If you pay attention to diet trends, social media, or TV commercials, you may have heard some foods referred to as "superfoods." Specifically, foods like chia seeds, goji berries, kale, whole grains, and acai berries have achieved superfood status. But what are superfoods? And how can you incorporate them into your daily routine?
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the term superfood, as well as a detailed superfood list of common examples. With this information, you can decide for yourself whether you believe in the power of superfoods.
Definition of Superfood
Currently, there is no legal or nutritional definition for a "superfood." Most nutritionists chalk the term up to successful marketing tactics. However, superfoods tend to have one thing in common: they contain various healthy fats, nutrients, or fiber. People label something a superfood when they believe its nutrition profile can have positive health effects or fight off disease.
There is no single food that can help you prevent disease or remain healthy. The American Heart Association explains, "So-called “superfoods” alone won’t make you healthier – but adding these nutritious foods to an already balanced diet can bring health benefits." (1) In fact, companies often take advantage of consumers' desires for "super" ingredients. Still, you should be aware of a few common items thought to be superfoods and their science-backed health benefits.
Common Examples of Superfoods
There are several long lists of plant-based ingredients (and fish) with powerful nutritional profiles, and the list grows every year. Here is a list of a few of the most frequently discussed options and their health information.
In general, edible mushrooms such as oyster, shiitake, and portobello mushrooms have significant nutrients and antioxidants. Mushrooms contain fiber, potassium, and vitamin A. Because of their high antioxidant content, mushrooms can play a role in reducing inflammation.
Another type of superfood mushrooms are functional mushrooms such as Chaga, lion's mane, and cordyceps. These mushrooms are rich in vitamins and nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and fiber. Because of their vitamins and minerals, these mushrooms are said to help lower cholesterol, support the immune system, and lower blood pressure.
Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable with plenty of positive properties. They contain protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. They also have vitamins such as Vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of potassium and manganese.
Even though sweet potatoes are sweet, one study suggests that they can improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. Lastly, they contain the antioxidant carotenoids, which may reduce your chances of developing different types of cancer. So, put sweet potatoes on your plate for your next dinner!
Though usually grouped with vegetables, avocado is a nutritious fruit. It's rich in healthy fats, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. The most prominent fat in avocado is thought to reduce inflammation. Certain studies suggest that eating avocado can reduce your risk for cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. (3) Since avocados go with almost anything, it's easy to incorporate this food into your diet.
Salmon has many impressive health benefits, and it's been linked to reducing risk factors for different diseases. For starters, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids like other fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to improve your brain function, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation. Salmon is also a good source of B vitamins, potassium, selenium, and the antioxidant Astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is thought to lower the risk of heart disease by increasing good cholesterol and reducing bad cholesterol. Some studies of salmon even show that fatty fish may improve brain function. (4) so, it's possible that consuming your recommended dose of fish each week can reduce your likelihood of memory problems as you age.
Turmeric is a powerful yellow spice that has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. Turmeric contains small amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, potassium, and vitamin C. It has been used to treat skin conditions, inflammation, liver conditions, and more.
The Arthritis Foundation lists turmeric as possibly helpful with reducing inflammation and improving symptoms of arthritis. (5) Different studies also list turmeric as a pain reliever, a digestion aid, and something that can reduce cancer risk. You can use turmeric in juices, smoothies, spice rubs, and dressings.
The root of a ginger flower makes for one of the healthiest spices. Ginger contains gingerol, a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. For this reason, ginger is often used to help fight sickness, reduce nausea, and improve digestion. One study suggests that ginger may also lower the risk of heart disease by lowering blood sugar. (6) It's also possible that ginger can help reduce pain.
You can add ginger to your diet in both your food and beverages. For example, consider adding it to juices and teas or cooking some Asian-inspired dishes such as lemon-ginger chicken.
Extra virgin olive oil is widely known as a healthy fat. What does this mean? It means that the predominant fatty acid in the oil is a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are thought to reduce inflammation, which can help reduce the risk of various diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Olive oil is also loaded with antioxidants and small amounts of vitamins E and K.
Olive oil is a huge part of the Mediterranean diet. Studies of this diet show improvement in overall health and wellness, improved brain function, and lower heart disease risk. It's a great oil to cook with or drizzle over a salad!
