You’ve likely heard the term “superfood” tossed around quite a bit and have probably heard about all of the benefits offered by these nutrient-rich dietary additions. But what are superfoods?
Superfoods do more than just help you meet your vitamin and mineral needs or aid in shedding a few extra pounds when it comes time for swimsuit season. In fact, these foods can help you achieve better health, prevent chronic disease, and improve the way you feel day in and day out — and they’re some of the top anti-aging foods around.
When combined with regular exercise and a balanced diet, adding a few of these top superfoods into your day can benefit many different aspects of your health.
What Are Superfoods?
Although the concept of “superfoods” can be traced back to the start of the 20th century, it has experienced a rise in popularity in more recent years as it became a buzzword for better health.
However, with no real definition or criteria to determine what exactly superfoods are, they have caused quite a bit of confusion for consumers and were often used by the food industry to market unhealthy “health foods,” meal plans for extreme weight loss and detox diets.
In recent years, several sources have tried to set a more specific definition for superfoods. Oxford Dictionary, for example, defined them as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” Meanwhile, according to Merrian-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.”
Today, more and more studies continue to emerge, evaluating the powerful effects that food can have on health and confirming the extensive benefits that superfoods have to offer.
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 and you’ll probably start to feel sluggish, tired and weighed down. Cram tons of nutrient-dense fruits and veggies into your diet and you’ll likely find yourself full of energy and feeling good.
Superfoods take it to the next step, helping optimize your body’s ability to function by supplying a megadose of nutrients.
What are superfoods? Although there’s no set criteria as to what defines a superfood, these are foods that are jam-packed with nutrients and can help provide your body with the vitamins and minerals you need to thrive, survive and feel great.
Include a few servings of the ingredients on the superfoods list into your day paired with a balanced diet and regular physical activity and you’re bound to feel better than ever.
20 Top Superfoods and Their Benefits
Whether you’re looking to fight free radicals or maximize the nutrients in your diet, wheatgrass should definitely be at the top of your list.
Wheatgrass is prepared from the freshly sprouted leaves of the common wheat plant and can supply tons of vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium and magnesium. It also gives you some added chlorophyll, a plant pigment that’s loaded with health benefits.
Add it to juices or smoothies for a burst of energy, try it in tablet form, or even eat it raw if you’re feeling adventurous.
This delicious spice does more than just add flavor to sweet treats and seasonal drinks. In fact, it’s high in antioxidants and has been associated with lower blood sugar and cholesterol, improvements in nausea and PMS symptoms, and decreased inflammation.
Try sprinkling cinnamon over yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies to bump up the nutritional value of your healthy breakfast and reap the many health benefits of this invaluable spice.
Tiny but packed with nutrients, blueberries fit the superfoods definition to a T. Blueberries are brimming with disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as plenty of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese.
Best of all, these flavorful fruits are delicious and easy to enjoy as one of the best foods to lose weight. Use them to bring a hint of sweetness to salads, add them to baked goods or even enjoy them alone as a healthy snack.
In answering the question of “what are superfoods,” it would be impossible not to mention this super nutritious 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.
The avocado is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K. Not only that, but it manages to pack in more potassium than a banana and is super satisfying, making it one of the best fruits for weight loss.
There are limitless ways to enjoy this creamy fruit; try spreading it over toast, adding it to a salad or even just sprinkling a bit of salt on a few slices and chowing down.
5. Broccoli Rabe
Also known as rapini, broccoli rabe is a cruciferous green veggie that makes the list of top 10 superfoods without question.
It’s loaded with bone-building vitamin K and antioxidant-rich vitamins A and C, as well as folate, calcium and manganese.
Thanks to its impressive nutrient profile, the compounds found in broccoli rabe may be able to help reduce inflammation, keep your skeletal structure strong, protect against eye disease, improve your heart heath and even prevent the growth of cancer.
Sauté a big bunch of broccoli rabe and add it to frittatas, pasta dishes, soups or sandwiches to give your meal a serious superfood upgrade.
The American Heart Association recommends including fish in your diet at least twice a week, and for good reason. Fatty fish like salmon are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can slash inflammation, boost brain health and keep your heart strong.
Opt for wild-caught salmon whenever possible, and 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.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are known and loved for their delicious flavor, but did you know that they’re also high in vitamins and minerals and can provide important benefits to you and your health?
These nutritious root vegetables are high in vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Most notably, however, they’re brimming with vitamin A. In fact, one cup of cooked sweet potatoes meets 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.
Try roasting up a batch of sweet potato wedges, throwing them into soups or casseroles, or using them to kick up the flavor of curries and salads.
8. Goji Berries
With up to 12 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries, it’s no wonder these berries top the charts as one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods for men and women.
Goji berries have been a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries and have been credited with improving vitality, energy and longevity.
