There has been this huge focus on the foods we eat and how to make healthy eating choices. This is a fantastic area for people to focus on and it’s great that more and more people are interested in improving their health through food. We now know that there is a range of food out there that offers significant benefits to health, often as the result of specific nutrients.
One area that people are particularly interested in is superfoods. In general, the term refers to foods that are especially high in nutrients compared to their calorie intake or foods that are associated with specific health benefits.
There is no single list of superfoods out there because the word itself is largely a marketing term. In fact, scientists and nutritionists tend to steer clear of the word, while manufacturers often use it to make their product sound healthier. In EU nations, use of the term superfood in marketing is actually prohibited, unless manufacturers can prove their claims.
In this list, we’re focusing on foods that commonly fall under the superfood label, along with why they are considered superfoods. In some cases, the label really is nothing but hype. But, in other cases, the foods really do offer key health benefits or have powerful aspects to their nutritional profile.
Table of Contents
- Dark Chocolate
- Goji Berries
- Chia Seeds
- Tart Cherries/Tart Cherry Juice
- Acai Berries
- Cocoa/Cacao Powder
- Black Garlic
- Flax Seeds
- Greek Yogurt
- Maca Powder
- Hemp Seed
- Nutritional Yeast
- Sweet Potato
- Spirulina (algae)
Right now, pomegranate is one of the most recognizable superfoods and is extremely popular. This isn’t particularly surprising, as the arils (the seeds and their liquid capsules) are visually stunning and they taste pretty good too. Pomegranate is claimed to have a range of benefits, including protection against inflammation, heart disease and high blood pressure. At the same time, pomegranate is also considered to be a powerful antioxidant. Scientifically, there is some evidence that pomegranate does offer health benefits, but we don’t really know the extent of those benefits.
Dark chocolate is high in flavanols and other compounds from plants that may well help to improve health in general. At the same time, dark chocolate does contain antioxidants and even has some nutritional value. The benefits of dark chocolate tend to get stronger for higher cocoa percentages (like 80% cocoa), which is one reason why there is much more evidence for benefits of dark chocolate than for chocolate in general.
Goji berries are viewed as another antioxidant and are also thought to help improve the immune system, activity in the brain and overall life expectancy. Despite their popularity, research into goji berries has been surprisingly limited, so there is still a lot we don’t know about the berries and their impact on health. Realistically, any health benefits are likely to be similar to benefits from other superfoods, like pomegranate. As goji berries are pretty expensive, turning to other similar superfoods might be a better option for many people.
The reputation of avocados has really changed over time. After all, avocado does contain a decent amount of fat, so it’s easy to see why people have viewed it as being fattening and unhealthy. Yet avocado is actually a source of healthy fats along with a range of nutrients. As such, avocados have been associated with a number of health benefits, including helping to protect the body from heart disease. So, it’s no wonder that avocados are now viewed as a powerful superfood.
Chia seeds are everywhere nowadays, partly because these little gems are just so versatile. One of the most significant things about chia seeds is that they are a relatively high source of omega 3 fatty acids, which is fairly unusual for a plant. At the same time, they are antioxidants and offer nutrients. Including chia seeds in the diet is easy as they essentially have no taste. As a result, you often see them included in smoothies or salads, and sprinkled on top of anything that seems even vaguely healthy.
Tart Cherries/Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherries are particularly popular because of anthocyanins. These compounds are thought to play a role in blood sugar control as well as in helping to lower cholesterol levels. They are also powerful as antioxidants. Most of the time people don’t consume tart cherries themselves, but instead will have tart cherry juice or dried tart cherries. Either approach offers similar nutrients to fresh tart cherries.
Acai berries have been heavily promoted as a way to lose weight and fight aging (because of the antioxidant properties of the fruit). Like tart cherries, much of this activity comes from anthocyanins. Fresh acai tends to be hard to find and very expensive, so people tend to purchase acai in a range of other forms. This includes buying the berries as a frozen pulp or buying acai juices, powders or tablets. One of the most common approaches to using acai is to add the pulp to a smoothie or a smoothie bowl.
I mentioned dark chocolate earlier in this list and cocoa is considered a superfood for roughly the same reason. In fact, the healthy properties of dark chocolate actually come from cocoa to start off with. There has been a lot of research on the health benefits of cocoa and unlike chocolate, cocoa tends to contain few calories and almost no fat – while still imparting a strong chocolate flavor. This makes it a good option for anyone who is watching their weight.
Black garlic is an unusual variation on traditional garlic. This type of garlic has been fermented. That process changes the color of traditional garlic and also changes the flavor, creating a form of garlic that is sweet and mellow. The significance of black garlic as a superfood comes from the fermentation process. In general, fermented foods are a great way to help promote healthy gut bacteria, which in turn helps to good health.
All green leafy vegetables are good for your health and contain a range of healthy nutrients and minerals. The best way to get the most out of these vegetables is to vary what you include in your diet. However, kale deserves a special mention because it is such a good source of antioxidants. In fact, it contains more antioxidants than most other fruits or vegetables. That alone should be a reason to include more kale in your diet.
Edamame is just edible soy beans and they are pretty popular as a low-calorie snack. Their advantage as a snack comes from the fact that they are a pretty good source of protein. At the same time, edamame is high in a number of key nutrients, including vitamins A and C. Finally, edamame is a source of antioxidants, which also promotes health. All of these factors make edamame an important superfood, especially as edamame is such a convenient snack.
Beans are another superfood that often aren’t viewed as such. In fact, beans can sometimes seem a little boring, especially if you eat them frequently. Yet, beans are fantastic as a source of fiber and protein. Those features alone make them powerful for vegetarians and for anyone who doesn’t get enough fiber in their diet. At the same time, beans do contain other nutrients to promote health including potassium and magnesium. Finally, they are fairly low in fat, making them a good choice for anyone worried about their weight.
In our discussion of superfoods, we certainly can’t overlook salmon (especially wild-caught salmon). There is a huge amount of research that points towards the health benefits of salmon. Most of that comes from the omega 3 fatty acids that the fish contains. Those fatty acids may play many roles in health, including the ability to decrease the risk of heart disease. Besides, salmon is a great source of protein in general and many people love the taste of the fish.
People often view almonds, and nuts in general, as being unhealthy. That idea comes from the way that nuts are fairly high in fat and in calories. But nuts are also amazing as a source of nutrients and healthy fats. They also tend to be high in protein, which makes them fairly filling. As long as you watch your portion size, nuts can be a key source of nutrients and may even contribute to weight loss. In fact, some research has even indicated that almonds may have these benefits and may help to improve health in general.
Broccoli is such a common addition to meals that most of us don’t think about the nutritional benefits that it offers. Realistically though, broccoli is a good reminder that superfoods don’t have to be exotic and many of the foods that we already eat can be considered superfoods. Broccoli itself contains high levels of folate and vitamin C, along with a whole host of other nutrients and compounds that can help to fight disease. While any cruciferous vegetable is a healthy addition to the diet, broccoli is certainly one of the most powerful.
The most powerful aspect of strawberries is their vitamin C content, which might seem a little surprising. Yet, you only need to have around a cup of strawberries to get your daily requirement of vitamin C (and most of us would find it very easy to eat a cup of strawberries). At the same time, strawberries have other beneficial nutrients from plants that can be beneficial for humans.
Spinach is another green leafy vegetable that is great for health. Recently, spinach has been taking a backseat to kale, but it isn’t something that you should leave out of your diet. After all, spinach contains a large number of antioxidants, including zeaxanthin and lutein, which have been associated with eye health. At the same time, spinach is well-known as a source of iron and the green vegetable can be easily used in many different recipes.
Flax seeds are another superfood that has become pretty popular in recent years. These are also called linseed and are small seeds that are high in fiber and omega 3 fatty acids. The seeds are also low in carbs, so they are a popular choice for people trying to reduce their carb intake. The seeds can also be found as an oil or a ground meal, which makes flax seeds extremely versatile.
Greek yogurt is healthy for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, the yogurt often includes probiotics, which makes it a great way to promote healthy bacteria in the gut and improve digestion in general. At the same time, Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, which makes it much more filling. It also tends to contain less sugar and is a healthy replacement for a range of other products, like sour cream. You also commonly find this superfood used as an ingredient in many different recipes.
In some ways, blueberries can be viewed as the face of the controversy that surrounds superfoods. Most of the time, blueberries are considered a superfood, especially as they contain a range of phytonutrients. They are also very convenient because they can be frozen easily and used from frozen. That makes them perfect for smoothies. But at the same time, blueberries aren’t actually especially high in the number of nutrients they contain, which violates one of the most common definitions of a superfood.
Research into the benefits of maca powder has shown mixed results, but even so the powder remains popular as a superfood. Maca itself is a root vegetable which is grown in the Andes. The root is dried and processed to create the powder. That powder has an earthy and nutty flavor, which makes it appealing as an addition to smoothies and baking. It is also often used sprinkled on top of some dishes, like oatmeal or granola.
Kefir is becoming increasingly popular and it is a fermented drink made from milk. It has a similar taste to yogurt and is often compared to a yogurt smoothie or liquid yogurt. The popularity of kefir comes from our growing interest in probiotics. These have been associated with improving digestive health and the immune system overall. The reason for these benefits is that probiotics help to support the healthy bacteria in our gut.
Unless you’re a big fan of sushi, eating seaweed might seem a little weird. But, seaweed has a very different nutritional profile than land-based plants, including a high level of omega 3 fatty acids. This alone makes it a good choice and potentially a powerful superfood. At the same time, seaweed is a key source of other important nutrients and minerals. Overall, it’s a great inclusion into the diet, even if eating seaweed doesn’t sound especially appealing to many people.
In case you haven’t heard of them, mangosteens are a somewhat unusual fruit with white segments on the inside and a thick purple skin. The fruit is sometimes called a superfood because of compounds called xanthones, which have been associated with fighting inflammation and cancer. The fruit itself is hard to find in the United States, although it is becoming more popular. If you can’t find the fruit you can probably find products that include mangosteen juice. Just make sure you read the labels to make sure that you aren’t getting a lot of artificial additives as well.
