Four plant-based foods to eat every week and why science says they’re good for you

A study found that those who ate the most plant foods were less likely to die from any cause during follow-up periods that varied across studies from five to 25 years, compared to those who ate the least.

Newcastle, Australia: As an award-winning professor of nutrition and dietetics, people often ask what do you eat?

Plant foods are good sources of healthy nutrients. These include different types of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and a range of phytonutrients produced by plants to help them grow or protect against pathogens and pests.

A review of the research, published in May 2021, examined 12 studies with more than 5,00,000 people who were followed for up to 25 years. The study found that those who ate the most plant foods were less likely to die from any cause during follow-up periods that varied across studies from five to 25 years, compared to those who ate the least.

Here are four delicious, versatile plant foods I have on my weekly grocery list, and the research showing why they’re good for you.

  1. tomatoes

Tomatoes are a berry (not a vegetable). It is rich in vitamin C and lycopene, which is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are pigments produced by plants that give vegetables their bright colors.

A review of six trials asked people to consume tomato products the equivalent of 1-1.5 large tomatoes or 1-1.5 cups of tomato juice per day for about six weeks.

The researchers found that people who did this had lower levels of blood triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood that increases heart disease risk), as well as lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol, compared to those who didn’t have any tomatoes.

These people also have elevated levels of good cholesterol.

Another review of 11 studies tested the effect of tomatoes and lycopene on blood pressure.

The researchers found that consuming any tomato product significantly reduced systolic blood pressure (the first number that measures the pressure at which the heart pumps blood).

However, there was no effect on diastolic pressure (the second number which is the pressure in the heart when it is at rest).

In the group that initially had high blood pressure, systolic and diastolic blood pressures decreased after eating the tomato products compared to the placebo.

A review of studies included a total of 2,60,000 men and found that people with the highest intake of cooked tomatoes, tomato sauces, and tomato-based foods (equivalent to approximately one cup per week) had a 15-20% lower risk of developing prostate cancer compared to those who did not. They have the least amount of tomatoes. Keep in mind that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Recipe tips

Put canned tomatoes in the cupboard and add them to pasta sauces, casseroles, and soups. Make your own sauce by toasting tomatoes and red peppers with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then mashing it with a spoonful of chili paste or the herbs of your choice. Keep it in the fridge.

Try quick tomato recipes at No money, no time, a site full of nutritional tips and recipes founded by my team at Newcastle University.

  1. Pumpkin

Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene, which is also a carotenoid (a vegetable pigment). It is converted into vitamin A in the body and used in the production of antibodies that fight infection. It is also necessary to maintain the integrity of cells in the eyes, skin, lungs, and intestines.

A review of studies that followed people over time looked at associations between what people eat, blood concentrations of beta-carotene, and health outcomes.

People who ate high amounts of foods rich in beta-carotene (such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy green vegetables) had an 8-19% lower relative risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or death from any cause in studies of 10 years or more compared to by those with the fewest intakes.

Recipe tips

Pumpkin soup is a favourite. Try designing your own soup recipe.

Preheat the oven to 180 ° C, cut the pumpkin into slices, sprinkle with olive oil and grill until golden. Speed ​​this up by cooking the pumpkin in the microwave for a few minutes before roasting it.

  1. mushroom

Mushrooms are rich in nutrients with powerful antioxidant properties.

The body’s normal processes create oxidative stress that produces free radicals. These are small molecules that damage cell walls and cause cell death.

If these substances are not neutralized with antioxidants, they can lead to inflammation, contribute to aging and the development of some types of cancer.

A review of 17 studies on mushrooms and health found that people who ate the most mushrooms had a 34% lower risk of developing any type of cancer compared to those who ate the least. For breast cancer, the risk was 35 percent lower. Though, again, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Across studies, eating mushrooms in large amounts was equivalent to eating a button of mushrooms per day (about 18 grams).

Recipe tips

Check out this mushroom and baby spinach quick stir fry recipe. Makes a delicious side dish to serve with scrambled eggs or poached eggs on toast.

  1. oats

A review of 10 studies tested the effects on blood sugar and insulin levels of eating whole grain oats, thick rolled oats, or quick rolled oats compared to refined grains.

They found that eating wholegrain oats and thick-rolled oats significantly reduced blood sugar and insulin responses, but not after eating quick-rolled oats.

This is likely due to the long time it takes your body to digest and absorb less processed oats. Therefore, it is better to eat whole grain oats, called groats, or rolled oats rather than quick rolled oats.

Oats are a good source of beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.

Across 58 studies in which subjects were fed a special diet containing about 3.5 grams of oat beta-glucan per day, levels of bad cholesterol were significantly lower compared to control groups.

The effect of oats on blood pressure was tested in five interventional trials that showed a small but significant decrease in blood pressure.

Recipe tips

You can have rolled oats for breakfast all year round.

Eat them as muesli in the summer or as a porridge in the winter, add them to meat pies, mix with breadcrumbs for coating or add them to the fruity toppings.
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