These days you have likely heard about the term “superfood” and have heard about the benefits that these foods offer by adding them to your dietary daily intake. But, what the heck are these superfoods?
When swimsuit season is right around the corner and you are looking to shed a few extra pounds or meet your vitamin and mineral needs, superfoods will do more. As some of the top anti-aging foods around, these foods can help you prevent chronic disease, achieve better health, prevent chronic disease, and simply improve the way you feel every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
By adding a few superfoods into your day combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise, you can benefit many different aspects of your health.
What Are Superfoods?
Even though the origin of “superfoods” can be dated back to the beginning of the 20th, we have experienced a rise in popularity most recently and it seems to be the new buzzword of today for optimum health.
There is still lots of confusion for consumers because there is no real definition or criteria to determine what exactly superfoods are and then you have the food industry to market unhealthy “health foods,” meal plans for extreme weight loss and detox diets.
Many sources have created a definition to try to be more specific as a way to define what it means. Oxford English Dictionary defines superfood as a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. A rather simple definition. According to Merriam-Webster, superfoods are a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health. Even Dictionary.com defines it as a food considered exceptionally good for one’s health and for boosting the immune system owing to its naturally high content of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, or omega-3 fatty acids.
As more studies continue to come forward that evaluate the powerful effects food has on our health, we learn and confirm the extensive benefits these superfoods have to offer us.
We all know that eating healthy can have a major impact on the way you feel. Load up on the fast food and processed junk food and you’ll probably start to feel sluggish, tired and weighed down. Squeeze tons of nutrient-dense fruits and veggies into your diet and you’ll likely find yourself full of energy and feeling good.
By supplying a megadose of nutrients, superfoods take it to the next level by helping to optimize the body’s ability to function.
What are superfoods? Even though there is no set criteria as to what defines a superfood, these foods can help provide your body with the vitamins and minerals you need to thrive, survive and feel great because they are packed with nutrients.
You are bound to feel better than ever when you include a few servings of the ingredients on the superfoods list into your day and paired with a balanced diet and regular physical activity.
Superfoods and Their Benefits
We usually add this spice to flavor sweet treats and seasonal drinks, but it does more. Since it is in fact high in antioxidants, it has been associated with decreased inflammation (1), lower cholesterol and blood sugar (2) as well as improving PMS and nausea symptoms. (3)
To bump up the nutritional value of your healthy breakfast, try sprinkling cinnamon over yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies and reap the many health benefits of this invaluable spice.
If you are considering to find a way to maximize the nutrients in your diet or fight free radicals (4) wheatgrass most definitely should be at the top of your list.
Freshly sprouted leaves of the common wheat plant is where wheatgrass is prepared from and supplies tons of vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium and magnesium. (5) It also offers you added chlorophyll, a plant pigment that’s loaded with health benefits.
For a burst of energy, add it to juices or smoothies, try it in tablet form, or if you are feeling adventurous, eat it raw.
The avocado is a super nourishing fruit. Yes, although the avocado is commonly enjoyed and used in cooking as a vegetable, it is technically a fruit from the Lauraceae family of plants.
Not only does avocado have vitamin K, vitamin C, folate and is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but it also packs more potassium than a banana and is super satisfying, making it one of the best fruits for weight loss. (6)
Avocados may be enjoyed in many different ways like they can be added to a salad, you can spread it over toast or even just sprinkling with salt and pepper on a few slices and then enjoy!
Even though tiny, they are packed with nutrients. Blueberries are crammed with disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as plenty of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. They are the perfect superfood. (7)
As one of the best foods to lose weight, the best of all facts are they are flavorful fruits that are delicious and easy to enjoy. Enjoy them alone as a healthy snack or use them to bring a hint of sweetness to salads or added to baked goods.
Fatty fish like salmon are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can slash inflammation, boost brain health and keep your heart strong. The American Heart Association recommends including fish in your diet at least twice a week, and for good reason. (8)
If possible, grab the wild-caught salmon option whenever possible. Try to squeeze a few servings into your week by enjoying it as a savory snack paired with crackers or a healthy entree for lunch or dinner.
6. Broccoli Rabe
This cruciferous green veggie that makes the list of top 10 superfoods without question is also known as rapini.
