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The word superfood may look impressive and even stop you in your tracks when grocery shopping — but in reality, in most cases, it’s just marketing jargon. The term may have originated in the early 20th century around the promotion of bananas and today is loosely associated with nutrient-dense foods that contain high antioxidant properties or are rich in fiber or fatty acids. Basically, some foods outperform others in terms of the amount of vitamins, minerals and overall nutrients they provide. While there are many foods that can fit this profile, we compiled a list of our 10 favorite foods that legitimately deserve the label “superfood” because of the health benefits they contain.
The easiest way to begin to incorporate these foods into your daily rotation is by creating a healthy grocery list. A balanced diet is the best practice for your overall health, but some foods can help with healthy skin or help improve gut health — including some of the foods listed here.
Fermented foods are all around us, from yogurt and pickles to sauerkraut and kimchi. They are gaining increased attention for their ability to boost good gut bacteria, which has been linked in studies to help combat depression and to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammation.
According to Registered Dietitian Stefani Sassos, Deputy Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab, “Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years. Some foods can be fermented naturally where microorganisms are already naturally present in the food or environment. Other foods can be fermented by adding starter cultures to initiate the fermentation process. Fermenting foods can improve the taste and texture as well as the digestibility, and it can increase concentrations of certain vitamins and compounds in the foods."
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, not all fermented foods contain live cultures including soy sauces, most beer and wine, bread and chocolate. Look for fermented foods with live and active cultures with labels that include specific strains such as those found on yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, sauerkraut and other non-heated fermented veggies, kombucha and tempeh among others.
The cruciferous vegetable family includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, arugula and more. Cruciferous vegetables are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, which may be an asset in the fight against cancer. They are a rich source of folate and vitamins A, C and K, and they're full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. While all cruciferous vegetables contain the antioxidant sulforaphane, broccoli and broccoli sprouts are most often associated with this phytochemical because they may contain the highest amounts. Sulforaphane has been shown in studies to possess anti-cancer properties that may slow tumor growth in multiple types of cancers. A recent small study showed that mustard seed may boost the bioavailability of sulforaphane four times more than if eaten alone — a superfriend for your superfood!
✔️ Try them: When it comes to cooking cruciferous veggies, Sassos recommends “steaming, sautéing, grilling and stir-frying rather than boiling or deep frying, as the latter can cut certain nutritional content in half.” Grill your broccoli, and use arugula as your salad base or to make a pesto instead of using basil.
Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger and turmeric are both in the Zingiberaceae family and both are loaded with anti-inflammatory benefits, so much so that we couldn’t choose a favorite — so we included both! They are often found together as ingredients in herbal teas and in supplements, and recent studies have shown that they may, in fact, work better together as an anti-inflammatory. Ginger and turmeric are both among the spices The Arthritis Foundation recommends as part of an anti-inflammatory diet for those with arthritis.
“Believe it or not, 'ginger root' isn’t really a root," says Sassos. "It’s in the same family as turmeric, and both are grown from something called the rhizome, which is an underground stem that sends out roots and is the edible part. Many other herbs and spices have little scientific evidence to back up their claims, but ginger has been studied pretty extensively and has shown benefits from alleviating nausea to fighting inflammation."
Ginger contains the polyphenols gingerol and shogaols, which provide the pungent flavor as well as multiple health benefits. These polyphenols can help to improve digestion by stimulating saliva, which can be beneficial for people suffering from dry mouth related to diabetes and other health-related issues. Studies also show that ginger can improve gut motility, which can reduce nausea and vomiting and may be helpful with side effects related to chemotherapy and pregnancy. According to Sassos, "Ginger can be an effective alternative to medicine for nausea and vomiting."
Turmeric contains the polyphenol curcumin, which contributes multiple anti-inflammatory benefits. In fact, recent studies show that curcumin may have a similar effect as NSAIDS (i.e., aspirin and ibuprofen), to treat pain and aches from knee osteoarthritis. Turmeric is often paired with black pepper, which helps to boost its superpower benefits, and Sassos notes that "black pepper actually helps you absorb turmeric — it can increase turmeric’s bioavailability by up to 2,000% — so you can reap the benefits of turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties."
