You’ve likely heard the term “superfoods” tossed around quite a bit and have probably heard about all of the benefits offered by these nutrient-rich dietary additions. So what is considered a superfood exactly?
Although there’s no set criteria as to what defines a superfood, these are foods that are jam-packed with nutrients that help provide your body with the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals you need to thrive, survive and feel great.
Superfoods do more than just help you meet your nutrient needs or aid in shedding a few extra pounds when it comes time for swimsuit season. These foods can help you achieve better health by reducing the risk for many chronic diseases and improving the way you feel day in and day out.
They’re also some of the top anti-aging foods around.
What is the No. 1 superfood? Truth is it’s very hard to name the single best food in terms of nutrient supply — considering different types of foods — such as plants, including leafy greens or animal proteins like organ meats — offer different benefits.
When it comes to preserving your health, your best bet is to focus on variety by adding a few of these ingredients into your daily routine, including things like berries, beans, cruciferous veggies, citrus fruits and algae.
What Are Superfoods?
Although the concept of “superfoods” can be traced back to the start of the 20th century, the term recently has become somewhat of 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. The term is also often used by the food industry to market processed “health foods,” meal plans created to promote extreme weight loss and detox diets.
Several sources have tried to set a more specific definition for superfoods. Oxford Dictionary, for example, defines a superfood as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”
Meanwhile, according to Merrian-Webster, the term means “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.”
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 Ayurvedic medicine, nourishing whole foods are used to help enhance the mood, fight fatigue, increase weight loss and improve digestion. In particular, superfoods that make up a plant-based diet — like seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healing herbs and spices — are thought to promote balance between the body and mind and support overall wellness.
We all know that eating healthy can have a major impact on the way you feel. If you load up on fast food and processed junk, you’ll probably start to feel sluggish, tired and weighed down. Cram tons of nutrient-dense fruits and leafy greens into your diet, and you’ll likely find yourself full of energy and feeling good.
Superfoods can help take a balanced diet to the next level because they optimize your body’s ability to function by supplying a megadose of nutrients. For example, many are high in fiber, have high water content, which means they are low in calories, and are full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
What are the top 25 superfoods? Let’s take a look below.
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 nutrients, including iron, calcium and magnesium. It also gives you some added chlorophyll, a plant pigment that has protective effects.
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. These nutrients are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and other conditions — plus avocado contains phytonutrients that fight oxidative stress.
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 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. Oily fish like salmon are high in heart-healthy omega-3s that can slash inflammation, boost brain health, potentially reduce your risk for depression 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 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 fruits 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 nutrients 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 veggies for weight loss and can supplement your diet with lots of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and manganese for very few calories. Leafy greens are also known to help defend against cognitive decline thanks to bioactive compounds like lutein, beta-carotene, nitrates, kaempferol and α-tocopherol.
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 ingredients 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 and more.
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 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 fat that can help support the health of your gut due to its bacteria-fighting, antioxidant properties.
These fats are also easy to digest and can be burned as fuel 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.
Flaxseed is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3s 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.
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. It 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. This helps 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 benefits thanks to its content of curcumin.
Be sure to pair turmeric with black pepper. This 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 that 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. These 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 contains an impressive amount of protective compounds.
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 ingredient 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.
Grapefruit is a citrus fruit that is packed with important nutrients. Just one serving contains a good amount of fiber as well as vitamin C and vitamin A.
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.
21. Bone Broth
Bone broth is one of very few sources of gelatin and collagen protein, a beneficial type of structural protein that helps form connective tissues. It also contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and other compounds like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine that benefit your joints, digestive system and skin.
You want to look for real, homemade bone broth made with bones, ligaments, tendons and other animal parts, or make your own at home. Drink some on its own as a nutrient-rich beverage, or add it to soup, stews and marinades.
As a great source of fiber, raspberries benefit digestion, heart health and your gut microbiome. They are also full of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin K, folate and magnesium.
