Superfoods are commonly described as nutritional powerhouses because they benefit the body in numerous ways. This can include high levels of vitamins and minerals, fiber, proteins, high antioxidant content, anti-cancer properties, and ability to lower risk of chronic diseases. Although there are no defined parameters for what makes a food “super” or not, here are some of the most studied and accessible superfoods you can find in the market and grow yourself.
Superfoods can be semi-processed foods such as yogurt and cheese, or plant products such as fruits, vegetables, seeds and spices, and plant-based oils. Some scoring systems like the ANDI (aggregate nutrient density index) are used to define and rank foods with highest nutrients-per-calorie density. Watercress consistently ranks at the top of these lists due to it’s very low calorie content, so keep in mind low calorie foods may be ranked higher in these systems. Many of these ranking systems do not take into account the potent phytochemicals in fruits in vegetables, which are shown to be increasingly beneficial for long term health.
Notable Mentions: Stock up at the market
Salmon and sardines: These fish are high in omega-3s. Sardines contain almost no mercury, (unlike some larger fish), and both are loaded with vitamins and minerals good for healthy hair, skin, nails, and bones.
Eggs: Eggs are a great source of protein, essential minerals and vitamins including vitamin B12 and folate.
Berries: Berries such as cranberries, acai berries, and goji berries are high in antioxidants, vitamins B, vitamin E and vitamin C, amino acids, and dietary fiber. Blueberries are extremely high in antioxidants like polyphenol and anthocyanin, which are beneficial to brain function and protects against neurodegenerative decline.
Sweet Potatoes: Good source of vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and are on the low glycemic index.
Nuts and seeds: Contain healthy oils, fiber, minerals, good source of protein. Nuts are typically rich in vitamin B, magnesium and antioxidants such as vitamin E. This includes the well known nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans and so on, but also seeds such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. Flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are great plant-based source of omega-3s.
Green tea: Very high in antioxidants like catechins which help prevent cell damage and reduce the formation of free radicals. Free radicals have been shown to be hazardous to the body, especially your cells and DNA, which may play a role in cancer and other health conditions.
Beans and Lentils: Most legumes are low in fat and calories, high in complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, and low on the glycemic scale. This means you won’t get the hunger inducing blood sugar spike that comes from other sugars high on the glycemic index. Legumes are a great source of protein and can be combined with grains for a complete protein.
Plant Powered: Grow Your Own
Here are some easy to grow superfoods for you to try:
Brassicas: This includes Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, arugula, kale, turnips, and bok choy. These veggies are high in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, glucosinolate, flavonoids, and polyphenols. Many of these compounds contribute to the pungent and bitter flavors you encounter in broccoli, cabbage and turnips, but also have many beneficial properties including, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, hypoglycemic, and lipid lowering effects.
Dark leafy greens: Dark leafy greens like chard, spinach, dandelion greens, and beet greens are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, folate, and niacin.
Alliums: This includes onions, leeks, garlic, chives, and shallots. These allium family members are high biotin, manganese, copper, phosphorous, potassium, folate, sulphorane, and quercitin.
Winter squashes: Winter squashes of all varieties are excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. They are also a very good source of thiamin, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, copper, and manganese, and a good source of iron and fiber.
Supercharge your meals!
The key to a complete and healthy diet is consuming a variety of superfoods, daily. Aim to fit at least one or two superfoods on your plate each meal and try to incorporate them as snacks too. Enjoy seasonal superfoods like leafy greens, heading brassicas like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, and winter squashes during cool weather months. During warmer months, look out for fresh berries, and hearty leafy greens like chard, collards, and kale. Smoothies are a great way to get your daily dose of superfoods. Even something as simple as tossing in some chia seeds and kale into your next blended beverage can add tons of nutrients and keep your satiated for longer.