Besides supplying folate, calcium and manganese, it is loaded with antioxidant-rich rich vitamins A and C and bone-building vitamin K.
Broccoli rabe has an impressive nutrient profile. The compounds found within may be able to protect against eye disease, help reduce inflammation, keep your skeletal structure strong, improve your heart health and even prevent the growth of cancer. (9)
To give your meal a serious superfood upgrade, you could sauté a big bunch of broccoli rabe and add it to frittatas, pasta dishes, soups or sandwiches.
7. Goji Berries
It is no wonder these berries top the charts as one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods for men and women as they have up to 12 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries.
As a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, Goji berries have been credited with improving longevity, energy and vitality.
These berries are also loaded with nutrients that may help protect against skin damage, prevent eye disease,and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. (10) At many grocery stores, you can often find goji berries in dried or superfoods powder form. Check them out next you are at the store and try adding them to a raw superfood carrot salad for a nutritious option for lunch or dinner.
8. Sweet Potatoes
Not only are sweet potatoes high in vitamins and minerals and can provide important benefits to you and your health, they are also known and loved for their delicious flavor.
These nutritious root vegetables are high in potassium, vitamin C, and manganese. They are most notably known fact is, however, they are brimming with vitamin A. You would only need to eat one cup of cooked sweet potatoes to meet 769 percent of the daily value for vitamin A.
Vitamin A plays a role in maintaining healthy vision, fighting inflammation and protecting the health of your immune system to fight off infections. (11)
A couple of ideas to use them instead of just at Thanksgiving would be to throw them into soups or casseroles, try roasting up a batch of wedges, or using them to kick up the flavor of curries and salads.
This leafy green vegetable which is actually a winter veggie will most likely show up when you type “superfoods” into your search engine and is likely to be one of the first results.
As one of the best superfoods for weight loss, Kale can supplement your diet with lots of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and manganese for very few calories. (12)
Ever tried kale chips? Whip up a batch for a savory snack, or use raw kale instead of spinach and take your salads or shakes to the next level.
One of the most nutrient-rich nuts available are almonds. Providing more milligrams of calcium per serving than any other nut, they are among the best non-dairy sources of calcium and they are also high in protein and vitamin E.
These nuts are easily enjoyed raw as a very tasty snack or you can try roasting them for a warm delight on a chilly day. However, just as a reminder, almonds are high in calories, so be sure to watch your portion sizes. It is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing.
11. Raw Milk
Containing many vitamins and minerals, raw milk offers calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and D.
Kefir is beneficial for health and made from raw milk. It has been fermented and has probiotics to help boost the good bacteria in your gut to promote better digestion and enhance immunity. (13) The next time you make a breakfast smoothie, try adding raw milk or kefir to pump up the nutrient profile and start your day off on the right foot.
This blue-green algae is considered one of the most nutritious ultimate superfoods on the planet. Gram for gram, it’s higher in protein than red meat, contains all of the essential fatty acids your body needs, and also provides tons of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. (14)
Health benefits of spirulina include potentially preventing plaque buildup in the arteries, lowering blood pressure and acting as a cancer-fighting food. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence. (15)
Spirulina is usually found in powder form and is widely available at online retailers and health stores. Use it in smoothies, or sprinkle it over your food to increase the nutritional content.
A type of beneficial fatty acid that can help support the health of your gut due to its bacteria-fighting, antioxidant properties, coconut and coconut oil are both high in medium-chain triglycerides.
Because these fatty acids easily digestible, they can be burned up as fuel rather than stored as fat and are able to provide immediate energy.
Hailed as one of the best weight loss foods, coconut oil, in particular, can aid preventing bone loss and in keeping hair healthy and smooth. (16) When using coconut oil, be sure to use extra virgin coconut oil that has not been refined. Use it in your baking and cooking for an added dose of healthy fats.
Flaxseeds are very high in magnesium, thiamine, phosphorus and manganese and also contain a hearty dose of protein in each serving thereby making them one of the best diet foods you can eat.
Since they are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed can improve brain function, potentially protect against cancer and diabetes and help reduce inflammation. (17)
In order to receive the benefits from flaxseed, you could consume flaxseed oil in liquid or capsule form. However, you could also consume the seeds in granola, oatmeal or hummus.
