You have probably heard the term superfood, but what does it mean exactly? In short, a superfood is a whole, unprocessed food that has an especially high nutrient density. In other words, when you eat a superfood, you get more nutrition per calorie as compared to other foods. Superfoods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and offer a burst of wholesome goodness to any meal.
Typically, superfoods are plant-based, but there are a few options, such as eggs and salmon, that fall outside of this category. Currently, there isn’t any standard criteria for what can be considered a superfood, nor is there any approved, universally accepted list of superfoods. These foods are not magic and aren’t a panacea against diseases. Instead, they’re foods that are especially healthy and are great additions to a well-balanced diet.
What’s So Super About Superfoods?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the healthiest foods, a.k.a. “superfoods,” must meet at least three of the following criteria:
- Good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals
- High in phytonutrients and antioxidants
- May help reduce the risk of heart disease
- Easy to find and purchase
As an example, blueberries are packed with nutrients – fiber, vitamin K1, vitamin C, and manganese. They’re also rich in are rich in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds, including anthocyanins, quercetin, and myricetin. Anthocyanins, part of a family of polyphenols called flavonoids, are the main antioxidant in blueberries. As pigments that can appear red, blue, purple, or black, depending on their pH, anthocyanins are responsible for giving the blueberry its bright blue color.
Because they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, superfoods have also been said to provide numerous health benefits. Certain superfoods may be able to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, improve brain function, help you lose weight, balance your hormones, and provide plenty of other health benefits. Researchers are learning more and more about these “superfoods” every day, and more and more options are being added to the list.
However, some registered dietitians and nutritionists are hesitant to make wild health claims about superfoods. Just because these foods are labeled “super” and “healthy” doesn’t mean consumers can eat them in unlimited qualities. People still need to be cautious of the amount superfoods they eat, because it’s still possible to gain weight from consuming too many calories, even if those calories come from healthy foods. Instead, superfoods should always be considered a part of a balanced diet. Additionally, it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of time or money to track down rare or pricy superfoods. A few handfuls of leafy green vegetables or berries from the grocery store provide many of the same benefits as the more expensive and harder to find superfoods.
Superfoods also offer a good entry into healthy eating. Learning about these nutritional powerhouses provides a gateway to better understanding the nutritional value of other foods. Once consumers learn a little bit about these superfoods and begin adding them to their meals, they can expand their knowledge and greatly improve their diets overall.
Superfoods come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a few main varieties:
- Berries, such as acai berries, goji berries, blueberries, and strawberries, are high in fiber and polyphenols. These are the substances that give the berries their bright color, and it’s a beneficial antioxidant.
- Leafy greens. Kale, spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard are leafy greens that are considered superfoods by many. They’re rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K. Leafy greens also contain iron, magnesium, and calcium.
- High in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is good for heart health and cholesterol. Plus, it’s a great source of protein, calcium, and selenium.
- Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. One study even found that dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity than any fruits tested, which included other superfoods, such as acai and blueberries.
- Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, and pistachios, contain healthy fats and are good sources of fiber and protein. Plus, studies have shown that nuts can help improve blood sugar levels and help to lower a person’s risk for cancer.
- There are quite a few spices that are actually hidden superfoods, including turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and oregano. They’re anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and offer various antioxidants.
- Packed with antioxidants, tea ranks high on the list as a superfood. Tea is high in catechins, which are a type of natural phenol and are powerful antioxidants. Green tea, matcha, chamomile tea, and white tea, are some of the top picks of nutritionists.
Superfoods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help make healthy eating a lot easier to tackle. They’re a great introduction to healthy eating for consumers looking to get started on a healthy eating journey.