“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is great advice, since there are serious nutritional benefits to eating apples. But the saying ends before it mentions what else to eat.
Greger’s bestseller lays out “The Daily Dozen,” the 12 foods to eat every single day. The dozen includes beans (legumes), flaxseed, nuts, grains, spices, beverages and … exercise? The Daily Eleven certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it, we guess! (Regardless, it’s good advice.)
Let’s dive deep into the remaining five components of the dozen below and learn why you should be eating these fruits and vegetables every single day.
Wait, isn’t the sugar in fruit bad for you?
Fruit is part of the Daily Dozen, and if you’re concerned about your sugar intake when it comes to eating it, know that both doctors differentiate between fruit sugar and what Greger calls “free sugar” found in products that contain corn syrup, such as candy bars and sodas. When free sugar is consumed, people experience an increase in triglycerides, fatty liver and blood pressure. But our bodies process sugar differently when it’s eaten as part of fruit.
To get nerdy for a moment, the fruit’s cell walls have a non-digestible physical barrier made of fiber, and that fiber slows the rate at which sugar gets absorbed into our system. “There appears to be no limit of sugar intake as long as it’s the way nature intended,” Greger said.
Kahn concurred, citing a Chinese study that showed that fresh fruit consumption even helped people suffering from diabetes. “If you were a diabetic eating fruit, you had less risk of complications of diabetes because there are so many minerals and vitamins in fruit that it helps protect your nerves and arteries,” Kahn said. “Fruit is very protective across the board. There are treatment programs for diabetes that use diets largely of fruit.” He also noted that fruit is often a better food choice than anything else lying around. “If you’re having a handful of blueberries, you’re not eating a doughnut,” he said.
Suggested: one serving per day
If the fruit you’re about to eat ends in -berry, you’re on the right track. Strawberries and blueberries are especially good for you. “Berries are the healthiest fruit, just like greens are the healthiest vegetables,” Greger told HuffPost. He cited one Harvard study that showed senior women who consumed berries had a slower rate of cognitive decline. There’s also a growing amount of research about berries’ benefits with regards to cardiovascular disease, which Greger noted is the No. 1 killer of men and women.
“In the entire gamut of nutrition voices, everyone loves berries, which is very rare,” Kahn said. “People who follow many diets ― including whole food, plant-based, keto and paleo ― love it because it’s a low-glycemic fruit. Berries have natural sugars, like all fruits do, but you’ll get less of a rise in blood sugar with berries than you might with a mango or a pineapple.”
Dark, leafy greens
Suggested: two servings per day
Popeye was on to something. Leafy greens “have the highest nutrient density than any other food, meaning more nutrition per calorie than anything else we could possibly put in our mouths, which translates to about a 20% drop in heart or stroke risk for each daily serving,” Greger said. Greens worth seeking out include arugula, kale, beet greens and Swiss chard. It’s summertime, so use it as an excuse to get outside to shop for groceries. “If you want to get mustard greens, turnip greens or collard greens at a farmers market, that’s fantastic,” Kahn said. “Collard greens are unbelievably high in natural plant-based sources of calcium.”
Suggested: one serving per day
If it’s in the cruciferae family, it should be on your plate. Broccoli and cauliflower are probably the most prominent cruciferous veggies, but Greger advises to branch out to cabbage. “Red and purple cabbage have the same eyesight- and brain-protecting antioxidants that berries do, but at a fraction of the cost,” he said. “I encourage people to always keep purple cabbage in the crisper to slice up shreds onto any meal for a colorful, healthful garnish. It’s important to get in cruciferous [vegetables] every day because of these kinds of compounds that are basically found nowhere else in the food supply.”
Among Kahn’s favorite cruciferous veggies are watercress, radishes, mustard greens and wild arugula ― yep, some of those are also leafy greens, but that highlights their importance, especially because of sulforaphane: “There is a chemical created in our bodies by eating these veggies called sulforaphane,” he said. “It’s been shown over and over again to be very protective against the development of cancer.”
Fruit (yes, as an entire category)
Suggested: three servings per day
Yep, berries are a fruit, but eating fruit is so important that there’s a whole category dedicated to them. Which fruit should you consume every day? “Pick a fruit, any fruit!” Greger said. “There’s all sorts of wonderful things out there. Berries just happen to be a fruit with a lot of studies about them, but there’s also apples!” He noted that eating apples can potentially reduce the chance of stroke and heart attack mortality.
Kahn is impressed by the antioxidant level in kiwis. But if you don’t have a plentiful supply of kiwi in your fridge, fret not. “I’m fine with just bananas,” he said. “If you’re in a gas station and you have a basket of bananas, and you have every other abomination of health [around you], never fear the old banana in a pinch. It’s perfectly fine and the best choice you can make in a lot of situations like that.”
Vegetables (again, the entire category)
Suggested: two servings per day
I know, I know. More vegetables? After you’ve filled up on leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, it’s important to squeeze in two more servings of these plants. And even though mushrooms aren’t technically veggies, they were cited by both doctors as being worthy additions to your diet. And those two docs aren’t alone. “They’re the hot group of vegetables being adored worldwide,” Kahn said. “They have a natural ability to lower cholesterol through their action in the gut. Plus, there’s good data that you can influence your risk of cancer by eating mushrooms, particularly breast cancer.”
Greger said that you don’t have to buy the pricier culinary mushrooms, such as shiitake, to get the benefits. “Eating plain white button mushrooms, the cheapest kind, can seriously boost our immune system and cut down on upper respiratory tract infections,” he said. “When I encourage people to follow a plant-based diet, that’s short for a plant- and fungus-based diet, but it’s a mouthful that doesn’t taste very good.”