- “Superfood” is essentially a marketing term used to sell healthy foods as supplements or encourage people to buy more of them.
- Foods do vary in their nutritional content, and you can get the benefits of all of them by including a variety of healthy foods in your diet.
- Some of the healthiest foods include fruits like apples and berries, vegetables like leafy greens and broccoli, whole grains like quinoa, and fatty fish like salmon.
The term “superfood” has grown in popularity over the last few years, but what exactly makes a food a superfood?
On the one hand, some apply the term superfood to exotic plants like acai and goji berries, wheatgrass, chia seeds, and maca.
On the other hand, others refer to healthy but boring staples like blueberries, oats, and almonds as superfoods.
So, do superfoods exist, or is it just a slick label applied to healthy foods of all kinds?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, compared to the average Western diet, eating plenty of so-called superfoods will make a noticeable improvement in your health.
On the other hand, if you already eat a healthy diet, you’re probably already consuming what many people consider superfoods on a daily basis.
We’re going to get to the bottom of all of this in this article.
By the end, you’ll know what makes a superfood (and where the term came from) and how to include 30 foods commonly thought of as superfoods in your diet.
- What Is a Superfood?
- Superfood Fruits
- 1. Acai Berries
- 2. Apples
- 3. Bananas
- 4. Blueberries
- 5. Goji Berries
- 6. Grapefruit
- 7. Pears
- 8. Pomegranate Seeds
- 9. Oranges
- Superfood Veggies
- 10. Avocados
- 11. Black Beans
- 12. Broccoli
- 13. Chiles
- 14. Garbanzo Beans
- 15. Lentils
- 16. Kidney Beans
- 17. White Beans
- 18. Kale
- 19. Spinach
- Superfood Nuts and Seeds
- 20. Almonds
- 21. Chia Seeds
- 22. Flax Seeds
- 23. Pine Nuts
- Superfood Starches
- 24. Oats
- 25. Barley
- 26. Quinoa
- Superfood Proteins
- 27. Salmon
- 28. Sardines
- Superfood Spices and Drinks
- 29. Cinnamon
- 30. Green Tea
- The Bottom Line on Superfoods
Table of Contents
Technically, there’s no such thing as a “superfood.”
The term “superfood” was created in order to sell people on particular health food products that allegedly possess unique benefits that you can’t get from normal foods.
For example, supplement companies have been promoting wheatgrass and acai and goji berries for over a decade.
After artificially creating demand for these foods through aggressive advertising, supplement companies released thousands of products based around these low-cost, high-margin “superfoods,” which are super for their bottom line but mediocre at improving your health.
After hyping these foods as “superfoods,” supplement companies created products based around these foods, too.
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In other cases, some people also label normal, healthy foods as superfoods in order to encourage people to eat more of them. While understandable, this has also led to the incorrect notion that some healthy foods are drastically healthier than others.
Here’s the truth: if you were to dismiss the idea of superfoods and superfood-based products entirely and stick to practical, simple, time-tested healthy eating principles, you wouldn’t miss anything.
There is a shred of truth to the idea behind superfoods, though.
It’s true that some foods do contain more of some nutrients than others.
For example, strawberries, oranges, and lemons contain more vitamin C per gram of weight than most other fruits.
Some foods also contain compounds that have unique health benefits.
For example, broccoli is a good source of sulforaphane, which may have powerful anti-cancer properties (and which may also negate some of the unhealthy chemicals produced from grilling meat).
The problem with the term “superfood,” though, is that it implies that the only way to get these benefits is to consume these specific foods.
This isn’t true.
For example, although strawberries, oranges, and lemons contain more vitamin C than most other fruits, almost every fruit contains large amounts of vitamin C—enough to help you reach the recommended daily value with only two to three servings.
Likewise, although broccoli is a good source of sulforaphane, so are Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables.
Similarly, some people think a “superfood” contains all the nutrients you need. Or that adding a few of these special foods on top of a junk-filled diet will make you immune to disease.
This also isn’t true.
You’d have to eat a wide variety of superfoods to get all of the macronutrients and micronutrients you need to thrive and no single food can prevent disease.
So, in the final analysis, what makes one food a “superfood” and another food just “healthy” are often minor and meaningless differences in their nutritional content.
The truth is that so long as you’re eating a variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and various meats, you’ll likely be consuming all the nutrients your body needs.
That said, the idea of superfoods has become thoroughly entrenched in the fitness world, so we might as well look at some of the foods most often considered superfoods.
For the sake of consistency, I’ll refer to them as superfoods throughout the rest of this article. Just remember that it’s not entirely accurate.
