By Rachael Link, MS, RD
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?
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.
But 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 these foods into your day paired with a balanced diet and regular physical activity and you’re bound to feel better than ever.
What Are Superfoods Good For?
15 Top Superfoods
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. (1, 2, 3)
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 superfood 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 add into your diet. 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.
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.
Sautée 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.
They are also loaded with nutrients that may help prevent eye disease, protect against skin damage and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. (4, 5, 6)
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 “what are superfoods” into Google 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 foods 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.
Health benefits of spirulina include potentially preventing plaque buildup in the arteries, lowering blood pressure and protecting against cancer. (7, 8, 9)
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.
Studies show that the compounds found in acai berries may help improve cognitive function, enhance lipid profiles and maintain normal blood sugarlevels. (10, 11, 12)
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.
Coconut oil, in particular, has been credited with aiding in weight loss, keeping hair healthy and smooth, and even preventing bone loss. (13, 14)
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 thiamin, 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.
PrecautionsIf 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.
Final Thoughts on What Are Superfoods. 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 15 superfoods: