We’ve all heard the term superfood, but it often feels more like a trendy buzzword than a signifier of anything important. Practically every kind of food or drink has been said to cure cancer, improve mood, and ward off unwanted diseases. Many of these claims are dubious, falling into the realm of pseudoscience and bunk research.
However, superfoods are real, and you should be eating them. So what exactly are they? According to Live Science, the term refers to any nutrient-dense food we know to be good for our bodies. But that’s about as specific as it gets, because they can be part of numerous food groups and offer different benefits. This might actually be good thing, though. After all, if one is known to ward off cardiovascular disease and another supports a healthy brain, we’re betting you’d like to fill your plate with both.
With that in mind, here’s a list of superfoods everyone needs to include in their diet. These eats have actual benefits, free of overblown claims and dubious science.
1. Coconut oil
Though uses range from skin care to stir-frys, coconut oil serves a crucial role in your well-being. The fat boasts a slightly sweet and nutty taste, which can work as a subtle flavor agent in a number of dishes. In addition, coconut oil is often considered a healthy alternative to vegetable oil. This is due to its concentration lauric acid, which can help boost good cholesterol levels. That being said, you don’t want to eat the stuff straight out of the jar.
Think of a blueberry as a little juicy bomb exploding with heart healthy nutrition. The tart berries contain a host of vital minerals, such as calcium and zinc, that work to improve bone strength. Blueberries also have a formidable fiber count. Approximately 1 cup of blueberries offers 3.6 grams of fiber, which can be beneficial for anyone looking to drop a few pounds. Fiber keeps you full, so you’ll be less likely to mindlessly munch.
For those uninitiated into the world of leafy greens, kale can seem intimidating. It’s true that kale has a notoriously bitter taste, but when cooked properly it works like spinach with a slightly heartier texture. The powerful veggie has high levels of of alpha-lipoic acid, which is useful for diabetics and those with insulin sensitivity because it may help reduce glucose levels. There are also a host of vitamins and minerals packed into every bite.
After braving kale, chard is the next leafy green you should try. This veggie has a pronounced, mineral-like taste, but those who chow down will be rewarded with a laundry list of vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin B6 and riboflavin. Those with frail bones will especially benefit from chard’s high calcium content.
5. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes work beautifully in a variety of dishes from curries to casseroles, and they contain a wealth of nutrients. The spuds are rich in vitamin B6, which serves a number of vital jobs in our bodies like creating dopamine and serotonin to regulate our moods. The colorful orange root vegetable also contains a great deal of iron, a crucial mineral for maintaining energy levels.
Spinach may seem scary to kids, but every functioning adult should already be incorporating the leafy green into their diet on a regular basis. There are numerous antioxidants in spinach, known flavonoids, which help to lower cholesterol and prevent the spread of cancer-causing free radicals. Not to mention, spinach contains no fat and can supplement your daily fiber needs.
The protein content of almonds makes them the ideal snack for gym rats and those looking to cut back on meat without losing nutrition. Almonds and olive oil share a similar nutritional profile, namely the presence of monounsaturated fats that work to lower the risk of heart disease. Therefore, you should embrace the high content of healthy fats in almonds. They’ll also keep your hunger under control.
Flaxseeds are an excellent addition to protein shakes, smoothies, cereals, and can even be used as a garnish on salads. High doses of fiber and the antioxidant lignan work to make flaxseeds a vital superfood. And since they’re one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, they’re a particularly great option for vegetarians and vegans.
Sure, we all eat tomatoes in our pasta sauces and on pizzas, but we rarely stop to think about their incredible health benefits. Tomatoes are antioxidant powerhouses, though, containing a significant concentration of lycopene. This nutrient works to remove those pesky free radicals. And those looking to up their vitamin C content should also look to the fruit, since one medium tomato contains a huge dose
Throughout history, garlic has been a staple ingredient in dishes from around the world. These pungent bulbs are not only good for spicing up a meals, but they also help to create a crucial compound called hydrogen sulfide. This compound has been shown to reduce cardiovascular problems because it encourages blood flow.