15. Acai Berries
As a fundamental player in defining what are superfoods, acai berries are high in antioxidants and health-promoting properties. These berries contain plenty of healthy fats, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. (18) According to research, the compounds found in acai berries may help improve cognitive function, enhance lipid profiles and maintain normal blood sugar levels. (19)
If you are interested in adding acai berries to smoothies, thanks to its growing popularity, acai powder is widely available at health stores.
The ginger plant is actually native to Southeast Asia and also known by its scientific name, Zingiber officinale, and has been revered for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
The many health benefits of ginger is thought to come from its specific compound called gingerol. Studies have shown that ginger can help decrease fasting blood sugar levels, relieve nausea, reduce muscle pain and increase working memory. (20)
To use fresh ginger, it can be added to smoothies, salad dressings, sauces and side dishes. Ginger can also be found in dried or powdered forms, which work especially well for brewing a soothing cup of ginger tea.
17. Dark Chocolate
Believe it or not, dark chocolate brings a very impressive set of health benefits in addition to being full of flavor and also delicious.
A study in 2011 found that eating chocolate five times per week was associated with a 57 percent lower risk of heart disease. (21) Another study published in Chemical Central Journal found that more than any other superfood, dark chocolate and cocoa powder were significantly higher in antioxidants, flavonols and polyphenols. (22)
To get the most benefit for your money, be sure to select a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent. Remember, to keep the added benefits of dark chocolate, stick to about one ounce per day for best results. If you go overboard on chocolate, that will cause extra calories to stack up quickly.
There are a number of health benefits of turmeric linked to its content of curcumin besides delivering a vibrant color to curries and many dishes.
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin and been shown in studies that suggest it could help stabilize blood sugar levels, fight inflammation, and even prevent cancer cell growth. (23) To enhance curcumin absorption by up to 2,000 percent, be sure to include black pepper with turmeric. In addition to powdered form, turmeric is also available in a capsule for a convenient and quick way to boost the consumption of curcumin.
Loaded with important nutrients, grapefruit is a citrus fruit. Actually, just one serving contains essential micronutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin C as well as a good amount of fiber.
An effective way to bump up weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity, adding grapefruit to your diet has been suggested in some research. It has also shown to increase liver function to promote proper detoxification and may also help improve heart health. (24)
For a delicious snack on its own, grapefruit can be cut into wedges. To add a burst of citrus flavor to your favorite foods, it can also be used in smoothies, salads, and main dishes.
20. Green Tea
The Camellia sinensis plant is the same plant used to make other types of tea like black, white and oolong tea and it also makes green tea. To help maximize its content of antioxidants and polyphenols, unlike other tea varieties, however, green tea undergoes very little processing.
Research has shown that green tea can help improve oral hygiene, boost metabolism, decrease several risk factors for heart disease and enhance insulin sensitivity. (25)
To begin to slowly incorporate this superfood into your daily routine, simply start brewing a couple of cups per day. There are other green tea products as well, such as matcha, which deliver a concentrated punch of antioxidants in each serving.
How Superfoods and Supplements Can Work Together
To deliver benefits that go above and beyond what a nutritious and healthy diet can provide, supplements and superfoods can work together to help optimize overall health. Many of the ingredients of these superfoods are some of the best foods for weight loss and fat-burning because they contain health-promoting compounds and nutrients like protein, fiber, antioxidants and heart-healthy fats.
Many times supplements bring important compounds that can sometimes be difficult to obtain from foods. Thought to be one of the best superfoods for women that can improve skin elasticity, hair growth and help ease joint pain, is collagen which is the most abundant protein in the body. Thanks to its protein content and amino acid profile, collagen is also considered one of the best foods that help you lose weight. However, it’s found in very few sources in the diet, such as bone broth or powdered gelatin, which is why adding a supplement to your routine can be especially beneficial. (26)
To have the maximum effect on health, both superfoods and supplements should be used to complement a healthy, well-rounded diet rich in essential nutrients.
