The term “Superfood” is becoming a popular term being used in the health food industry. Simply put, a superfood is a low calorie and high nutrient food that works as an antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants help fight free radicals and toxins that can lead to increased risk and development of diseases and conditions like cancer. Another major benefit of these types of food, other than their antioxidant properties, is their ability to fill in significant gaps in the Standard American Diet.
While fighting disease is a significant accomplishment for any food, the benefits of superfoods go well beyond that one property. The research boasting the advantages of eating a diet rich in superfoods is ever-growing and convincing. This impressive group of foods is primarily plant-based, but some fish and dairy products have made their way into this exclusive category.
A Colorful History of These Colorful Foods
Interestingly, the term superfood did not originate from a profession governing food and nutrition but rather as a marketing strategy. Around the time of World War I, the United Fruit Company first used the term to promote the consumption of their bananas. The company first tried to use the practicality of bananas to help their sell but eventually realized that boasting of their health benefits and superfood status was a better approach. News traveled as fast as it could during the early 20th century, and bananas became a staple of just about every home and diet.
Fast forward to the 21st century and news travels at viral speeds and health news seems even quicker. In today’s culture, health and wellness are becoming a top priority. Also if for just a short time, the term superfood helps consumers in making decisions about their food choices. It may have been coined to increase sales. Many of the foods earning this title have earned respect the name elicits from their proven benefits.
A recent Nielson survey showed consumers are more likely to pay extra for foods with perceived health benefits creating a billion-dollar health food industry. In 2015 the sale of food and beverages with the term “super” attached to them increased by 36%. Eight of the top thirteen trending foods are superfoods, including pea protein, chickpeas, seaweed, and turmeric, to name a few.
ORAC, An Acronym You Will Want to Know
Before diving into this impressive list of superfoods, there is one other term that may be helpful to become familiar with – ORAC – Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. Mostly, this refers to a food’s antioxidant content. Foods are given a number relating to their antioxidant content with a high antioxidant content being between which would make it a superfood. Some of the foods below will have a specific ORAC number along with them.
Top 10 Superfly Superfoods of 2019
- Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, and Hemp Seeds
- Purple Corn
- Pecans, Walnuts, and Other Nuts
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Kombucha (and other fermented foods)
Top 10 Superfoods and Why you Should Start Eating Them Now!
Seeds – Seeds – Seeds (Chia, Flax, and Hemp)
We cheated a little and added two extra into the list by combining these delicious and incredibly nutritious seeds. These three seeds have been gaining attention over the past few years for their contribution to overall health and wellness along with their easy integration into just about any recipe!
Seeds are incredibly easy to add to your diet, and these three are packed with beneficial nutrients! They are loaded with healthy fats, protein, fiber, antioxidants (you’ll be seeing that word a lot), along with vitamins and minerals.
Chia seeds contain a large number of healthy fats yet a small number of calories per serving. Fats like Omega-3’s aid in reducing inflammation in the body and easing joint pain. These fats will also aid in satiety, feeling full and satisfied, helping to prevent overeating.
Flaxseed is just as high in healthy fats and also contains dietary fiber. Fiber acts much like fat in preventing overeating by contributing to feelings of fullness. Fiber is also essential in reducing cholesterol and helping to maintain healthy blood glucose. Cholesterol is reduced by fiber clinging to the fatty and sticky substance and then eliminating it from the body.
Hemp has grown in popularity over the past several years and its seeds have not been left out of the growth. These seeds are high in Omega-3 and Omega-5 fatty acids, which are both “essential” fatty acids meaning they are necessary for the body but must be taken in through food — these fats aid in preventing and reducing inflammation and increase overall heart health.
This bright spice amps up the flavor and benefits of any dish! It is also often referred to as curcumin due to a chemical which the plant it is derived from contains. Another superfood with anti-inflammatory properties. Why is it so important to reduce inflammation in the body? Chronic inflammation is linked to many acute and chronic conditions and diseases.
Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer are just a few of the conditions that are the result of or are exacerbated by inflammation. What starts out as a natural immune response can become a cause of disease and illness. Turmeric works in the body to prevent and reduce this inflammation, thereby reducing the potential for these conditions.
Not only is purple corn pretty to look at, but it also has an ORAC of 2,960 compared to yellow corn’s ORAC of 738! That’s over four times as much antioxidant power as yellow corn! It has only been sold in America for just over a decade, but it is found more often in tortilla chips and some cereals.
We finally get to talk about antioxidants! The nutrients in purple corn act as antioxidants in the body which are responsible for reducing or eliminating harmful free radicals. Why is this important? Free radicals and toxins enter the body through environmental and food origins and begin to cause cell damage by creating unbalanced electrons, more information than necessary.
Damaged cells replicate, as do healthy cells, but damaged cells produce more damaged cells. Eventually, this leads to the development of diseases, especially cancer. Antioxidants work to eliminate these free radicals and toxins out of the body. They do this by pairing with these damaged cells and replacing the missing electron, essentially bandaging the damaged cell. A diet that includes purple corn provides the body with powerful antioxidants.
Go Nuts! Pecans, Walnuts, and other nuts!
Nuts are one of those foods that are not only health but also convenient, much like a banana. They can quickly be taken on the go, do not need refrigeration, can fit into a purse or pocket, and pack a considerable health punch! The healthy fat content of nuts along with moderate protein amounts keeps you full and satisfied, making it easy not to overeat.
How can it be that high-fat food can prevent weight gain? Feeling full prevents overeating as well as snacking in calorie-dense and nutrient lacking foods. Diets high in nuts have been shown to decrease many diseases and reduce risk factors for metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.
