1. Beans - Beans are one of the cheapest healthy foods you can buy, and their high isoflavone content helps ward off heart disease, improve bone and prostate health, and ease some symptoms of menopause. Being low in fat and high in protein, beans are easy swaps for red meat, so add them to soups, stews, dips, and even pasta sauces (pureed white beans can be used as a substitute for high-fat Alfredo sauces). Nutrient-wise, it doesn't make much difference if you use dried or canned.
2. Garlic and Onions - Members of the same plant family, garlic and onions do so many things for your heart and immune system; it's hard to list them all. Garlic's 70 active phytochemicals may decrease high blood pressure by as much as 30 points, and it's been shown to lower rates of ovarian, colorectal, and other cancers, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Onions are the single best source of quercetin, a flavonoid (also found in apples) shown to keep your blood healthy and prevent clots. Both are must-haves for natural allergy prevention.
3. Caffeinators - Caffeinated foods, including coffee, chocolate, and tea, have high levels of polyphenols, dubbed "super" antioxidants for their ability to fight everything from cancer to depression. A Harvard University study even found that drinking five cups of coffee daily cuts the risk of developing diabetes in half. Dark chocolate is better than sugary milk chocolate or white.
4. Celery - Rich in minerals, vitamin C, and phenolic acids, it helps ward off cancer, cold and flu, and allergies. Compounds called phthalides make it a good cholesterol-lowering food remedy, too. The more the better, most research suggests. Duke says to eat at least four stalks a day.
5. Cinnamon - Cinnamon's most notable and studied benefit to the immune system has been its ability to lower blood sugar. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that the Christmas-y spice could lower blood sugar by 13 to 23 percent. The author of that study suspected that had to do with cinnamon's antioxidants, which activate insulin receptors in your cells. A German study showed that it could suppress Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, the cause of most urinary tract infections, and Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections.
6. Citrus Fruits - The stars of the fall and winter fruit season, citrus fruits contain close to 200 cancer-fighting compounds, cholesterol-lowering fiber, and inflammation-lowering flavonoids. An Australian review of 48 studies on diet and cancer found that consuming a daily serving of citrus fruit may cut your risk of mouth, throat, and stomach cancer by up to one half. Grapefruits are also high in lycopene, a cancer-fighter usually found in tomatoes, which are out of season when grapefruit is at its peak.
7. Ginger - Though widely used as an effective antidote to queasiness, it can also keep cholesterol levels under control, lower blood pressure, and help ease the inflammation associated with arthritis. Researchers have also found that ginger helps kill the influenza virus, plus it helps the immune system fight infection. A study at the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Miami found that ginger extract significantly reduced pain related to osteoarthritis of the knee. About an ounce a day will bring benefits, Duke says.
8. Mint - There are actually hundreds of plants in the mint family that you may have never realized were technically classified as mints, including basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, sage, and lemon balm. When used in teas, these herbs can soothe an upset stomach, but emerging research suggests that their individual compounds can prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps keep your memory sharp.
9. Peppers - Spicy chile peppers have high levels of capsaicin, which interferes with your mind's pain receptors, and therefore act as natural painkillers. Capsaicin, which gives peppers their heat, has also been found to aid in weight loss by keeping your metabolism in check. Sweet peppers have a similar compound called dihydrocapsiate that comes without the spicy kick of capsaicin but with the same effects on pain and weight loss. They also contain loads of vitamin C and beta-carotene.
10. Pomegranates - Pomegranates have been used for centuries in the Middle East, Iran, and India as a folk remedy, Duke writes, and for good reason. They're a good source of potassium, vitamin C, and antioxidants that ward off cancer. They could also help fight Alzheimer's disease. Loma Linda University researchers discovered that mice that consumed pomegranate juice experienced 50 percent less brain degeneration than animals that drank sugar-water. Pace University researchers found that pomegranate juice can kill the S. mutans bacteria, one of the main causes of cavities.
11. Turmeric - A relative of ginger, turmeric is the spice that gives curries their vivid golden hue and yellow mustard its bright color. For thousands of years, people in India have considered turmeric a healing herb. Studies show that it protects the stomach, helping to prevent ulcers, and it aids in the digestion of fats. The spice may also fight Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have found that elderly villagers in India appear to have the world's lowest rate of the disease, possibly because of the anti-inflammatory compound curcumin in turmeric.
12. Walnuts - A great source of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that curbs your appetite, as well as vitamin E, magnesium, folate, protein, and fiber. Walnuts boast more heart-healthy omega-3 fats than salmon, making them a good antidote to seasonal depression. This wonder nut is also packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Many of the compounds in walnuts, such as vitamin B5 and folic acid, can be destroyed by heat, so it's best to eat them raw.
Rodale's Organic Life has the report.