Garlic is another plant commonly used for its medicinal properties. When you break open a clove of garlic, the garlic forms sulfur compounds that exert positive effects on the body. For this reason, garlic supplements are thought to boost immune system function and combat illnesses such as the common cold or flu. (7)
Additionally, the active component of garlic can reduce blood pressure and combat cardiovascular diseases. Garlic also contains antioxidants and is even thought to help you live longer. In general, a clove of raw garlic contains a small amount of many vitamins and nutrients. It's easy to include garlic more often in your diet by using it in soups, sauces, and savory meals.
Some people refer to green tea as one of the healthiest beverages to exist. It is full of antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, improve brain function, and contribute to weight loss. The most powerful compound in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG is one of several natural antioxidants, and it's what gives the tea its medicinal properties.
The tea also contains caffeine, the amino acid L-theanine, and polyphenols. Combined, these properties may help fight cancer, improve brain function (and reduce memory loss), and help you burn fat.
Berries such as blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, goji berries, and raspberries are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition, they have high levels of antioxidants like many of the other foods on this list, meaning they can help with heart health, cancer, and health conditions related to inflammation.
Dark Leafy Greens
A few superfood leafy greens include spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, and beet greens. They are rich in vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins and vitamins K, E, C, and A. Dark leafy veggies are also good sources of fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. They also have compounds called carotenoids, which protect against certain cancers.
For example, one cup of uncooked kale has more than your recommended daily dose of vitamins, and it contains powerful antioxidants. For that reason, kale is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies we know.
The list of great foods could go on all day. Other produce with positive health effects includes acerola cherries, alfalfa, bananas, barley, coconut, guarana berries, matcha, spirulina, and moringa. These are all full of nutrients, essential amino acids, and antioxidants.
How to Add Superfoods to Your Diet
There are several ways to incorporate these different foods into your life to reap the health benefits of each. Some options include:
You can also enjoy many of these foods in different forms. For example, if you don't like raw greens in a salad, maybe you'll like some thrown into a stew or blended into your morning smoothie. It can also help to find a new recipe that incorporates a superfood you don't usually prepare.
You can also find many of these items as juices and powders. If you opt for a prepared form of a superfood, make sure the item isn't full of sugar and artificial flavors.
Remember not to focus too heavily on this specific superfood list. There are many food options with things your body needs, so prioritize eating fresh, seasonal fruit and veggies while cutting back on processed foods.
There are more than seven foods we call superfoods. However, seven popular options full of nutrients are chia seeds, avocado, dark chocolate, blueberries, hemp seeds, wheatgrass, and kale.
Different people will rank these superfoods differently based on their nutrient profile. A few of the best superfoods include olive oil, dark chocolate, salmon, blueberries, leafy greens, whole grains, avocado, pumpkin, yogurt, and salmon.
The list of superfoods continues to grow with modern food trends. Twenty-five popular superfood choices are avocados, seaweed, figs, flaxseed, walnuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, salmon, cocoa, sardines, yogurt, miso, ginger, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, oats, whole grains, garlic, spinach, blueberries, kale, cauliflower, sweet potato, horseradish, and beets.
Superfoods are known for their high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A few foods we could label superfood include blueberries, garlic, kale, yogurt, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, turmeric, seaweed, wheatgrass, other berries, and avocado.
Food For Thought - What Are Superfoods Good For?
Overall, "superfood" is more of a marketing term than an official category of food. The common thread is that our superfoods tend to be a good source of amino acids, fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients that our bodies appreciate. Many of the foods on this list have various health benefits, such as increasing energy levels and reducing cholesterol levels.
The bottom line is that you need to consume various vitamins and nutrients for your body to remain healthy. So, whatever you eat, make sure you diversify your menu with fruit, vegetables, and grains of all sorts.
2) Ooi, C. P., & Loke, S. C. (2013). Sweet potato for type 2 diabetes mellitus. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2013(9), CD009128. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009128.pub3
3) Fulgoni, V. L., 3rd, Dreher, M., & Davenport, A. J. (2013). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutrition journal, 12, 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-12-1
4) Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Tangney, C. C., Bienias, J. L., & Wilson, R. S. (2005). Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study. Archives of neurology, 62(12), 1849–1853. https://doi.org/10.1001/archneur.62.12.noc50161
6) Khandouzi, N., Shidfar, F., Rajab, A., Rahideh, T., Hosseini, P., & Mir Taheri, M. (2015). The effects of ginger on fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin a1c, apolipoprotein B, apolipoprotein a-I and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetic patients. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR, 14(1), 131–140.
7) Nantz, M. P., Rowe, C. A., Muller, C. E., Creasy, R. A., Stanilka, J. M., & Percival, S. S. (2012). Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 31(3), 337–344. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2011.11.019