Best Superfoods You Should Be Eating

What are superfoods?

Superfoods are a powerhouse of good nutrition but experts warn, there is no such thing as a miracle food or superfood, rather, what matters most is your total diet. Include our nutrient-rich list of superfoods on your daily menu to improve your overall dietary pattern and boost health.

The term superfood was introduced in the 1990s to suggest a classification of foods with health benefits.

There is no legal or scientific definition for superfoods but in general these are nutrient rich foods which have a positive effect on health.

“Superfoods are any wholesome food that inherently has components that can improve health” describes Joy Bauer, health and nutrition expert for the NBC Today Show and author of “Joy Bauer’s Superfoods.”

They are typically high in healthy components such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals and low in less healthy ingredients, such as salt, sugar and saturated fat.

Superfood implies that if you eat it, there will be a beneficial effect, but experts stress that more important than individual superfoods is your overall diet.

“A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, plant foods, seafood, healthy fats, whole grains and limited in added sugars, salts, saturated fats and overly processed foods is a healthy dietary pattern, which is far more important than any single superfood,” says Joe Schwarcz, Director of Magill University’s Office for Science and Society.

No single food, not even a superfood, can provide all the nutrition, health benefits and energy needed for good health.

“It is possible to have a healthy diet without including any of the claimed superfoods, and an unhealthy diet that includes a superfood,” says Schwarcz, who writes a weekly column for the Montreal Gazette entitled “The Right Chemistry” and is also author of “Quack Quack: The Threat of Pseudoscience.”

You are what you eat.

To promote good health, you need to eat right. Science has provided us with the basis for good nutrition and healthy diets.

“Superfoods are among many foods that promote health and wellness when part of a healthy dietary pattern like the plant-forward Mediterranean diet that has proven health benefits,” says Bauer.

One of the most significant advantages of many superfoods is their antioxidant content.

“Antioxidants in foods help neutralize the effects of free radicals which are a byproduct of life every time you inhale oxygen,” explains Schwarcz. Antioxidants have the power to remove free radicals before they become harmful.

Bauer recommends enjoying lots of produce, rich in antioxidants, and go for the rainbow. “The vibrant colors indicate the nutrient composition that offers health benefits and the more variety, the better.”

Schwarz recommends getting your nutrients through food rather than the overhyped, often expensive green powders, juices and supplements.

Best superfoods

Check out our superfoods list. These foods are super healthy and can power-pack your diet and enhance health. Eat them often and freely while keeping sweet treats, overly processed foods and nutrient-poor foods at a minimum.

Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries may be tiny fruit, but they’re packed with benefits.

These tasty nuggets of good nutrition are naturally sweet and their rich colors are proof that they are high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Berries are “ranked No. 1 compared to 40 other fruits for antioxidant activity,” says Bauer. Studies examining the bioactive compounds in berries have found beneficial effects for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems. They can also reduce risk of diabetes, several types of cancers and have a positive effect on metabolic disorders and brain health.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of blueberries:

— Calories: 84.

— Protein: 1.1 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 21.4 grams.

— Fat: 0.5 grams.

— Fiber: 3.6 grams.

— Vitamin C: 14.4 milligrams.

Fish

Fish is an excellent source of protein, cardio-protective omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, potassium and selenium. Fish highest in omega-3s are salmon, tuna steaks, mackerel, herring, trout, anchovies and sardines.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 8 ounces of fish weekly for heart health. Pregnant and lactating women should eat 8 to 12 ounces of low mercury fish. Other benefits of fish include bone health, weight control and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, colon and rectal cancers.

Nutrition information for 3 ounces cooked salmon:

— Calories: 175.

— Protein: 23.6 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 0 grams.

— Fat: 9 grams.

— Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA): Approximately 1,000 milligrams.

— Vitamin B12: 4.9 micrograms.

— Niacin (B3): 8.6 milligrams.

Dark leafy greens

Dark leafy greens are a nutrient powerhouse of vitamins A and C, folate, zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, fiber and phytochemicals.