You can often find goji berries in dried or superfoods powder form at many grocery stores. Try adding them to a raw superfood carrot salad for a nutritious option for lunch or dinner.
9. Raw Milk
Raw milk is high in many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and D.
Kefir made from raw milk is especially beneficial for health as it has been fermented and has probiotics that can help boost the good bacteria in your gut to promote better digestion and enhance immunity.
Try adding raw milk or kefir to your next breakfast smoothie to pump up the nutrient profile and start your day off on the right foot.
Almonds are one of the most nutrient-rich nuts available. They are among the best non-dairy sources of calcium, providing more milligrams of calcium per serving than any other nut, and are also high in vitamin E and protein.
You can enjoy these nuts raw as a tasty snack or try roasting them up for a warm treat on a cold day. Just remember that almonds are high in calories, so be sure to keep your portion size in check — it is definitely possible to have too much of a good thing.
Type “superfoods” into your search engine and this leafy green vegetable is likely to be one of the first results that pops up.
Kale is one of the best superfoods for weight loss and can supplement your diet with lots of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and manganese for very few calories.
Whip up a batch of kale chips for a savory snack, or use raw kale to take your shakes or salads to the next level.
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.
Spirulina is most often found in powder form and is widely available at online retailers and health stores. Use it in smoothies, or sprinkle it over your foods to increase the nutritional content.
13. Acai Berries
High in antioxidants and health-promoting properties, the acai berry is a key player in defining what are superfoods. These berries contain plenty of healthy fats, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.
Thanks to its growing popularity, acai powder is widely available at health stores and can be mixed into smoothies or used to make a nourishing acai bowl.
Coconut and coconut oil are both high in medium-chain triglycerides, a type of beneficial fatty acid that can help support the health of your gut due to its bacteria-fighting, antioxidant properties.
These fatty acids are also easy to digest, can be burned up as fuel rather than stored as fat and are able to provide immediate energy.
Be sure to use extra virgin coconut oil that has not been refined, and use it in your cooking and baking for an added dose of healthy fats.
Flaxseed is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation, improve brain function, and even potentially protect against cancer and diabetes.
These seeds are also high in thiamine, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, plus contain a hearty dose of protein and fiber in each serving, making them one of the best diet foods you can eat.
You can reap the benefits of flaxseed by using the seeds in everything from granola to oatmeal or hummus or by consuming flaxseed oil in liquid or capsule form.
16. Green Tea
Green tea is a type of tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is the same plant used to make other types of tea like black, white and oolong tea. Unlike other tea varieties, however, green tea undergoes very little processing, which helps to maximize its content of antioxidants and polyphenols.
To get started, simply start brewing a couple of cups per day to slowly incorporate this superfood into your daily routine. You can also opt for other green tea products instead, such as matcha, which delivers a concentrated punch of antioxidants in each serving.
Besides bringing a vibrant color to curries and dishes, turmeric has also been linked to a number of health benefits thanks to its content of curcumin.
Be sure to pair turmeric with black pepper, which has been shown to enhance curcumin absorption by up to 2,000 percent. Turmeric is also available in capsule form as well for a quick and convenient way to boost curcumin consumption.
Also known by its scientific name, Zingiber officinale, ginger is a plant native to Southeast Asia that has been revered for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
Ginger contains a specific compound called gingerol, which is thought to be responsible for its multitude of health benefits. Studies show that ginger can help relieve nausea, decrease fasting blood sugar levels, increase working memory and reduce muscle pain.
Ginger can be used fresh and added to smoothies, salad dressings, sauces and side dishes. It can also be found in dried or powdered forms, which work especially well for brewing a soothing cup of ginger tea.
19. Dark Chocolate
In addition to being full of flavor and delicious, dark chocolate also brings a pretty impressive set of health benefits to the table.
In fact, one analysis published in Chemical Central Journal actually found that cocoa powder and dark chocolate were significantly higher in antioxidants, flavonols and polyphenols than any other superfood tested. Another study in 2011 also showed that eating chocolate five times per week was associated with a 57 percent lower risk of heart disease.
Be sure to select a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent to get the most bang for your buck. Additionally, keep in mind that going overboard on chocolate can cause the extra calories to stack up quickly, so stick to about one ounce per day for best results.
Some research suggests that adding grapefruit to your diet can be an effective way to bump up weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity. It may also help improve heart health and increase liver function to promote proper detoxification.
Grapefruit can be cut into wedges for an easy and delicious snack all on its own. It can also be used in salads, smoothies and main dishes to add a burst of citrus flavor to your favorite foods.