Summary: “Superfood” is a marketing buzzword created to sell exotic, expensive, superfood-based supplements, and most “superfoods” are really just regular fruits, vegetables, and other healthy staples.
Fruit can be enjoyed any time of day (even for dessert).
While any fruit is generally a healthy choice, certain ones are higher in micronutrients than others. That doesn’t mean eating them will guarantee health, but it does mean they’re great nutritional bang for your calorie buck.
So while the fruits in this list aren’t the only ones you should eat, they are certainly worthy of your consideration.
No superfood list would be complete without mentioning acai berry. But not for the reasons you might think.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
That may not be entirely true, but apples are certainly a healthy fruit, rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that fight free radicals.
They’re also packed with water and dietary fiber to keep you full.
In a study conducted by scientists at The Federal University of Amazonas, women who added three apples per day to their usual diet lost weight, whereas women who added a calorie-equated amount of oat cookies did not.
In other words, apples can help you consume fewer calories, aiding in weight loss.
Additionally, eating apples is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Bananas are one powerful fruit.
They’re also extremely convenient thanks to their peel, which serves as a natural form of packaging.
Some say this makes them the perfect beach food. They’re not messy, they’re protected from sand, and you won’t leave any non-biodegradable garbage when you’re done.
Anyhoo . . .
One reason bananas are interesting is they contain two types of fiber called pectin and resistant starch.
The deep blue color that comes from blueberries lets you know they are rich in antioxidants that ward off free radicals.
Blueberries contain anthocyanins, a flavonoid that scientists believe is responsible for many of blueberry’s health benefits including reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness, two cardiovascular disease risk factors.
In fact, one study conducted by scientists at the University of East Anglia found that a high intake of anthocyanins was associated with a reduced risk of heart attack.
Blueberries are also rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese. They’re also low in calories and high in water content, which makes them great for reducing appetite.
Goji berries have become extremely popular “superfoods,” and while they don’t quite live up to the hype, they do have a number of health benefits on par with other berries.
Not only are goji berries rich in vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, and fiber, they contain an antioxidant called zeaxanthin.
Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid that can improve eye health.
Goji berries are generally sold as a dried fruit. Try sprinkling them on salads or oatmeal for a little added sweetness.
Be careful not to go overboard, as all dried fruits are easier to overeat than their fresh counterparts.
If you can get past the super tartness of grapefruit, you’ll be treated to a fruit rich in vitamin C and A.
Like other fruit, it can also help you lose weight.
In a study conducted by scientists as Scripps Clinic, obese patients who ate fresh grapefruit lost more weight those who drank juice or were given placebo capsules.
The reason for this is probably that the grapefruit eaters got more whole fiber and water content from the fruit, which generally helps control appetite better than plain juice.
In other words, any fruit that contains an appreciable amount of fiber could potentially have the same effect. Still, it’s neat we have solid evidence in support of grapefruit.
If it’s hard for you to enjoy the tartness of fresh grapefruit slices, try blending them in your smoothies.
Pears are incredible for controlling appetite.
The average pear contains 5.5 grams of fiber, helping to keep your digestive system healthy.
If you’re feeling a little backed up or constipated, slice up a juicy pear and enjoy.
This low-calorie snack option also packs a healthy dose of fiber, making it an ideal afternoon treat.
Pomegranate seeds are also filled with vitamin C and K.
Pomegranate seeds can be sprinkled over greek yogurt, blended into smoothies, or tossed into a salad.
Oranges are one of the most popular fruits, which is probably why a glass of orange juice is part of the archetypal breakfast.
The juice is nice, but you’ll be missing out on the fiber in the whole fruit.
Not only do oranges contain potassium, folate, and thiamin, they‘re especially rich in vitamin C, which plays an important role in your immune system.
So while you’d do well to include more veggies in your diet, those listed here are particularly nutrient-dense.
Technically a fruit, avocados are usually thought of as a vegetable.
And it’s no surprise they’re often touted as a superfood. They’re packed full of nutrients.
Avocados are rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and contain more potassium than bananas.
It may help you absorb more fat-soluble antioxidants from other foods, too.
Black beans may seem too boring to be a superfood, but the reality is they’re extremely nutrient-dense.
They’re rich in fiber, folate, magnesium, and iron. They’re also one of the best plant sources of protein.
Black beans provide a slow-release energy from complex carbs, while the combination of fiber and protein will leave you feeling full.
Not only is broccoli higher in protein than your average vegetable, it’s packed with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, and manganese.
