When the term “superfood” comes up, what do you think of? Blueberries? Avocado? Kale? Over time, various foods have gained this label and become popular choices for packing in essential nutrients. But if you’re not entirely sure what qualifies as a superfood, there’s a good reason for that. There isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition or set of criteria for categorizing something as a superfood.
So, what exactly are superfoods? While there’s no concrete definition, health experts generally agree that a food can earn the superfood title if it meets the following criteria:
- Provides a significant health benefit, such as reducing the risk of cancer or heart disease or enhancing the immune system.
- Contains multiple important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.
- Offers benefits that go beyond basic nutrition, making it a well-rounded choice.
In a different light, superfoods are foods that can help fill the nutrient gaps in our diets, promoting overall health and longevity. Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, fiber, vitamin D, potassium, and phytochemicals are some of the nutrients on this list.
Here are ten foods that fit the superfood criteria:
1. Salmon: Did you know that consuming salmon, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can potentially add two years to your life? Omega-3s not only benefit heart health but also support brain function. Recent studies even suggest a 20% lower risk of Alzheimer’s among regular seafood eaters. Additionally, a 3-ounce serving of salmon packs 21 grams of protein and 444 IU of vitamin D.
2. Avocado: This creamy green fruit, a favorite topping for toast and chips, is nutrient-dense. It’s surprisingly high in fiber, with 5 grams in each avocado half, and rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocados also provide 345 milligrams of potassium and eye-healthy lutein.
3. Flax and Chia Seeds: Don’t underestimate these small powerhouses. Both are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that fights inflammation. Flaxseeds also contain lignans, offering anti-cancer and antioxidant benefits. Chia seeds are high in fiber, gluten-free, and a good protein source, providing long-lasting energy and aiding in hydration.
4. Sweet Potatoes: One medium sweet potato contains only 103 calories but offers 4 grams of fiber and four times the recommended daily intake of beta-carotene. They’re also a source of vitamin C and blood sugar-steadying manganese. Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile, fitting into various cooking methods and even replacing oil or butter in recipes.
5. Blueberries: The deep blue color of blueberries comes from anthocyanins, plant pigments linked to cognitive health and reduced heart disease risk. Each one-cup serving supplies 4 grams of fiber, along with vitamins C and K. Recent research also suggests their potential to support gut health.
6. Green Tea: This ancient beverage, rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant, offers heart protection and potential weight loss benefits. Some studies indicate that green tea can decrease fat absorption, increase calorie burn, and inhibit fat cell formation. Consuming 400 milligrams of flavonoids daily may help with weight management, and a cup of green tea provides around 150 milligrams of flavonoids.
7. Chickpeas: Versatile chickpeas can be used in various dishes, offering protein, fiber, potassium, and magnesium. They stand out as a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids. Chickpeas also provide soluble fiber, known as raffinose, which supports regularity and helps stabilize blood sugar, making them suitable for those with pre-diabetes or diabetes.
8. Dark, Leafy Greens: Beyond kale, leafy greens like spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and watercress are nutrient powerhouses. Iron-rich spinach is especially beneficial for women, while arugula offers iron, folate, and vitamin A. Watercress contains isothiocyanates, potentially aiding in cancer prevention. Kale, high in beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin K, benefits eye and bone health. Mustard greens add a flavorful kick to dishes.
9. Kimchi: Though not a single ingredient, kimchi earns its place on this list due to its numerous health benefits. It’s a rich source of gut-friendly probiotics, brain-boosting choline, and immune-supporting properties. Made from cabbage, scallions, and sometimes radish, kimchi’s fermentation process enhances its flavor and nutritional profile.
10. Yogurt: Yogurt is a multitasking ingredient packed with bone-building calcium, vitamin D, muscle-supporting protein, and potassium. It also contains probiotics that promote digestive health. Regular yogurt provides 6 grams of protein per ¾ cup serving, while Greek yogurt offers even more at 13 to 15 grams per serving. Choose the type that suits your taste and texture preferences, and be sure to look for “live and active cultures” on the label.
Incorporating these superfoods into your diet can help you maintain a well-rounded and nutritious eating plan.