At first, hemp seeds sound a little suspicious because they are related to marijuana. Yet, the seeds don’t contain the psychoactive ingredient that you find in marijuana. At the same time, hemp seeds offer a range of beneficial nutrients, including all of the amino acids that are important for cell growth and repair. The seeds are also a good source of protein, which is perfect if you are looking for alternative options for your protein intake.
Nutritional yeast might sound like a bit of an odd superfood. Essentially, this is deactivated yeast and it has no leavening power. Nutritional yeast is particularly important because it acts as a source of vitamin B12. Most of the time, vitamin B12 is found in dairy and meat products, so nutritional yeast is one of the few ways for vegans to get vitamin B12 without turning to supplements.
Cranberries are well-known for their antioxidant properties, which is one reason that cranberry juice is so popular. Cranberries are also commonly found in some recipes, especially around fall and Thanksgiving. Like other berries, the superfood nature of cranberries comes from the plant-based nutrients that cranberries contain. These nutrients have been associated with fighting inflammation, reducing heart disease risk and some other health benefits.
Leeks aren’t an especially common addition to recipes, but they can be considered a superfood. That might be a good reason to reconsider leeks and to give the vegetable a try. Like most vegetables, leeks are a good source of nutrients. However, they are most interesting because they contain organosulfur compounds. These compounds are thought to have cancer fighting properties and they may also be significant in improving the immune system.
Walnuts are another example of a nut that is a superfood. Realistically, you could make the same conclusion of pretty much any nut, but some are healthier than others. The power of walnuts comes from the omega 3 fatty acids that they contain, as well as a specific form of vitamin E that helps to promote heart health. The skin of the walnut is also thought to contain healthy nutrients so it’s best to eat this if you can. If you aren’t a fan of walnuts, you can always turn to other nuts to get many of the same superfood benefits.
I’ve already mentioned a few specific examples of berries, but berries in general can also be considered a superfood. After all, berries do all contain a range of natural compounds from plants, many of which help to promote human health. The specific compounds and their proportions also vary considerably between one type of berry and the next. The best way to take advantage of this is to mix up the berries you include in your diet rather than focusing on one or two types of berries.
Oatmeal has been considered a weight loss food for a long time, as well as a good way to lower cholesterol. Those factors alone might be enough for us to consider oats a superfood, even though they aren’t nearly as glamorous as many other items on this list. But, oats also have another advantage. This is the fact that they are a key source of soluble fiber. Many of us don’t get enough fiber in our diet, so oats can be a powerful way of remedying this issue.
Pumpkin tends to be chosen for its taste, so people often overlook its nutritional benefits. That might be why pumpkin rarely makes it onto superfood lists even though it does have many of the characteristics of a superfood. Pumpkin does contain a range of nutrients, but one of the most important ones to consider is beta-carotene. This compound is an antioxidant and has also been associated with improving skin and vision. At the same time, pumpkin contains a decent amount of potassium, which is a nutrient that many of us do not get enough of.
Eggs have a pretty bad rap because of their associated with cholesterol. Yet, people are increasingly realizing that eggs are powerful superfoods, particularly because of their yolks. The yolk of an egg is a nutritional powerhouse and contains a large amount of nutrients. In general, this makes them a great addition to health and researchers are even starting to question whether there are even any health risks from the cholesterol in eggs. Regardless, eggs are certainly a superfood if you keep an eye on how many you eat (which is really true for any food).
First off, cauliflower is a good source of nutrients in general. But, the real advantage of the vegetable comes from the presence of glucosinolates. These compounds have been associated with cancer-fighting properties, which makes them especially powerful. Besides, isn’t it great to know that such a common vegetable offers significant health benefits?
Sweet potatoes can be a great alternative to regular potatoes and can be much healthier as well. One reason is that sweet potatoes are a key source of easy-to-digest fiber, a type of fiber that isn’t all that common. At the same time, sweet potatoes offer a range of other nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese and some antioxidants. Based on those nutrients alone, it’s easy to see why sweet potatoes can be considered a powerful superfood.
Coconut acts as another key source of nutrients, particularly fatty acids. Like avocado, coconut is sometimes viewed as unhealthy because of those fats but in general coconut contains healthy fats. There are a lot of products on the market nowadays that contain coconut, however it is important to look for those that contain the flesh of the coconut as that is where the fats are located. Other parts of coconut do have health benefits but you are shortchanging yourself if you only focus on coconut water or coconut oil.
Spirulina is trending as a superfood and for good reason. To start off with, spirulina is actually a form of microalgae (which admittedly, doesn’t sound particularly appealing). As algae, spirulina is incredibly nutrient dense, much more so than most other foods. At the same time, spirulina is easy for the body to digest and has been connected to health benefits. Typically, you might buy spirulina as a powder or flakes, which can then be used in smoothies or other recipes. Some people choose to buy spirulina supplements instead.