Superfoods, as the name implies, are foods that go above and beyond the nutritional value of everyday food in the amount of vitamins and nutrients they provide. According to nutrition expert Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., RD, superfoods provide the most benefit when incorporated into a heart-healthy diet that’s contain a balance of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products.
She also argues that there is no standard criteria or approved list of super foods, but she does make a recommendation: “As a registered dietician, I’d like to see people eat more of the foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish, fatty fish and all fruits and veggies.”
The Top 20 Best “Superfoods”
- Dried Plums–They’re packed with polyphenols, plant chemicals that have been shown to boost bone density by stimulating bone-building cells. They can be added as a side-serving with a dessert entree, or snacked on.
- Walnuts–Just 14 walnut halves provide more than twice your daily dose of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat that’s been shown to improve memory and coordination. Walnuts are one of the healthiest nuts, and their abundance of omega-3 fat oils and antioxidants back that up.
- Acai Juice–A glass or two of this anthocyanin-rich berry juice can dramatically boost the amount of antioxidants in your blood. A glass of acai juice is a perfect addition to any healthy breakfast.
- Apples–They contain quercetin, an antioxidant that may reduce your risk of lung cancer. Apples are also a great low-calorie source of vitamins and minerals; a medium-sized apple comes in at under 100 calories. Furthermore, increasing apple intake has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and asthma.
- Salomon–You’ll get all the omega-3 fatty acids you need in a day from just three ounces of salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids, which studies suggest may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among a myriad of other diseases. This heart-healthy fish is also packed with protein.
- Eggs–A relatively inexpensive protein source loaded with nutrients, eggs have earned their superfood status. A single large egg is about 70 calories and offers six grams of protein. Eggs are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Cranberries–Whether they’re in a can or fresh, cranberries provide health benefits and disease-fighting powers that other berries can only dream of. These bacteria-busting berries can help fight inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve oral health, help prevent ulcers and yeast infections, and may even inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
- Almonds–Almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut, offering the highest concentration of nutrients per calorie. At 191 calories, a one-ounce serving provides 3.4 grams of fiber along with substantial amounts of potassium, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron.
- Spinach–Antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and vitamins that promote vision and bone health are what make spinach the vegetable of choice when it comes to leafy greens. One cup of spinach packs up to 12 percent of the recommended daily dose of calcium and enough vitamin K to help prevent bone deterioration.
- Lentils–They’re cheap, easy to prepare, and high in protein, iron and other essential nutrients. The abundance of iron helps fight off anemia (a condition common among vegetarians and vegans) and they’re low on the glycemic index. That means they cause blood sugar to spike less quickly than other starches, so energy lasts longer.
- Cauliflower–Cauliflower contains a myriad of essential vitamins and minerals, but their star-ingredient is a cancer-fighting compound known as glucosinolates. These phytochemicals are responsible for cauliflower’s sometimes-bitter flavor, but they have also been shown to prevent damage to the lungs and stomach by carcinogens and inhibit malignant tumors from developing. Cauliflower also contains ingredients that regulate estrogen levels, which may help prevent hormone-driven cancers like breast, uterine, and cervical.
- Garlic–It might leave your breath less than desirable, but these cloves have used for centuries as medicine as well as food. Garlic has been shown to have positive effects on high blood pressure and to help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer. Studies also suggest garlic extract can be used to treat yeast infections in women and prostate issues in men.
- Pumpkin–Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants and vitamins. The star nutrient here is beta-carotene, a provitamin that the body converts to vitamin A, which is known for its immune boosting powers and essential role in eye health.
- Beans–High in protein and low in cholesterol, beans of any variety are a healthy addition to any diet. They’re loaded with fiber, folate, and magnesium. Studies show that regular consumption of beans reduces the risk of heart disease as well as the development of certain kinds of cancers. With so many different types of beans out there, finding ways to fit them around your normal diet is pretty easy.
- Bananas–The humble banana is an unsung superfood hero containing high levels of antioxidants, dietary fibee, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium. Vitamin B6 contributes towards healthy digestion and helps turn carbohydrates into energy. Potassium plays an important role in muscle activation and also helps regulate water retention and energy levels.
- Quinoa–Despite its tiny size, this seed packs a serious nutritional punch. With a mild, nutty flavor and a texture similar to rice or couscous, quinoa is one of the few grains that provides all nine essential amino acids (amino acids the human body doesn’t produce naturally).
- Kale–Did you know kale smoothies are the most popular smoothie in Hollywood? It’s because kale is a fantastic source of fiber, calcium, and iron. Prepare it virtually any way: boiled, steamed, roasted (try it as a chip), stewed or combine it with other fruits and vegetables in a a smoothie Hollywood-style.
- Green Tea–This ages-old health drink is full of antioxidants and has been used by many cultures for thousands of years. The main ingredient which gives this tea its superfood status is Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG – a phytochemical that slows irregular cell growth, which can inhibit the development of cancer.
- Broccoli–Nutrient dense, broccoli is full of vitamins, minerals and disease fighting compounds. Though all members of the cruciferous vegetable family are healthy, broccoli stands out for its high levels of vitamin C and folate. Together, these two ingredients have been shown to reduce the risk of catching flus, fevers, and colds, as well as providing a boost to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
- Watermelon–Who doesn’t love watermelon? Low in sugar and high in vitamins A and C, this summer treat is the perfect fresh, low-calorie snack. Studies suggest watermelon can potentially lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also contains a considerable amount of lycopene which reduces the damage UV rays do to your skin.
They’re called “superfoods” because they are “super” when it comes to nutrition and have been consumed for thousands of years all over the world. Getting healthy doses of them can help you live a longer, healthier life.