You know that all food is not created equal, and that there are definitely good and bad choices you can make when cruising the grocery aisles. But some foods stand above the rest for their better-than-average nutrition and body benefits—so much so that nutritionists and industry pros have begun referring to them as superfoods.
“Superfoods are unmodified whole foods that are rich in physiological components that promote health and prevent disease,” explains Jennifer McDaniel, R.D.N., owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in St. Louis. Consider them whole foods with added benefits, delivering a high dose of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients with each bite. And while the superfood term isn’t new (we’ve been hearing it long before the fame of kale and quinoa), there are a whole host of relatively new options gaining attention, along with some classics that are making their way into fresh offerings.
This fermented and carbonated beverage may be relatively new to grocery store aisles, but its traditional Chinese medicine origins date back more than 2,000 years. A mixture of tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast, kombucha is rapidly gaining popularity today due in large part to its rich assortment of probiotics. “These gut-friendly bacteria can help boost immune support, improve digestion, and may even protect against cancer and aging,” says McDaniel.
Don’t be so quick to spit out those seeds the next time you’re snacking on watermelon. Turns out that when these little guys are shelled and sprouted, they’re packed with essential nutrients, including healthy fats, amino acids, B vitamins, and fiber. “These magical seeds are an excellent source of magnesium to fight muscle cramping and are surprisingly high in protein,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author ofThe Superfood Swap.
“Peas are a legume, and people who eat at least four servings of beans a week have a 22% lower risk of heart disease,” notes McDaniel. Peas are not only a great source of fill-you-up fiber, they are also a protein powerhouse—at nearly 9 grams per cup, they have more protein than an egg, says Blatner.
Although it’s not a whole food, collagen-enhanced fare has a variety of benefits. “Commonly found in bone broth or sold as a supplement, collagen may help decrease wrinkles and fine lines, improve joint health, and strengthen the gut,” says Blatner. Collagen protein also helps build stronger hair and nails, while a key amino acid called glycine can protect your liver from toxins such as alcohol.
Also known as pitaya, this bright pink fruit has become a staple of smoothies and smoothie bowls. “Dragon fruit is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, iron, and antioxidants and low in calories and sugar,” says McDaniel. Some research shows the fruit can help improve insulin and protect against heart disease. “It also contains betalains, an antioxidant that acts as an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to improve blood flow
“Seaweed has high levels of soluble and insoluble fibers and essential fatty acids; plus, it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says McDaniel. “Research shows these characteristics may be protective against certain cancers, heart disease, blood sugar stabilization, and inflammation.” Seaweed is also a great natural source of iodine, which aids in healthy thyroid function, helping regulate body weight and balance hormones. Try grinding it as a salt-substitute seasoning.
Maca root comes from a plant that grows mainly in high-altitude regions of Peru. The vegetable is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Maca is rich in fiber, iron, vitamin C, and plant-based protein and has been credited with helping increase energy, libido, and immunity.
8. The Superfood: Mushrooms
Most mushrooms have a high number of nutrients, but two especially powerful varieties are chaga and shiitake. Chaga mushrooms are packed with nutrients like iron, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. Most important, the fungus is high in antioxidants that may help slow aging and fight inflammation and cancer. It can also reduce cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels. Shiitake mushrooms have similar anticancer and immune- boosting properties, and may also help improve cardiovascular health and fight obesity.
“Honey has been a staple since ancient times, used for everything from healing burns to fighting inflammation,” says Blatner. It’s also much-beloved when you have the sniffles, helping combat symptoms of the common cold like a scratchy throat and cough. Credit honey’s antimicrobial properties, including a low pH and natural hydrogen peroxide. Bonus: Research has shown opting for honey instead of sugar can help with weight loss by acting as an appetite suppressant.