✔️ Try them: Ginger is versatile and delicious in both sweet and savory recipes. If you are trying to cut down on caffeine, try ginger tea, it may also help with nausea. Add fresh or dried ginger to stir-fries, marinades and smoothies. If you haven't tried a turmeric latte, made with turmeric and your choice of steamed milk and other spices, now is the time to give it a shot. Other ways to incorporate turmeric include adding it to any stir-fry or roasted veggies and even mixing it into scrambled eggs.
Berries have long been associated with skin health since they're a rich source of antioxidants. They are packed with polyphenols that contain anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties. They also contain the flavonoid anthocyanin, a plant compound responsible for berries' vibrant colors. Studies have shown that anthocyanins found in berries may reduce the risk of heart attack in women as well as help protect against several other diseases including cancer and diabetes.
“All berries are nutritious, but raspberries in particular have a higher fiber count than any of their berry counterparts,” according to Sassos. “They are also surprisingly low in sugar given their sweet taste — one cup contains only five grams of sugar.” Raspberries are also one of the richest sources of ellagic acid, a polyphenol that may contain many health benefits, including having neuroprotective properties.
✔️ Try them: Sassos recommends using berries in smoothies or on plain Greek-style strained yogurt or cottage cheese for a well-balanced snack. She says she also loves to "portion out two tablespoons of dark chocolate chips and fill each raspberry with a chip for a tasty treat."
Beans are one of the richest sources of fiber, a nutrient that many Americans are lacking in their diet. High-fiber diets are associated with better digestion related to improved gut bacteria, better metabolic health due to improved insulin sensitivity and a decreased risk of colorectal cancer. The fiber found in beans, soluble fiber, also works to lower LDL (bad cholesterol); it does this by binding to available cholesterol in the small intestines and carrying it out of the body through elimination rather than being absorbed into the bloodstream. Beans are also versatile — they can be used in sweet and savory dishes — and they're affordable and sustainable.
Sassos recommends using legumes to create hearty meals. “Legumes like lentils are high in fiber and protein to help make any meal feel substantial, even on a budget," she says. "Lentils, specifically, have about 120 calories per half cup and 8 grams of fiber. They're low in sodium and saturated fat, making them a heart-healthy choice.”
✔️ Try it: There are so many ways to incorporate legumes into everyday meals, like vegan pasta bolognese. “Toss them in chopped salads, soups or grain bowls, and add them to meat mixtures for chilis and stews to add more bulk and nutrients," says Sassos. "You can even grind lentils in a food processor to transform them into a veggie burger or vegan meatballs.”
Hemp is one of the few sources of complete plant-based protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body and that you must therefore get from food. These nutrient-dense seeds do not naturally contain CBD or THC and make a great addition to a healthy diet. The seeds are rich in fiber, vitamin E and minerals including potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese and copper. Hemp seeds also contain omega-3 and gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid that can help to decrease inflammation. According to Sassos, three tablespoons of hemp seeds provide nearly 10 grams of protein, which is equivalent to a traditional scoop of collagen or plant-based protein powder. "It has a nice nutty flavor and adds great texture too,” she notes.
✔️ Try them: These tiny but mighty little seeds are a great way to add protein to meals and snacks on the go. Sassos says, “These seeds are nutritional powerhouses and can add a sneaky and easy protein source to smoothies, yogurt parfaits, oatmeal bowls, energy bites and more.”
Good news for coffee drinkers: According to recent studies on coffee consumption, drinking between 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee a day is associated with a reduced risk of death compared to people that didn’t drink coffee. Coffee contains powerful antioxidants, known as polyphenols, that are linked to health benefits. Coffee consumption has been associated with a lowered risk of Parkinson’s disease, type II diabetes and certain types of cancers among others. In addition, it may enhance exercise performance if consumed 60 minutes before working out.