Other cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, cabbage (including bok choy), cauliflower, collard greens, and kale are no slouches in their sulforaphane content either.
Broccoli can be steamed as a side dish or used in a stir fry. You could also cut it up raw for salads or dipping in hummus.
Chiles are high in fiber, nutrients, and flavor, making them an ideal choice for many meals.
That said, due to their spicy flavor, you’re probably not going to portion out a significant amount of chiles onto your plate. Instead, they’re used as a garnish to spice things up.
This hot sensation comes from capsaicin, which is one of the more interesting bioactive compounds found in chiles.
Though the science is mixed, research out of Maastricht University and Purdue University has found that capsaicin can reduce appetite and lower calorie intake. This could help you lose weight over time.
So, if you’re feeling up for some heat, try adding chiles to your favorite recipes.
You may be familiar with garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, thanks to the rise in popularity of hummus, a ground up and seasoned version of chickpeas.
These tan colored beans are packed with soluble fiber to absorb water and help you feel full.
Two ways to eat chickpeas are in a salad or ground up as hummus.
Similar to beans, lentils are packed with protein. In fact, a single cup can contain as much as 18 grams of protein for just over 200 calories.
Not only does this significant amount of protein help you build lean muscle mass and control your hunger, but it will also help you cut calories.
In a study conducted by scientists at the University of Toronto, men who were fed pasta with sauce that contained lentils ended up eating fewer calories than participants who ate the pasta without lentils.
One tasty way to prepare lentils is as a cold salad, mixed with quinoa, pomegranate seeds, and green onions.
You could argue that all beans are superfoods, but black beans, kidney, and white beans are some of the most popular.
Kidney beans are rich in protein, making them a particularly popular choice among vegetarians as a hearty meat substitute. Thanks to their iron, protein, potassium, and magnesium content, they’re very nutritious.
They can also help control blood sugar.
A tasty way to eat kidney beans is in a vegetarian chilli. Put them in a crockpot with some tomatoes, corn, peppers, black beans, and onions and let it simmer for about two hours on high.
Navy beans, Great Northern beans, white kidney beans, and butterbeans are all considered “white beans.”
White beans have all of the benefits of other beans, but come with a unique flavor that many enjoy.
Navy beans in particular are the richest plant-based source of phosphatidylserine, a chemical your body uses to produce cell membranes and that plays a vital role in neural function.
If you’re unsure of how to use white beans, try adding them to a simple chicken noodle soup that has some fresh carrots and onions in it.
You could also use white beans to top off a tasty kale salad.
Kale is one of those vegetables that straddles the line of dark leafy greens and cruciferous, and it’s loaded with antioxidants.
One cup of kale is only about 33 calories, yet it’s packed with nutrients to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
This helps you whittle down the amount of calories you consume each day without sacrificing essential vitamins and minerals, making it a perfect weight loss superfood.
One way to eat more kale is to add it to smoothies or substitute it for “water-y” greens like iceberg lettuce.
Spinach is a dark leafy green that’s often used in salads. Dark leafy greens are packed full of vitamins like vitamin K and A.
Spinach has recently taken a backseat as a result of the kale craze, but it shouldn’t be overlooked in your diet, especially if weight loss is your goal.
Three cups of raw spinach deliver 2.9 g of protein for a mere 23 calories. That means you get to eat a lot of volume without consuming a lot of calories.
Although it’s easy to add spinach to salads and smoothies, spinach can also be cooked.
Plus, you can’t beat the simple fact that when sauteed, spinach reduces drastically in size. This makes it much easier to consume a healthy serving of veggies without having to spend a lot of time chewing on raw salad.
There is a lot of variety in the nuts and seeds category. The ones listed here are some of the most intriguing nutrient-wise.
These powerful nuts tide you over between meals and can be added to salads and oatmeal for a boost of monounsaturated fat, fiber, and protein.
They’re also loaded with vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium.
If you like almonds, you can’t go wrong with almond butter.
It’s perfect on bananas and apples or even on a slice of whole wheat toast.
Almond butter is high in nutrients, and has a distinct flavor that’s quite different from peanut butter.
When consumed, chia seeds expand and create a jelly-like substance in your stomach, which leaves you feeling full.
They also digest slowly so you have long-lasting consistent energy rather than high spikes that leave you sluggish on the comedown.
They’re packed full of antioxidants and fiber, and also contain a fair amount of protein. Chia seeds also provide omega-3 fatty acids, although it’s in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).
