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Top 20 healthy things to eat

Judith Wills / 24 February 2016 ( 05 August 2021 )

Eating right not only fights ageing - but can also protect you against diseases associated with age. These 20 foods should be part of your regular diet.

Blueberries in a bowl
Blueberries contain powerful antioxidants


Apples are rich in two plant compounds called catechins, and quercetin. These compounds help to prevent strokes, heart disease and cancer, according to research published in the Nutrition Journal.

Quercetin has also been shown to improve the firmness of collagen, which helps the skin to keep its elasticity. Apples are also rich in the soluble fibre pectin, which helps to lower blood cholesterol.

Lastly, the flesh of apples contains the mineral boron, which helps to prevent calcium loss and provides some protection against osteoporosis.

One medium apple (about 100g) contains:

  • Calories: 52
  • Protein: 0.3g
  • Carbohydrates: 13.8g
  • Sugar: 10.4g
  • Fibre: 2.4g
  • Fat: 0.2g


Avocados contain an amino acid called glutathione, a compound made up of antioxidants glycine, glutamine and cysteine. Known as 'the mother of all antioxidants', glutathione strengthens your defences against heart disease and cancer. If you aren't a fan of avocados another good source is asparagus.

Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant important for good skin condition and wound healing.

Avocados are also a good source of monounsaturated fat, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Just watch out for the fat content if you're watching your weight. 

Half an avocado (about 100g) contains:

  • Calories: 160
  • Protein: 2g
  • Carbohydrates: 1.8g
  • Sugar: 0.66g
  • Fibre: 6.7g
  • Fat: 15g

Find out more about the healthy fats you need in your diet

Barley and other whole grains

Hulled barley - or "pot barley" - and other whole grains, such as rye and oats, contain phytic acid which has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancers. Barley is particularly rich in chemicals called protease inhibitors, which also have properties that combat cancer, including breast and bowel cancer, according to research published in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy.

Whole grains are also high in fibre, which helps to keep the digestive and circulatory systems healthy.

Barley is sold as either pot (hulled) or pearl barley, which have been through a pearling process to remove the outer husk. Pot barley is pearled for only a short amount of time, keeping the bran intact and having more health benefits than pearl barley, but taking longer time to cook.

Half a cup of uncooked hulled barley (about 100g) contains:

  • Calories: 354
  • Protein: 12.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 73.5g
  • Sugar: 0.8g
  • Fibre: 17.3g
  • Fat: 2.3g


Blackcurrants are one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C, at around 130mg per 100g when stewed. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps keep the immune system healthy, keeps the skin in good condition and helps wounds and fractures to heal. High levels of vitamin C are linked with the lowest risk of heart disease.

Blackcurrants also contain other implant compounds such as lutein and anthocyanins, and the oil from their seeds has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, relieving arthritic pain. Vitamin C from foods may offer more protection than supplements.

100g of blackcurrants contain:

  • Calories: 63
  • Protein: 1.4g
  • Carbohydrates: 15g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fibre: 3.5g
  • Fat: 1.2g

Find out more with our guide to vitamins and minerals


One of the most powerful sources of antioxidants of all, blueberries have the potential to prevent the diseases of old age. A US study found that 100g a day can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and may help prevent memory loss.

Blueberries are also rich in a plant chemical group called anthocyanins, which help oxygenate the skin and keep it looking young. Many other red, purple and blue berries have similar properties.

100g of blueberries contain:

  • Calories: 57
  • Protein: 0.7g
  • Carbohydrates: 14g
  • Sugar: 10g
  • Fibre: 2.4g
  • Fat: 0.3g

Find out more about antioxidants


Broccoli is high in antioxidant carotenoids, vitamin C and indoles, which can help fight cancer in some individuals. It is rich in lipoic acid, a fatty acid linked with increased brain power and energy.

As well as high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, which help keep vision healthy, it's one of the best vegetable source of vitamin E which is linked with protection against Alzheimer's disease. It is rich in fibre, and a natural source of chromium, which helps to regulate blood sugars.

When eating broccoli don't neglect the stalk. While the florets are high in antioxidants the stalk is high in fibre, and can be boiled, roasted steamed with the florets or sliced thinly and added to a stir fry.