According to Sassos, “For many, coffee may be the single greatest contributor of antioxidants to their diet. Coffee is one of the richest dietary sources of chlorogenic acids, which can help your eyes." Researchers at Cornell University have previously found that these nutrients can help prevent vision loss, blindness and glaucoma, as chlorogenic acid stems retinal damage as you age.
Although coffee may contain many benefits, it isn't for everyone: “If you suffer from acid reflux, insomnia or caffeine sensitivity, then it's best to limit or avoid it altogether,” says Sassos.
✔️ Try it: There are so many ways to enjoy coffee that it can feel overwhelming to choose a favorite from drip to lattes to macchiatos. The good news is that with so many choices, there is likely a way for everyone to reap the coffee benefits. Try one of our coffee recipes that you can make at home.
Pomegranate has a long and storied history in multiple cultures and religions as a symbol of vitality, luck, fertility and good health. The nutrients lie in the seeds of the pomegranate, also known as arils, and the juice. Pomegranate seeds are a good source of fiber, containing four grams per serving. They are rich in potassium and vitamin C and packed with antioxidants.
This bright and festive fruit may help to lower blood pressure, according to studies using pomegranate juice, and may also help to lower cholesterol, although more research is needed. Recent studies, looking at pomegranate extract, have indicated that it may be useful in alleviating symptoms such as inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients. “Pomegranate arils are packed with polyphenol antioxidants that can help combat free-radical damage and fight inflammation," says Sassos. "They contain anthocyanin, which has a variety of potential benefits including lowering blood pressure and slowing cancer growth.”
✔️ Try it: Jewel-like pomegranate arils can brighten up any dish they are added to. "Sprinkle them on yogurt parfaits and salads for a pop of color and flavor, or add them to a hummus or cheese board for a refreshing twist," says Sassos.
"Cocoa is a rich source of flavanols that may play a role in protecting the heart and combating inflammation," says Sassos. But she notes that eating the right kind of chocolate is key to reaping all the benefits. Darker chocolate contains more flavanols than other types of chocolate. Studies show that flavanols are associated with a lowered risk of heart disease and that they can improve the cell function inside all blood and lymph vessels including the heart. Studies have also indicated that dark chocolate may contain mood-boosting benefits due to its ability to improve gut bacteria, although most benefit was seen with consumption of chocolate that was 85% dark chocolate.
Chocolate can contain fat, including saturated fat, so while it does have many benefits from the antioxidants, if you eat too much of it, the saturated fat can turn a healthy snack into an unhealthy one. Therefore, the best way to incorporate it into your diet is by not overdoing it. "Dark chocolate with a higher cocoa percentage contains higher amounts of antioxidants, but the taste can be bitter. Aim for about dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher," recommends Sassos. Cocoa is often treated or overly processed, which can result in a substantial loss of flavonols, so look for raw and natural options, adds Sassos.
Artichokes have been enjoying a moment in the social media spotlight — and with good reason. They are delicious, filling and packed with fiber, protein and phytochemicals that contain many health benefits. Studies show that artichoke leaf extract may lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and may improve liver function in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Artichokes also contain protein and gut-health-boosting prebiotic inulin. Additionally, they offer other nutrients such as vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, says Sassos. Though the artichoke once seemed like a difficult vegetable to prepare, it's now available in multiple easy-to-eat variations that require minimal to no prep time.
✔️ Try it: Delicious hot or cold, roasted artichokes can be served with dipping sauces as a side or added to salads or cheeseboards. “If raw artichokes seem intimidating to cook, try incorporating canned artichokes in water in your recipes,” suggests Sassos.
Superfoods do exist, but they're not quite as flashy or trendy as many social media posts suggest. Our nutrition pros stress that a balanced diet full of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as the ones listed above, is the key to a high-performing healthy lifestyle. While there is no fountain of youth, increasing your overall intake of fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. Studies indicate that diets containing two daily servings of fruit and three daily servings of vegetables may promote longevity. For more ways to achieve better overall health and wellness, check out our healthy habits guide.
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