ALA needs to be converted into DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids to have positive effects in the body, and this process is very inefficient in humans. Although we can get some DHA and EPA from ALA-rich foods like chia seeds, foods high in EPA and DHA, like fish, are much more efficient and reliable sources.
You’d have to eat very large amounts of ALA-containing foods like chia seeds to meet your health needs, and even then, it’s doubtful your body would convert enough to support optimal health.
So, although the ALA in chia seeds is a nice bonus, don’t count on it for all of your omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax seeds are teeming with nutrients including thiamin (vitamin B1) and magnesium. They’re also rich in fiber, protein, and ALA omega-3s.
They’ve also been linked with numerous health benefits.
Ground flax can be mixed into yogurt or smoothies.
Pine nuts are often overlooked in supermarkets, but they pack appetite-suppressing goodness, which shouldn’t be avoided.
Plus, the healthy mix of protein, iron, and monounsaturated fat also gives you a boost of energy.
They’ve also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
I love to sprinkle pine nuts over salads or add them to soups and they taste great slightly pan roasted.
The next four starches have a few things in common:
- They’re complex carbohydrates
- They digest slowly
- They help keep you full
- They provide sustained energy
Oats are a staple in many people’s diets and for good reason.
This whole grain is tasty, filled with nutrients and fiber, and isn’t too shabby in its protein content.
Specifically, oats are rich in manganese, phosphorus, thiamin, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Oatmeal is also a great way to consume more healthy calories while lean bulking.
Barley is a whole grain that’s been part of the human diet for thousands of years.
It’s packed with nutrients like manganese, selenium, and niacin, and is full of fiber.
It’s also a versatile food that can be turned into a salad, added to soups, served as a side dish, or eaten for breakfast as a porridge.
Technically, quinoa is a seed, but it’s considered a heart-healthy whole grain like oats and barley.
If you can’t handle the gluten in barley, quinoa is a great low-calorie replacement filled with both protein and fiber so you’ll feel more full on fewer calories.
Quinoa is one of the most nutrient-dense grains, containing hefty amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese.
It makes a great substitute for oatmeal in the morning. You can sprinkle in some cinnamon, almonds, and fresh berries for a hearty breakfast.
It’s also great on salads.
You probably already know the benefits of a high-protein diet.
Some high-protein foods can have other unique benefits as well, though.
A 3 ounce serving of salmon has over 20 grams of protein, along with a large dose of omega-3 fats.
It’s also loaded with potassium, selenium, and B vitamins.
Other good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, and anchovies.
For such tiny fish, sardines pack a whole host of nutritional benefits.
With an ounce of sardines you’ll get 7 grams of protein for a mere 59 calories. Plus, you’ll also enjoy a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
One way to eat sardines is to combine smoked sardines with cottage cheese, greek yogurt, and the juice of one lemon. This is equivalent to a smoked fish dip without having the added calories of mayo.
Cinnamon is great for adding flavor to otherwise “boring” foods like oatmeal.
Cinnamon is great for adding to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, and even chili. It provides the perfect amount of flavor and just enough of a healthy kick.
Green tea is a beverage made with the leaves of a plant called Camellia sinensis. It’s been brewed for millenia for its taste and its health benefits.
Not only is green tea loaded with antioxidants that fight free radicals, but it can actually help you lose fat.
One of the more interesting plant compounds found in green tea is a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
EGCG blunts the effects of catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT), an enzyme in your body which breaks down catecholamines.
Catecholamines increase your metabolic rate, which helps you burn more calories. By inhibiting COMT, EGCG allows catecholamine levels to remain higher, helping you burn more fat and calories.
That’s why I included EGCG in my fat burner, Phoenix.
Green tea also contains theanine, an amino acid which can reduce stress.
So, if you’re thirsty and water sounds boring, you can’t go wrong with green tea.
If you made it this far, you’re probably overwhelmed with the amount of superfoods to choose from. And the reality is there are many other healthy foods with proven benefits, but including them all would cause this article to get impossibly long.
While no one food contains every nutrient you need, or can prevent disease on its own, there are tons of healthy options to pick from.
What’s more, you can also see that many everyday staples are in fact superfoods, even though they don’t have fancy names, a big price tag, or require you to buy an expensive supplement to enjoy their benefits.
When it comes to eating healthy, you have a lot of good choices. You don’t need to go out and buy every food mentioned in this article.
Instead, you can mix and match items and use a different combination each week. Variety is the spice of life. It will keep your diet interesting, you’ll avoid any potential deficiencies by eating the same exact foods everyday, and you’ll reap the benefits of various foods.
What’s your take on eating filling foods for weight loss? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!
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