., M.S., Oregon Health & Science University, principal study investigator, in the press release.

“I’m intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit,” adds Dr. Kuehl.

Chocolate Wards Off Belly Fat and Obesity

While this may sound too good to be true, the more chocolate teens eat, the lesstotal fat and belly fat they are likely to have, a surprising new study published inNutrition reports.

What’s more, this association held true even when exercise, total energy (calorie) intake, and a variety of dietary factors were taken into account. The study included 1,458 kids ages 12 to 17, and may the largest of its kind to date.

Lead study author Magdalena Cuenca-García, PhD, explains in a statement that while chocolate is high in calories, sugar and fat, “recent studies in adults suggest chocolate consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders.” Another recent study from the University of California on adult participants also linked chocolate consumption to lower body mass index (BMI).

The sweet treat is high in flavonoids—especially catechins—which have many health perks, Cuenca-García adds. “They have important antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects and can help prevent ischemic heart disease.”

Bradley Bale, MD, medical director of the Heart Health Program for Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas, actually “prescribes” dark chocolate for patients who have heart disease or are at high risk for it. However, he cautions that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. “A square or two a day is all you need for heart health.”

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Wild Blueberries Fight Heart Disease and Diabetes

Also hot off the presses is a brand new study on the health benefits of wild blueberries, coming out of the University of Maine and published in the journalApplied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

The researchers found that eating two cups of wild blueberries regularly can improve or prevent metabolic syndrome, a deadly gang of metabolic thugs that double risk for heart attack and quintuple it for type 2 diabetes, as I explained in a recent article.

Fifty million Americans, many of them undiagnosed, suffer from metabolic syndrome, marked by such disorders as high triglycerides, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and a large waistline.

The study was conducted on rats with metabolic syndrome. Another recent study on human participants, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that wild blueberry juice is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent damage to DNA.

Blueberries of the non-wild variety are packed with benefits, too. As I reported in August, the Nurses’ Health Study—which included more than 90,000 women—revealed that blueberries may help prevent heart attacks and preserve memory in older adults.

Tree Nuts May Help Prevent Deadly Cancer

Women who eat one ounce of tree nuts—including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts—two or more times a week have a significantly lower risk for pancreatic cancer, according to a new study published in British Journal of Cancer. The study included more than 75,000 participants in the Nurses Health Study.

Pancreatic cancer ranks as the fourth leading cause of cancer death, yet has few modifiable risk factors. In fact, the main one identified in earlier research is obesity. And while nuts are relatively high in calories, the researchers report that in the study, women who ate the most tree nuts had a lower rate of weight gain and obesity than those who ate the least.

Tree nuts have also been linked to lower threat of diabetes, a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.  Additionally, as I recently reported, eating nuts, along with a Mediterranean  diet, reduces stroke risk by 46 percent.