100g of broccoli contains:

  • Calories: 35
  • Protein: 2.4g
  • Carbohydrates: 7.2g
  • Sugar: 1.4g
  • Fibre: 3.3g
  • Fat: 0.4g


Carrots are the best source of carotenoids - pigments found in red, orange and yellow vegetables that have a strong antioxidant effect that can help prevent cancers.

Regular carrot intake can also help protect against macular degeneration and possibly cataracts, help minimise night blindness and reduce harmful cholesterol.

Carotene carotenoids also protect the skin from sun damage and cancers. Eating carrots cooked with a little oil or fat encourages carotene absorption.

100g of carrots (two medium carrots) contain:

  • Calories: 35
  • Protein: 0.8g
  • Carbohydrates: 8.2g
  • Sugar: 3.5g
  • Fibre: 3g
  • Fat: 0.2g


Celery is renowned for reducing blood pressure, possibly because it contains the plant chemical 3-n-butyl phthalid, as well as apigenin, one of the flavonoid plant chemicals.

It is also an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that balances body fluids and can lower blood pressure in some. Half a cup contains about 165mg of potassium.

Celery also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce pain from arthritis, as well as helping to beat fluid retention. One study found that celery is one of the vegetables most strongly linked with protection from bowel cancer.

100g of celery contains:

  • Calories: 16
  • Protein: 0.7g
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Sugar: 1.3g
  • Fibre: 1.6g
  • Fat: 0.2g


Fresh, organic eggs that are certified salmonella-free are an excellent food. They contain high levels of selenium which may be lacking in the diet and have cancer- and heart disease-fighting qualities.

They're a good source of iodine, which can help to promote healthy thyroid activity.

Eggs are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E and zinc - both sometimes lacking in many older people's diets - as well as the B group, which helps nerve health and stress, and protein.

Aim to have about four eggs a week unless you have specifically been told to avoid cholesterol in your diet.

100g of eggs (two medium-sized eggs) contain:

  • Calories: 143
  • Protein: 13g
  • Carbohydrates: 0.7g
  • Sugar: 0.4g
  • Fibre: 0g
  • Fat: 9.5g

Ten reasons to eat more eggs

Flax seeds

Flax seeds - sometimes called linseeds - are tiny golden seeds from the flax plant. They are one of the few plant foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid which the body converts to the fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fats have a host of important anti-ageing properties - they help to prevent blood clots, stroke and heart disease, may improve brain power and lift depression, can help arthritis, improve insulin sensitivity and are vital in retaining smooth skin.

Flax seeds also contain lignans - oestrogen-like plant compounds that may reduce menopausal symptoms.

One serving (1 tbsp) flax seeds contain:

  • Calories: 55
  • Protein: 1.9g
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Sugar: 0.2g
  • Fibre: 2.8g
  • Fat: 4.3g

The health properties of seeds


Fresh garlic contains several compounds, the most important of which is allicin. This has been shown to protect against high blood pressure, infections, candida, indigestion, stomach ulcers and bowel disorders.

Several studies have shown that it can reduce harmful cholesterol by about 12 per cent, and inhibits new growth of plaque in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Garlic may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells and strengthen the immune system.

One clove of garlic (about 3g) contains:

  • Calories: 4.5
  • Protein: 0.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 1g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Fibre: 0.1g
  • Fat: 0g


Leafy dark green vegetables, such as Savoy cabbage, kale, and spring greens, are good sources of two carotenoids that have been shown to help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Greens are also a good source of easily absorbed calcium to help maintain strong bones, and are rich in potassium, which helps protect against calcium loss. In addition, they're a good source of vitamins C and E.

One serving (130g) kale contains:

  • Calories: 36
  • Protein: 2.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 7.3g
  • Sugar: 1.6g
  • Fibre: 2.6g
  • Fat: 0.5g


Several herbs are strong antioxidants, even when used in small amounts. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, basil and coriander all contain high levels of phyto-chemicals, which can help ward off heart disease and cancers.