“Dark leafy greens are like nature’s multivitamin. And the darker, the more nutrients they contain,” notes Bauer.

Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and mustard greens are excellent options. Studies show these superfoods may inhibit certain types of cancers and reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Institute of Cancer Research has identified kale, for example, as a food may help reduce the risk of cancer. Dark leafy greens may also slow cognitive decline, according to another study.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of kale:

— Calories: 33.

— Protein: 2.9 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 6.7 grams.

— Fat: 0.6 grams.

— Fiber: 1.3 grams.

— Vitamin A: 885 micrograms.

— Vitamin K: 547 micrograms.

— Vitamin C: 80.4 milligrams.

Nuts and seeds

“Nuts and seeds are nutrient-rich, a good source of plant protein, containing healthy fats and fiber, making them one of nature’s perfect foods,” says Bauer.

They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and polyphenol compounds, which have been found to have to have an antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Walnuts, chia and flaxseeds contain the plant version of omega-3s.

Superfood nuts and seeds include walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios. Superseeds include sunflower, chia, flax, pumpkin and hemp seeds.

Enjoying a handful of nuts and seeds daily is associated with a wide range of positive health outcomes, including reduced risk for cardiovascular disease or diabetes and improved weight control.

Nutrition information for 1 ounce of chia seeds:

— Calories: 138.

— Protein: 4.7 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 12.3 grams.

— Fat: 8.7 grams.

— Fiber: 9.8 grams.

— Calcium: 177 milligrams.

— Phosphorus: 265 milligrams.

— Omega-3 fatty acids: 4,915 milligrams.

Nutrition information for 1 ounce of walnuts:

— Calories: 185.

— Protein: 4.3 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 3.9 grams.

— Fat: 18.5 grams.

— Fiber: 1.9 grams.

— Omega-3 fatty acids: 2,570 milligrams.

— Omega-6 fatty acids: 10,660 milligrams.

Olive oil

Olive oil is an integral part of the healthy Mediterranean diet and a good source of vitamin E, healthy fats and polyphenols. Consuming olive oil instead of saturated fats can help lower LDL cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce risk of some cancers and more. The health benefits are due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nutrition information for 1 tablespoon olive oil:

— Calories: 119.

— Fat: 13.5 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 1.9 grams.

— Monounsaturated Fat: 9.9 grams.

— Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.4 grams.

— Vitamin E: 1.9 milligrams.

— Phenols and antioxidants: Varies by type.

Avocados and avocado oil

Avocado, technically a fruit, is super nutritious containing vitamins C, E, K, and B vitamins, potassium, lutein, beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids.

Rich in healthy monounsaturated fats that reduce inflammation in the body and magnesium, which is helpful in managing blood pressure and blood sugar.

Health benefits include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and certain cancers.

“Avocado oil is as heart healthy as olive oil, and it has a higher smoke point,” says Bauer.

Nutrition information for half an avocado:

— Calories: 120.

— Protein: 1.5 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 6.8 grams.

— Fiber: 5 grams.

— Sugars: 0.2 grams.

— Fat: 10.8 grams.

— Saturated fat: 1.5 grams.

— Monounsaturated fat: 7.3 grams.

— Vitamin K: 14 micrograms.

— Folate: 60 micrograms.

— Vitamin C: 6 milligrams.

— Potassium: 345 milligrams.

Legumes: beans, peas and lentils

From kidney, black and pinto beans to chickpeas, peanuts and soybeans, legumes are an excellent source of plant protein, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and folate. And they are budget friendly.

Diets rich in legumes have multiple health benefits and can impart cardiovascular, metabolic and colon protective effects. They can also help with weight control, provide anti-inflammatory benefits and may help build immunity, according to some studies.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of cooked black beans:

— Calories: 227.

— Protein: 15.2 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 40.8 grams.

— Fat: 0.9 grams.

— Fiber: 15 grams.

— Folate: 256 micrograms.