As a source of polyphenols, ellagic acid, carotenoids and anthocyanin, these berries offer anti-inflammatory benefits that can help your heart, metabolism, immune system and brain. They’re also associated with better blood glucose control, making them a great choice for diabetics.
Try them on yogurt, oatmeal, in smoothies, or added to healthy baked goods like muffins or pancakes.
23. Swiss Chard
Like other leafy greens, Swiss chard is an exceptional source of antioxidants, vitamin K, folate, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber.
Including more greens in your diet is associated with enhanced protection against obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, thanks in part to the many anti-inflammatory compounds these veggies contain, including carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin and flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol.
Cooking Swiss chard brings out a natural sweetness and decreases bitterness, making it a great addition to a variety of hearty and savory recipes like soups and sautées.
24. Free-Range Eggs
Eggs are generally pretty low in calories, with about 70 to 80 per egg, and a good source of many nutrients plus fat and protein. They are high in B vitamins, choline, iron, phosphorus, selenium and vitamin A.
Something unique about eggs is their choline content, which supports cognitive function and development in infants/children but is hard to get from most other foods. Results from recent studies also indicate that moderate egg consumption (one egg per day) is not associated with cardiovascular disease risk overall and is even associated with potentially lower cardiovascular disease risk.
There are endless ways to use them, including in omelets, deviled eggs, fried rice or scrambled on whole grain toast.
25. Mustard Greens
Mustard greens have a sharp bite that is indicative of their high phytochemical content. They provide tons of glucosinolates and polyphenols, as well as other antioxidants that protect your body from free radical damage.
They’re also very low in calories and a great source of fiber. This helps regulate your digestive tract and lower high cholesterol levels.
The spiciness found in mustard greens can be reduced by adding an acid toward the end of cooking, like vinegar or lemon juice. Traditionally, these greens are cooked with a bit of meat to balance their flavor, so try them in stir-fries or when pan-searing your favorite protein.
Superfoods and supplements go hand in hand and can help optimize overall health. More specifically, supplements often provide important compounds that can sometimes be difficult to obtain from foods alone.
Collagen, for example, is the most abundant protein in the body and is thought to help ease joint pain, boost 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.
Powdered greens are other great supplement addition to your daily routine, since they make it easy to obtain several servings of veggies in one shot. Protein powders can be sued similarly to provide amino acids that aid in exercise performance, recovery and appetite control.
Meanwhile, moringa powder contains almost all essential nutrients, growth factors, vitamins, amino acids, proteins, minerals, and metals like potassium, iron, and zinc. Of course, both superfoods and supplements should be used to complement a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Superfoods vs. Multivitamins:
Multivitamins can also be useful tools to round out your diet and help prevent any deficiencies. They can be especially beneficial for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegans or vegetarians, or people with allergies and intolerances.
One drawback to multivitamins, however, is that they lack fiber and volume, so they don’t fill you up and stop you from eating unhealthy foods like superfoods can.
That said, both should be viewed as just a few components of a well-rounded eating plan. 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 don’t also consume plenty of other nutrient-rich foods and follow a healthy lifestyle.
How to Use (+ Recipes)
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.
Here are a few nutritious recipes to 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 ingredient listed above, eating them can cause negative side effects and is not recommended. If you experience any adverse symptoms after changing your diet, it’s best to discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
Always plan to use supplements and specific ingredients in conjunction with a nutritious and varied diet, healthy lifestyle, and/or traditional treatment to see the most results.
- What are the superfoods? There is no specific criteria defining what makes a superfood, however they are essentially foods that are rich in nutrients and shown to bestow unique benefits to health.
- Many superfoods are plants, which means that people eating a plant-based, high-fiber diet often benefit from obtaining more of these ingredients. Some animal products like liver, salmon and even eggs can also fall into this category.
- Some types like berries, algae, beans and leafy greens contribute to health by supporting your immune system, heart and cognitive function.
- Many also reduce the risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline by providing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.