Proper nutrition can be a great way to boost your overall health. It can also be one of your first lines of defense against many health conditions and diseases.

But some foods may have even more beneficial properties than others. Science is honing in on these foods and nutrients that work overtime to keep your body in shape.

Recent research presented at the Nutrition 2018 conference this month identified key foods that may have protective effects against disease. While the research is all still preliminary and must continue through the peer-review process, they’re a promising step in disease prevention.

Eggs (with yolks) reduce risk factors for diabetes

When researchers had people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes eat either an egg or an egg substitute every day for 12 weeks, they found that the people who ate the whole egg showed improved blood sugar control in comparison to the egg substitute group.

While it’s unclear what type of egg substitute was used, many popular egg substitutes contain just egg whites, not the yolks.

“Egg whites contain the majority of the protein found in eggs. But an exceptional majority of macro- and micronutrients, and phytonutrients are found in the yolks, including fat and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, choline, B vitamins, and phytonutrients lutein and carotenoids,” says Stephanie Clarke, RDN, co-founder of C&J Nutrition.

“The yolks also contain a higher percentage of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc,” she adds.

Researchers didn’t identify any single nutrient or group of nutrients that may be responsible for the improved insulin sensitivity, notes Clarke. But it’s possible that the interaction of several nutrients within the egg’s yolk, along with the protein in the white, are responsible for the effect.

“For instance, the combination of protein in the white and fat in the yolk may help decrease the rate at which blood sugar rises when eaten along with other carbohydrates at a meal,” says Clarke.

Pecans lower cardiometabolic risk factors

A study out of Tufts University examined the impact of adding a daily 1.5 ounce serving of pecans to the diet of overweight and obese individuals.

Scientists discovered that participant’s had improved cardiometabolic risk factors relative to people who ate diets of similar calories, total fat, and fiber that didn’t include pecans.

“Pecans are a good source of healthful fats, which when added to the diet may displace less healthful fats, which may have a positive impact on cardiometabolic disease risk,” says Willow Jarosh, RDN, co-founder of C&J Nutrition.

Pecans also provide almost 50 percent of the daily value of thiamine, which plays a crucial role in carbohydrate and energy metabolism, she says. Thiamine deficiency has been linked to cardiometabolic issues.

Previous research also suggests that adding pecans to your diet can increase concentration of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, says Jarosh.

Some studies have shown that increased levels of gamma-tocopherol are inversely associated with cardiovascular disease.

Gamma-tocopherol is actually able to trap reaction oxygen species, preventing LDL cholesterol oxidation and inflammation, Jarosh notes.

Some dairy lessens colorectal cancer risk

When scientists did an analysis of over 100,000 people, they found that higher dairy consumption was associated with lower risk for developing colorectal cancer.

After looking further at the dairy consumption, they identified both low-fat dairy and fermented dairy as decreasing this risk.

“The gut microbiota consists of an abundance of microbial communities that play an essential role in gastrointestinal, immune, metabolic, and physiological functions,” explains Clarke. “Alterations in the proportion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microorganisms can lead to the development of irritable bowel diseases, autoimmune diseases, and neurological diseases.”

But the probiotics found in fermented foods — such as fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir — carry beneficial bacteria that might have the ability to re-establish microbial balance and suppress pathogenic activity, says Clarke.

Recent research is even showing that probiotics could reduce levels of the C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.