— Iron: 3.6 milligrams.

— Magnesium: 120 milligrams.

— Potassium: 611 milligrams.

Fermented dairy

Greek yogurt and kefir are examples of fermented dairy, which are a good source of calcium, protein, potassium, B vitamins and often vitamin D — all good for bone health. In addition, they contain probiotics or good bacteria that promote gut health.

Fermented foods offer health numerous benefits, including positive effects on cardiovascular diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, immune system, inflammation and more.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt:

— Calories: 220.

— Protein: 10.7 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 7.1 grams.

— Fat: 16 grams.

— Calcium: 300 milligrams.

— Vitamin B12: 1.4 micrograms.

— Probiotics: Varies by brand.

Eggs

Eggs contain among the highest-quality protein of all foods, along with many nutrients including B vitamins, iron, vitamin A, selenium, phosphorus, antioxidants and choline.

Scientific evidence has shown that eggs are good for you and do not increase cardiovascular risk, despite their cholesterol content. We now know that it is the saturated fat in diets that increases blood cholesterol, not dietary cholesterol as found in eggs. The antioxidants, zeanthin and lutein, are essential for eye health, while choline is critical for brain development.

Nutrition information for 1 large egg:

— Calories: 72.

— Protein: 6.3 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 0.6 grams.

— Fat: 4.8 grams.

— Cholesterol: 186 milligrams.

— Vitamin A: 75 micrograms.

— Vitamin D: 1 microgram.

— Vitamin B12: 0.6 micrograms.

Whole grains

Whole grains that include the whole kernel are a good source of fiber, both the insoluble kind that helps the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract and soluble fiber that helps lower blood cholesterol levels and keeps blood sugar levels under control. They also contain a wealth of B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Whole grains can protect against heart disease and diabetes.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of cooked quinoa:

— Calories: 222.

— Protein: 8.1 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 39.4 grams.

— Fat: 3.6 grams.

— Fiber: 5.2 grams.

— Magnesium: 118 milligrams.

— Phosphorus: 281 milligrams.

Mushrooms

From the common button mushroom to shitake, oyster and Portobello, mushrooms contain vitamins A and B6, selenium and fiber, all of which play a role in brain health, reduce inflammation in the body and prevent certain types of cancer.

Mushrooms have been on the list of superfoods long before the term was coined. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to cleanse the body and prolong longevity. Lion’s mane and cordyceps mushrooms, for example, are medicinal mushrooms used for their purported cognitive and immune supporting benefits. Mushrooms are heralded for health benefits associated with the antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of raw mushrooms:

— Calories: 15.

— Protein: 2.2 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 2.3 grams.

— Fat: 0.2 grams.

— Fiber: 0.7 grams.

— Vitamin D: Varies (can be a good source when exposed to sunlight).

— Riboflavin (B2): 0.3 milligrams.

— Niacin (B3): 3.6 milligrams.

Cruciferous vegetables

This category of superfoods is named after the appearance of cross-like edges found on broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and bok choy. These vegetables are rich in bioactive compounds called glucosinolates, along with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Research shows that a healthy diet of cruciferous vegetables can lower risk of cancer, heart disease, digestive conditions and obesity.

Nutrition information for 1 cup of raw broccoli:

— Calories: 31.

— Protein: 2.5 grams.

— Carbohydrates: 6 grams.

— Fiber: 2.4 grams.

— Fat: 0.3 grams.

— Vitamin C: 81.2 milligrams.

— Vitamin A: 567 international units (IU).

— Vitamin K: 92 micrograms.

— Folate: 51 micrograms.

— Calcium: 42 milligrams

— Iron: 0.6 milligrams.

Bottom line

A healthy diet is achieved by eating a wide variety of foods, including our list of superfoods, every day for overall health and well-being. Do your part to prevent disease and promote good health with a healthy diet, regular physical activity, stress reduction and good sleep.

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Best Superfoods You Should Be Eating originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/30/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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