Multivitamins vs Superfoods
Multivitamins and superfoods for good reason, are often compared to each other. Similar to multivitamins, superfoods help deliver an explosion of beneficial vitamins and minerals to optimize your health. The extra dose of fiber, protein, healthy fats and other health-promoting compounds, however, unlike multivitamins, superfoods go above and beyond to bring an extra punch that land them on the list of best foods to eat to lose weight, prevent disease and improve health.
To round out the diet and prevent any nutritional deficiencies, multivitamins can be a useful tool. If you are one of those with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarians or vegans, multivitamins are especially beneficial and can help meet your needs for key nutrients that may be lacking in the diet. As part of a healthy diet for weight loss, you can be sure that you are getting what you need to support overall health and wellness by including multivitamins just like superfoods.
So, let’s be clear. Both should be viewed as just a few single components of a well-rounded, healthy and fat-burning diet. When you incorporate a superfood or two into your meals or take a multivitamin each day, it is unlikely to have much of an effect on your health if you are not also consuming plenty of other nutrient-rich foods and following a healthy lifestyle.
Ayurveda, TCM and Traditional Medicine and Superfood Uses
Way before the superfoods concept was even introduced, traditional forms of medicine were using foods for their healing properties in an effort to help promote better health. (27) Superfoods like Chinese herbs, medicinal mushrooms and other antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as ginseng or goji berries, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, were believed to help naturally treat a variety of ailments and health conditions.
Nourishing whole foods are used to help enhance the mood, fight fatigue, increase weight loss and improve digestion in Ayurvedic medicine. Superfoods in particular like seasonal seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and healing spices and herbs are thought to promote balance between the mind and body and to support overall wellness. (28)
How to Use Superfoods and Where To Find Them
You typically don’t even need to look beyond your local grocery store to find these incredible ingredients sitting on the shelves as these superfoods offer some appealing and extraordinary benefits. To stock up on nutrient-dense fruits and veggies, simply check the produce aisle.
To find superfoods, you may need to check out the supplement section or check online for other ingredients like spirulina or goji berries. These ingredients work best when added to smoothies and shakes for a concentrated burst of nutrients and are most often available in dried or powdered form.
One of the best ways to begin to incorporate more superfoods into your daily diet is to try and substitute them in your favorite recipes. You can first try switching out refined vegetable oils from your kitchen pantry for coconut oil instead. Also shoot for sprinkling flaxseed, cinnamon or almonds onto your yogurt or cereal as well as adding broccoli rabe, sweet potatoes or kale to side dishes or main courses.
Your diet can be simple and delicious by adding a few servings of superfoods. Here are a few nutritious recipes using some ingredients on the list of healthy foods that can help bring your healthy diet to the next level:
- Kale and Quinoa Salad (from Valerie Bertinelli @ Food Network)
- Breakfast Soy-Banana Shake with Spirulina (from Ming Tsai @ Food Network)
- Almond Crusted Salmon (from Amy @ A Blossoming Life)
- Spirulina Protein Power Bites (from Cassie @ Vegan Insanity)
Please remember that if you are sensitive or allergic to any of these foods that are listed, consuming them can cause negative side effects and is not recommended. Furthermore, if you experience any adverse symptoms after eating one of these foods, it is always best to discontinue use and talk with your doctor.
Please also keep in mind that these foods can be a healthy addition to the diet and pack in extra nutrients but are usually not an immediate cure for any ailment or medical problem. Instead, these should be used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, a nutritious and varied diet, and/or traditional treatment to see the best results.
All these health-promoting foods should be paired with other nutrient-dense foods like lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. To really optimize your health and ward off chronic disease, you should maintain a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise as well.
Final Thoughts About Superfoods to Consume
After looking through all the information and research, this is difficult because there is no specific criteria defining what constitutes a superfood. With that being said, superfoods are especially rich in nutrients and shown to hand out unique health benefits.
Since superfoods can be incorporated into the diet in a number of different ways and there are a wide range of foods that qualify, go ahead and add a few to your daily routine. Just remember to add these superfoods along with a well-rounded diet and routine physical activity to get started on your journey to better health.
So, where should you start? With this list of top 20 superfoods:
- Broccoli Rabe
- Goji Berries
- Sweet Potatoes
- Raw Milk
- Acai Berries
- Dark Chocolate
- Green Tea