Acai – Yes, Please!
The acai palm tree of Central and South America are responsible for this superfood. The acai berry is a small reddish-purple fruit that boasts of higher antioxidant power than other well-known berries like blueberries and strawberries. The ORAC value of acai is early 2,000!
Acai is another superfood that contains high amounts of phytonutrients and anthocyanins which act as antioxidants in the body along with other benefits. Acai has an ORAC value of over 15,000 per 100 grams! This is nearly three times as much as blueberries! These impressive berries can reduce cholesterol by reducing the amount of “bad,” LDL, cholesterol. In animal studies, acai has been shown to reduce and prevent the formation of cancer cells in mice.
Avocado – Enough Said
The avocado, everyone loves it, but most don’t know its food type. Interestingly, it is a fruit that grows on the avocado tree and contains a large pit. Before it’s recognition as a superfood, it was primarily eaten along with chips, salsa, and queso as the main ingredient in guacamole. Today, however, it can be found on just about any breakfast sandwich claiming to be “healthy” and is often blended into smoothies to add healthy fat content.
Avocados actually contain more potassium than bananas, which is excellent for brain health and electrolyte balance. Diets high in potassium are linked to lower blood pressure. Avocados are high in oleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid shown to reduce cancer risk along with inflammation.
Dark Leafy Greens – Not Your Grandma’s Greens
Kale is most likely the first green vegetable to come to mind here, but with an ORAC value of 1,770, it is lower on the list than its cousins. Collard greens, mustard greens, and even dandelion greens are all excellent options to bulk up the benefits of a salad.
The touted kale is packed with vitamins that are essential for immune health and preventing general illness. One cup contains 134% of the daily value of vitamin C. Collard green are the first superfood mentioned which is believed to improve bone health due to its high vitamin K content, 1045% of the daily value in fact!
No list of superfoods would be complete without the blueberry! This may have even been the first fruit you thought of when you read the title. This versatile berry can be added to just about any recipe, even pancakes, to increase the overall health potential of the dish. Throw them in a smoothie, add them to oatmeal, use them as a topping on your FroYO, whatever the preference they’re sure to make a huge contribution in taste and health benefits.
The ORAC value of blueberries is nearly 5,000, making them the first choice for antioxidant power. Their antioxidant content is so high that they are often a first choice food for those wanting to increase their anti-aging potential.
It may be surprising to find that this vegetable made the list. While it is often thought of as the bland white cousin of broccoli it can be found in a variety of colors which increases its phytonutrient and anthocyanin content. Phytonutrients are natural chemical compounds in plants that are produced to help them thrive and anthocyanin’s give many edible plants their red, purple, or blue pigments but also add to their health potential – more on that later.
For just 25 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of carbohydrate per cup, it is no wonder that cauliflower is a go-to food for those wanting to lose weight. And it is effective! Choline is an essential nutrient that makes the list of why cauliflower is a superfood. Choline is necessary for brain health, cell membrane integrity, and metabolism.
Kombucha (and other fermented foods)
This is the first drink on the list, though others can be consumed through juice form. Kombucha is a fermented tea, usually black or green, which is consumed as a ‘functional’ beverage. Other fermented foods produce similar benefits as Kombucha, including gastrointestinal health from their probiotic content.
Other examples of popular fermented foods are kefir, cabbage, sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, and tempeh, to name a few. These foods, along with kombucha, are consumed for specific health benefits. Many individuals consume fermented foods to aid in gut health. It has been said that the immune system is housed within the gut. When bad bacteria outgrows good bacteria digestion is slowed, inflammation can run rampant, and a host of negative health consequences ensues. Taking in probiotics and other nutrients through fermented foods can help to replenish these good bacteria and result in better digestion and overall health.
They are developed through a process known as lactofermentation where natural bacteria break down the starch (sugar) of foods which creates lactic acid. This all results in the growth and development of enzymes, b-vitamins, probiotic strains, and Omega-3 fatty acids in these foods. Essentially, already “healthy” foods are given a boost to provide even more beneficial nutrients and compounds.
Antioxidants – Phytonutrients – Anthocyanins – What’s the Big Deal?
All these words may sound confusing, but they carry a big punch that gives many superfoods their superpowers. We’ve discussed all along the power of antioxidants, mentioned phytonutrients, and grazed the top of anthocyanins.
The role of antioxidants in the diet is reasonably clear. They work to prevent and reduce free radical damage in the body, which can result in cell damage and eventually disease, such as cancer. Phytonutrients are those nutrients in plant foods which are formed as a way of protecting the plant. These protective properties are transferred to those who consume them through foods. Anthocyanins are much like the other plant compounds mentioned in their ability to act as antioxidants and provide additional protective properties. Many natural pigments in fruits and vegetables provide the same benefits, which are why it is highly recommended to “eat the rainbow.”
The Final Word On The Benefits Of Superfoods
One of the most impressive aspects of superfoods is its multi-faceted health benefits. If any of these foods provided just one of the benefits or nutrients they provide, it would be enough to integrate them into the diet. Yet many of these foods listed provide so much more! They are healthy, tasty, versatile, and fun. Why not choose to eat something that is going to add to your health instead of taking away from it? You only get one body, feed it something super!
Trista Best is a Registered Dietitian and Content Writer. She has been writing in the areas of health, wellness, and nutrition for over three years and enjoys the opportunity it provides for creative outlet. Trista graduated with two Bachelor’s degrees, one from the University of Alabama in Dietetics, and a Master’s Degree in Public Health Nutrition. When she is not writing or working in the Paediatric Nutrition office she enjoys being active with her family, husband Brett and daughter Emma Grace.