How Superfoods and Supplements Can Work Together
Superfoods and supplements go hand in hand and can help optimize overall health, bringing you benefits that go above and beyond what a nutritious and healthy diet can provide. In fact, some of the ingredients on the top 20 superfoods list contain health-promoting compounds and nutrients like fiber, protein, heart-healthy fats and antioxidants that earn them spots as some of the best foods for weight loss and best fat-burning foods around.
Similarly, supplements often bring a burst of other important compounds that can sometimes be difficult to obtain from foods. Collagen, for example, is the most abundant protein in the body and is thought to help ease joint pain, improve skin elasticity and improve hair growth, making it one of the best superfoods for women. It’s also considered one of the best foods that help you lose weight, thanks to its protein content and amino acid profile. 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.
Of course, both superfoods and supplements should be used to complement a healthy, well-rounded diet rich in essential nutrients to have the maximum effect on health.
Superfoods vs. Multivitamins
Superfoods and multivitamins are often compared to each other, and for good reason. Much like multivitamins, superfoods help deliver a burst of beneficial vitamins and minerals to help optimize your health. However, unlike multivitamins, superfoods go above and beyond to bring an extra dose of fiber, protein, healthy fats and other health-promoting compounds, landing them on the list of best foods to eat to lose weight, prevent disease and improve health.
Multivitamins can also be a useful tool to round out the diet and prevent any nutritional deficiencies. They can be especially beneficial for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegans or vegetarians, and can help them meet their needs for key nutrients that may be lacking in the diet. Like superfoods, multivitamins can be included as part of a healthy diet for weight loss by ensuring that you’re getting what you need to support overall health and wellness.
That being said, both should be viewed as just a few single components of a well-rounded, healthy and fat-burning diet. Incorporating a superfood or two into your meals or taking a multivitamin each day is unlikely to have much of an effect on your health if you’re not also consuming plenty of other nutrient-rich foods and following a healthy lifestyle.
Uses in Ayurveda, TCM and Traditional Medicine
Long before the concept of superfoods was even introduced, traditional forms of medicine were using foods for their healing properties in an effort to help promote better health.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, for instance, superfoods like Chinese herbs, medicinal mushrooms and other antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as ginseng or goji berries, were believed to help naturally treat a variety of ailments and health conditions.
Meanwhile, in Ayurveda, nourishing whole foods are used to help enhance the mood, fight fatigue, increase weight loss and improve digestion. In particular, superfoods like seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healing herbs and spices are thought to promote balance between the body and mind and to support overall wellness.
Where to Find and How to Use
Although superfoods offer some pretty extraordinary benefits, you typically don’t even need to look beyond your local grocery store to find these incredible ingredients sitting on the shelves. Check the produce aisle to load up on the nutrient-rich fruits and veggies.
For other ingredients like spirulina or goji berries, you may need to look in the supplement section or check online to score these superfoods. Most often available in dried or powdered form, these ingredients work best added to smoothies and shakes for a concentrated burst of nutrients.
The best way to bring more superfoods into your diet is to simply start swapping them in to your favorite recipes. Try adding kale, sweet potatoes or broccoli rabe to side dishes or main courses; sprinkle flaxseed, almonds or cinnamon onto your yogurt or cereal; or switch out refined vegetable oils from your kitchen pantry for coconut oil instead.
Adding a few servings of super foods to your diet can be simple and delicious. Here are a few nutritious recipes using some superstars on the list of healthy foods that can help bring your diet to the next level:
- Almond Crusted Salmon
- Roasted Sweet Potato and Broccoli Rabe Salad
- Quinoa Kale Salad
- Spirulina Protein Power Bites
- Almond Berry Cereal
Risks and Side Effects
If you are allergic or sensitive to any of the foods listed here, eating them can cause negative side effects and is not recommended. Similarly, if y0u experience any adverse symptoms after eating one of these foods, it’s best to discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
Keep in mind that these foods pack in extra nutrients and can be a healthy addition to the diet but are not an immediate cure for any ailment or medical problem. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with a nutritious and varied diet, healthy lifestyle, and/or traditional treatment to see the most results.
Pair these health-promoting foods with other nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, as well as a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise, to really optimize your health and ward off chronic disease.
It can be hard to answer the question of what are superfoods because there is no specific criteria defining what makes a superfood. However, superfoods are foods that are especially rich in nutrients and shown to bestow unique benefits to health.
There are a wide range of foods that qualify as superfoods and can be incorporated into the diet in a number of different ways. Add a few of these foods into your daily routine along with a well-rounded diet and routine physical activity to get started on your journey to better health.
Where should you start? With these top 20 superfoods:
- Broccoli Rabe
- Sweet Potatoes
- Goji Berries
- Raw Milk
- Acai Berries
- Green Tea
- Dark Chocolate
Read Next: Top 10 High Antioxidant Foods
Get FREE Access!
Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!
Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing
30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide
Shopping Guide &