One serving (1 tsp) sage contains:

  • Calories: 2.2
  • Protein: 0.1g
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Fibre: 0.3g
  • Fat: 0.1g

How herbs can help your health


Nuts are a good source of magnesium, which is vital for energy levels. Magnesium can help keep muscles supple and prevent aches and pains, and may also lower the risk of osteoporosis.

Almonds, Brazils and peanuts are good for helping to build or maintain muscle mass and help protect against glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Research in the USA has shown that just two 25g portions of fresh nuts a week reduced death from heart disease in men by up to 47 per cent.

One small handful (30g) of almonds contains:

  • Calories: 177
  • Protein: 6.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 6.2g
  • Sugar: 1.4g
  • Fibre: 3.2g
  • Fat: 15.6g

Ten reasons to eat more nuts

Oily fish

Oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines are the main source of the important fats called omega-3s. Two of them - EPA and DHA - are not found in any other foods.

These fats have a variety of benefits, including offering some protection against the decline of brain power and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

They are also anti-inflammatory, helping to minimise the pains of arthritis and rheumatism. In addition, they can help prevent blood clots, coronary disease and strokes.

One salmon fillet (about 225g) contains:

  • Calories: 468
  • Protein: 50g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g
  • Fat: 28g

Ten reasons to eat more fish

Olive oil

Although olive oil is almost 100 per cent fat, it is rich in nutrients and compounds that can help protect against age-related disease.

It is high in monounsaturated fats, which lower levels of harmful LDL cholesterol while protecting the levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, and thus helps fight heart disease and stroke.

Olive oil also contains squalene and oleuropein, which are powerful antioxidants, protecting blood cholesterol from oxidation.

This antioxidant effect may also reduce the risk of some cancers, particularly of the breast and colon. Top-quality, cold-pressed oils contain more of the protective compounds.

One serving (1 tbsp) olive oil contains:

  • Calories: 119
  • Protein: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Fibre: 0g
  • Fat: 14g

Discover the health-boosting properties of different oils


The onion family, including garlic and leeks, are good detoxifiers and are also antiseptic and antibacterial.

The sulphur compounds they contain are also linked with protection against strokes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancers. Just 1g of onion a day is enough to help strengthen the bones.

Onions are rich in flavonoids and potassium, which can reduce blood pressure and keep the arteries healthy, and the onion family may also help to keep blood sugar levels even by regulating insulin production.

Half an onion (about 47g) contains:

  • Calories: 20.5
  • Protein: 0.7g
  • Carbohydrates: 4.8g
  • Sugar: 2.2g
  • Fibre: 0.7g
  • Fat: 0.1g


Most spices are strong antioxidants and have a variety of beneficial effects. 

Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and can help ease the pain of arthritis.

Chillies contain the plant chemical capsaicin, which is a great reliever of general aches and pains, and coriander seeds can lower blood pressure.

One red chilli pepper (about 45g) contains:

  • Calories: 18
  • Protein: 0.8g
  • Carbohydrates: 4g
  • Sugar: 2.4g
  • Fibre: 0.7g
  • Fat: 0.2g

Learn about the health-boosting properties of spices


Soya beans contain high levels of plant oestrogens and magnesium, both of which may help to minimise menopausal symptoms.

Soya beans are high in soluble fibre, and have also been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Soya protein helps build and maintain collagen and elastin, both important for keeping skin in youthful condition.

A 100g portion of boiled soya beans contains:

  • Calories: 18
  • Protein: 0.8g
  • Carbohydrates: 4g
  • Sugar: 2.4g
  • Fibre: 0.7g
  • Fat: 0.2g

Read our guide to minimising menopausal symptoms


Tomatoes are rich in the carotenoid lycopene, which provides some protection against cancer and heart disease.

Recent trials have found that women who eat a lot of lycopene have lower risks of ovarian or breast cancer, while in men it helps prevent prostate cancer.

Tomatoes are also a good source of lipoic acid, which helps increase energy levels and improve brain power in some people.

Small, ripe tomatoes tend to contain the highest levels of lycopene and cooking them helps absorption.

One small raw tomato (around 100g) contains:

  • Calories: 18
  • Protein: 0.9g
  • Carbohydrates: 3.9g
  • Sugar: 2.6g
  • Fibre: 1.2g
  • Fat: 0.2g

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