Superfoods are generally believed to be especially nutritionally dense and therefore particularly good for your health and wellness. They are often plant-based foods, but sometimes fish or dairy.
There’s not one specific quality that qualifies a food for the superfood list. Instead, it is the perfect combination of polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, as well as many health preventative functions that make these foods pretty super!
Here are our top 10 superfoods, what makes them unique, and why you need them in your diet either through a fresh serving or as a supplement.
1. Acai Berries
Acai (ahh-Si-EE) berries originate in the Amazon jungle and are believed to contain the most antioxidants per ounce of any berry. These antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, benefit the immune system, help prevent cancer, and can even aid in weight loss or be an effective supplement as part of a weight-management program. Acai berries are super high in fiber and can be particularly helpful with any digestive issues.
Acai is an excellent natural detox for your liver and other organs. Also, all of these antioxidants can have a positive effect on inflammation and can even reduce skin swelling, giving you a natural glow.
Unfortunately, fresh acai is rare to find outside of Central and South America; however, it’s often readily available in the frozen aisle of your local grocery store. You can find it as a juice or puree. It’s usually also sold in a powder form that is perfect for adding to your favorite smoothies or dusting on top of your cereal or yogurt.
The nutritional profile of blueberries is very similar to that of acai berries. They’re super high in phytochemicals, flavonoids, and cancer-preventative vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and potassium.
Consuming 1 cup of blueberries a week has been shown to lower blood pressure and possibly even increase metabolism. There’s also some research to indicate that blueberries can prevent certain types of cancer.
Depending on the season, it’s possible to get fresh and delicious blueberries at your local grocery store. It’s also possible to find organic frozen blueberries to add to your smoothies, muffins, or other baked goods.
3. Goji Berries
Originating in China, Goji berries (Lycium barbarum) have been a favorite medicinal fruit for centuries. Goji berries contain eight essential amino acids and are rich in other immune-boosting nutrients including antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, zinc, and fiber.
All of these vitamins and minerals are believed to make goji berries particularly great at preventing liver and eye ailments. There’s also research indicating that the powerhouse goji berry can be a preventative superfood to treat those with diabetes, glaucoma, and even cancer.
They’re slightly sweet, slightly tart little berries that are often dried and sold in packages (rather than fresh). Finding a fresh goji berry is rare. Although, it may be easier and more cost effective to get more goji berries into your diet if they keep longer in your pantry than on your counter or in your fridge!
They’re easily added to smoothies, cereal, or baked into sweet dishes. You can even make cacao bonbons.
4. Spirulina and Chlorella
Spirulina and chlorella are derived from the tiny microscopic algae of pond scum and have been in existence for billions of years. Spirulina can grow in almost any part of the world from extreme temperatures to extreme elevations. Chlorella, on the other hand, is mostly harvested in Japan and Taiwan and has been a favorite supplement in Japanese cuisine for centuries.
Spirulina is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. It’s made up of about 55-70% protein—more than beef, chicken, and soybeans. It is also rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, and amino acids.
Chlorella can self-reproduce at an impressive rate, making it a self-sustainable superfood. Chlorella is also rich in protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B, minerals, and antioxidants.
It’s relatively easy to get the benefits from these plant-based superfoods by merely taking a supplement or adding a scoop of VeggieShake powder to your favorite smoothie recipe.
5. Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe, while similar in color and appearance to broccoli, is a member of the turnip family. (Broccoli is more closely related to cabbage.) This designation helps to boost its nutritive value, making it another one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
It’s full of potassium, iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. It’s also an antioxidant-rich source of lutein, which is believed to prevent damage to your retinas that may be caused by free radicals.
Broccoli rabe has also been linked to stronger bones (because of the calcium content), a decreased risk of high blood pressure, reduced inflammation, cancer and Alzheimer’s prevention, as well as protection against birth defects.
Broccoli rabe is delicious sautéed in olive oil and served with pasta or polenta. It can also be steamed or roasted and eaten all on its own.
The dark green color in veggies is typically a visual indicator of health properties. Kale is right up there with broccoli rabe as an extraordinarily dense source of vitamins (it's a vitamin K treasure trove!), minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. It’s also super low calorie and super high in fiber, making it an ally for digestion and weight-management.
Yes, kale went through a somewhat trendy rise and fall as one of the most popular superfoods, and for a good reason. Cooked kale contains more iron per ounce than red meat does! It’s worth including kale in your regular meal plan to offer both variety and a dense pack of nutrients.
There are so many varieties of seasonal kale, so you can rotate this leafy green in and out of your healthy diet for the entire year. You can even add frozen chopped kale to your smoothies or sauces.
Not one to be outdone by the leafy greens, almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut on the planet. One ounce of almonds contains 14% of the daily recommended fiber value. Almonds are also rich in monounsaturated fats, iron, potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium.
There is research to indicate that having a small handful a day (one to six almonds) can lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Almonds are also a health-conscious person’s BFF in that they encourage healthy eating. That is to say, eat almonds, and you are more likely to want to eat other healthy foods, reap the benefits, and feel pretty awesome about life.
Salmon has long been at the top of the superfoods list. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and contains 17 grams of protein per ounce!
Not all salmon is created equal, however. Wild caught is best if you can find it, as farm-raised salmon has been shown to have a higher toxicity level. If you are pregnant or nursing, it’s essential that you limit your fish and shellfish intake to no more than 12 ounces per week, to limit your baby's exposure to mercury.
It can be more cost-effective to find frozen wild-caught salmon in your grocer’s freezer, and it’s super easy to cook in the oven. (You don’t even need to defrost it!) Another super omega-3-rich, heart-healthy fatty fish to celebrate? Sardines!
Cinnamon, while technically a spice, is derived from the bark of the cinnamon trees of Sri Lanka or Indonesia. Possibly the most common household superfood on this list, cinnamon is a natural addition to any diet. You can sprinkle it into your coffee or add it to your smoothie, oatmeal, or cereal.
And here’s why it’s a good idea to include it on the daily if possible. Cinnamon possesses the most antioxidant properties of any spice, including garlic and oregano. Cinnamon is also believed to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Cinnamon has a natural heating element that also has been shown to reduce body fat and increase lean body mass. And it’s a natural anti-inflammatory to boot!
Speaking of naturally decreasing inflammation, another spice that needs to be included in your meal planning is turmeric. Turmeric may be the most beneficial spice that you weren’t already eating every day (or maybe you are)!
The chemical compound, curcumin, one of the main elements of turmeric, is believed to be particularly beneficial in preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and relieving chronic inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.
In fact, a comprehensive study of the spice showed that in countries where regular consumption of turmeric is part of everyday culture (such as in India) there is a significant decrease in the number of people per million who are diagnosed with cancer.
Turmeric is also easily consumed as a supplement, added to curries and other Asian dishes, or even tossed into a smoothie. In a small amount, it can color a smoothie a rich gold and not affect the overall taste too much.
It can be overwhelming to keep track of everything that you’re “supposed” to be eating to maintain a healthy life and prevent chronic disease, but it’s possible to make each of these superfoods and super spices so much a part of your routine that you don’t even have to think about it. A daily smoothie is a quick, easy, and delicious way to incorporate many superfoods and spices. Adding salmon once a week to your menu is also a great way to get the benefits of the nutrition, while taking the thinking out of “What’s for dinner?”
A Word of Caution
If you are thinking of taking any of the above superfoods as a supplement, it’s important that you consult with a health professional to make sure there are no unintended side effects of combining the supplement with any medications you may be taking, or any conditions you may have.