What Is a Superfood, Really?

What Is a Superfood, Really?

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s… a superfood. You’ve probably heard the term repeatedly in the last couple of decades, but do you know what a superfood really is? They might not solve all your health problems—however, they are a great way to enjoy plenty of food with a better nutrient payoff.

Superfoods don’t make up their own food group (there’s no set criteria for what makes something a superfood), and some nutritionists think of the term as more of a marketing ploy than anything else. However, certain foods—think salmon, blueberries, some nuts and kale, among others—are indeed more nutrient-dense than others.

Ready to add some more superfoods to your diet? It can’t hurt—especially because they’re plenty delicious. Here are some of the superfoods you can put into your weekly meal rotation.

  • Acai, pomegranate, dragon fruit and rambutan. It seems like every super food list includes some sort of “exotic” fruit, like dragon fruit, acai, rambutan and others. They may or may not be healthier than the average fruit you can get at your grocery store. For example, both pomegranates and raspberries contain ellagic acid, which is thought to fight cancer.
  • Beans and whole grains. The next time you’re going to town on a bowl of beans and whole grains or quinoa, you can rest assured that you’re eating a truly healthy meal. Beans and whole grains are a source of lean, plant-based protein. They have more insoluble fiber, which makes you feel fuller longer. They are also packed with nutrients like vitamins and minerals—and are often a lot cheaper than other sources of protein.
  • Blueberries. Blueberries (and plenty of other berries) are popular on superfood lists. They contain vitamins, soluble fiber and phytochemicals. They can help reduce your risk of heart disease—and they make for a darn good smoothie or dessert.
  • Green tea. Green tea is a great superfood—it contains antioxidants and catechins, which have disease-fighting properties. Opt for the kind of green tea you brew yourself, rather than processed or manufactured tea available in bottles. You’ll get more nutrients that way.
  • Kale. Love it or hate it, kale’s dark green leaves house a lot of fiber, vitamins A, C and K and calcium, among other nutrients. You can also find these nutrients in other dark leafy greens, like collards, spinach and chard. Add them to a soup or use in place of rice.
  • Nuts and seeds. As you probably know, nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats—but they tend to be calorie-dense as well as nutrient dense, so go easy on your servings. (Who among us hasn’t accidentally demolished an entire can of cashews?) If you’re eating processed nuts, you’ll also need to keep an eye on your sodium intake. Add nuts and seeds to salads, baked goods and more for some extra minerals in your next meal.
  • Salmon and other fatty fish. When it comes to sources of protein, salmon, sardines and other fatty fish are great for you. They have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve heart health. However, be sure to avoid fish higher up on the food chain, as they can contain higher levels of mercury.
  • Sweet potatoes. Swapping out your regular fries for sweet potato fries can net you a higher level of nutrients—but they’re even better for you if you simply roast them. Sweet potatoes contain plenty of natural sugar, which is why some people feel they can skip the butter or sour cream they’d eat with regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes (and squash) are a great source of vitamin A and fiber.

No matter which of these superfoods you add to your diet, they’re sure to add variety and a ton of vitamins, minerals and other helpful nutrients. However, just because they’re generally good for you doesn’t mean you can eat all of them, all the time, with no regard for calories, fat and sugar intake. Plus, plenty of foods have the same nutrients—they’re just less popular than items on this list.

Be sure to follow a healthy diet. That is, use one that’s approved by your medical professionals. Then feel free to add these superfoods to your diet, or swap out less healthy ingredients for something on this list. The better you eat, the better you’ll feel, whether it’s fruits, vegetables or lean proteins.

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