11. Apple cider vinegar
Like many superfoods, apple cider vinegar has been said to cure everything from cancer to diabetes. While its benefits are decidedly more modest, the specialty vinegar can very likely help manage blood sugar. Dr. Carol Johnston told WebMD, “Apple cider vinegar’s anti-glycemic effect is very well documented. … It definitely prevents at least some of that starch from being digested and raising your blood sugar.”
This fermented drink is a polarizing beverage due to its distinctive taste and smell: You’ll either love it or hate it. But once you learn to embrace its unique flavor profile, kombucha can work as a great soda alternative. Most importantly, there are numerous probiotics in unpasteurized kombucha that can aid digestion and strengthen your immune system.
13. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is one of those superfoods that deserves a place on your dessert plate. The tasty treat contains important flavonoids that have well-documented health effects. These compounds can potentially minimize your chances of developing heart disease or cancer. There’s no guarantee, of course, but a small portion is definitely an appropriate dessert.
14. Green tea
For those of us who need absurd amounts of espresso to maintain clarity, green tea can be a good alternative to boost energy without sending you into a caffeinated frenzy. Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee — 20 to 40 milligrams per cup compared to coffee’s 100 to 120 milligrams. L-Theanine is what makes green tea really stand, because the amino acid can decrease anxiety, speed up the production of dopamine, and boost focus without giving you the overly jitterly feeling a cup of joe sometimes can.
When buying carrots, it’s important to pay close attention to the color. The vibrant hue indicates an intense concentration of beta-carotene, the plant-based source of vitamin A. Getting the nutrient from food is generally considered better, too, because it’s easy to go overboard with supplements.
16. Red wine
Alcohol lovers rejoice, and pick up a fragrant glass of red wine. For those endlessly chasing youth, this drink is the ideal choice due to resveratrol. This antioxidant works to rid the body of free radicals, which are found in diseases associated with aging. Dr. Richard A. Baxter recommends two glasses of red wine a day for men and one for women to reap the rewards.
Avocados are savory fruits loaded with healthy fats and a boatload of fiber. Like almonds, avocados contain monounsaturated fats and beta-sitosterol, which both work to lower cholesterol. And they’re just plain delicious, so eat up.
Walnuts are a sorely neglected nut. They’re often relegated to fruitcakes or used as garnishes, but some researchers believe them to be the most helpful nut for maintaining a healthy heart. Like some of our other superfoods, they boast omega-3s, which are proving beneficial for both brain and heart health.
If you’ve never heard of kimchi, just follow the smell of spicy fermented cabbage at your local Korean market until you find it. This spicy condiment contains probiotics similar to yogurt and kefir. A 2014 study found these probiotics give kimchi an array of nutritional qualities that work to prevent cancer, obesity, cholesterol, and aging.
In addition to packing significant amounts of fiber and protein, beans are one of the most antioxidant-rich foods out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating black beans or chickpeas, any type contains flavonoids. These nutrients reduce the effects of environmental contaminants and have been shown to minimize your odds of developing heart disease.
You probably love turmeric even if you’ve never heard of it before. The flavorful spice can be found in just about every curry powder at the grocery store. While it’s a crucial flavor component, turmeric might be even better as medicine. In fact, it’s been used to treat everything from arthritis to stomach pain.
Properly extracting pomegranate seeds be an infuriating task; however, the intensely tart fruit contains powerful antioxidants and a healthy amount of fiber that make your efforts worth it. Multiple studies have concluded these fruits boast nutrients that may reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
23. Olive oil
The benefits of olive oil are well-established, whether applied topically or used to cook your favorite foods. Its array of monounsaturated fats makes it superior to other vegetable oils, and it also happens to taste phenomenal. Some of the touted benefits include decreased risks of cardiovascular diseases and even strokes.
Anyone who suffers from chronic stomach issues likely knows how incredibly helpful ginger can be. The medicinal plant is a staple in numerous cuisines, and it has well-established ties to improved digestion and reduced nausea. Ginger can also be used in everything from herbal teas to spicy stir-frys, so get cooking.
Common in Mediterranean cooking, rosemary is a popular seasoning on lamb and poultry. The powerful herb contains numerous antioxidants that increase blood flow. In addition, rosemary may potentially reduce inflammation that leads to tumors. Best of all, it’s easy to find at the grocery store, no matter the season.