Superfoods: Your Diet's New Hero
There’s a “new” one every month, or so it seems, and they range from the everyday (like blueberries, spinach, and salmon) to the exotic (acai, moringa, and pitaya). They come in every hue of the rainbow — though they are made by nature, their vibrant appearances often bear an uncanny resemblance to Pantone’s “it” colors.
These are superfoods, and they have a super-size reputation for being better than your average foods. But what are superfoods? Are they worthy of the hype, or can you save your money and fill your cart with plain-old, regular food while still maintaining a super healthy diet?
What Are Superfoods?
Would you believe that the first superfood was the fruit we most commonly consume in the US?
That’s right: “’Superfood’ is a term that was first used as a marketing strategy to promote bananas,” says Stephanie Searor, MS, RD, LDN, the owner of Love Yourself Nutrition & Wellness.
What turmeric and quinoa are to our modern times, the humble banana was to the early 20th century. These days, the term has caught on, as a type of shorthand to denote a food believed (or proven) to have specific health benefits.
“A superfood refers to a nutritionally dense food considered to be quite beneficial towards an individual’s health,” says Vanessa Rissetto, RD, who runs a private nutrition practice in New York City.
The term is not regulated by the FDA or USDA and there’s no specific metric for the level of superiority a superfood possesses, so “it’s a little bit of marketing hype,” she adds. “These foods are good for you — eat them — but there’s nothing magical.”
Researchers advise that there is “no such thing as a miracle food” in terms of curing diseases like metabolic syndrome. (That especially applies to foods you hear about on daytime television — those segments are usually based on a single, questionable study.)
But the foods labeled “superfoods” often do provide nutrients that have been shown to support your health.
According to Searor, foods that are considered superfoods include:
- pea protein
- other “ancient grains”
Here are 18 superfoods to add to your grocery list this week. Remember, you’ll find what seems to be endless lists of superfoods, and variety is important. The greater the variety — especially when it comes to colors of fruits and veggies — the greater the benefits to your health.
Let’s run down some of the benefits of superfoods.
Benefits of Superfoods
While the benefits of superfoods vary (and some are downright overblown), here are a few of the most common and the foods associated with them:
1. Provide antioxidants
A food’s antioxidant level is one of the most common reasons it is classified as a superfood. Plants — including fruits and vegetables — are packed with antioxidants, which delay and/or prevent some types of cell damage. Packing your diet with plants (from apples to zucchini, kale to turmeric) boosts your antioxidant intake, protects against free radicals, and can help reduce overall inflammation.
2. Support gut health
Fermented foods — including kimchi, yogurt with active cultures, and kombucha — are a source of “live” probiotics that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.
3. Promote brain and heart health
Omega-3 fatty acids are promoted for their potential heart and brain health benefits. They’re found in fatty, cold water-dwelling fish like mackerel and salmon, as well as chia seeds and flax seeds.
4. Support immune health
Mushrooms — from wild ones like shiitake and maitake to everyday white buttons and portobellos — may help support a healthy immune system. Other foods thought to boost your immune system include dark chocolate, green tea, garlic and ginger.
Superfoods For Weight Loss
If you were to compare a list of “superfoods” and a list of the best foods for weight loss, you’d notice a lot of overlap. That’s why you don’t need to break the bank to look for obscure new superfoods to reap their benefits.
“Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and proteins that all offer health benefits could be perceived as being ‘superfoods,'” says Searor.
Bonus: These are part of a “whole foods” lifestyle, which Searor considers to be “super” all on its own.
Here are a few common “superfoods” to work into your meals, smoothies, and snacks.
“These all contain lots of vitamin C, which is great for healing and also keeping you healthy,” says Searor. “They also contain fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol.” Berries make a perfect snack for curbing your sweet tooth and happen to be among the lowest in calories and sugar when compared to other fruits!
2. Chia seeds
“What makes these tiny seeds one of the most popular superfoods is how much nutritional value they pack,” says Rissetto. They’re packed with filling fiber, as well as protein and omega-3s. Stir chia seeds into oatmeal or whip up a thick, creamy chia pudding.
3. Dark green vegetables
From broccoli and beet greens to turnip greens and seaweed, green vegetables get the green light from Searor, who praises their high levels of fiber, folate, and carotenoids (as well as several other healthy nutrients). Use them to bulk up your meals for very few calories.
“Studies show it can reduce inflammation and pain relief (particularly for those suffering from arthritis),” says Rissetto. Sprinkle this bright yellow spice on everything from eggs to cooked grains.
5. Green Tea
OK, so green tea is technically a beverage, but it definitely qualifies as a superfood.
“Green tea contains a large amount of antioxidants, which can be beneficial for promoting good health and fighting disease,” says Searor.
She adds that it contains less caffeine than coffee, “but can help with focus and energy. Additionally, it contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which also aids with brain function.”