Superfood is a marketing term used when referring to foods that have supposed health benefits due to their high nutritional value.
According to nutrition experts, superfood is a coined marketing term used to refer to miracle foods that can help cure a variety of ailments due to their overall nutrient density (1). This marketing term is specifically used to sell products and food trends (2).
But are these superfoods really beneficial to your health? Read on to find out.
Superfoods and Their Health Benefits
1. Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Legumes
Nuts and seeds contain heart-healthy fats, fiber, protein, and a variety of plant compounds, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (3). These foods also have phytoprotective effects that can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (4). Certain types of nuts such as almonds and walnuts may even help promote weight loss (5, 6). Examples of nuts and seeds include:
- Peanuts (usually considered as a nut, although it is technically a legume)
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Hemp seeds
Beans and legumes, including peas, soy, alfalfa, and lentils are excellent sources of protein, B vitamins, fiber, and a variety of minerals. These nutrient-dense superfoods help in managing and preventing a number of diseases, including weight loss support, and management of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes (7).
Berries are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. For this reason, berries may be effective when it comes to treating a variety of illnesses or disorders along with conventional medical treatment. Due to their high antioxidant capacity, they are often associated with the reduced risk of developing inflammatory conditions, heart disease, and even cancer (8). Common berries include strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
3. Dark Leafy Vegetables
Dark leafy greens are rich in carotenoids, fiber, and various nutrients, including magnesium, iron, vitamin C, calcium, folate, and zinc. Certain chronic diseases may be prevented through regular consumption of dark leafy greens. Since they contain carotenoids, they may help delay the onset of certain types of cancer (9).
Including dark leafy vegetables into your daily diet may also help reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes (10) and heart disease (11). Common dark leafy greens include:
- Swiss chard
- Turnip greens
- Collard greens
These vegetables are also low in carbohydrates and calories.
4. Fermented Foods (Yogurt, Kefir)
Fermented foods such as kefir and yogurt are rich in probiotics and are linked to a number of health benefits (12):
- Improves digestion
- Reduces cholesterol levels
- Normalizes blood pressure levels
- Possess anti-inflammatory effects
Kefir is a cultured and fermented dairy beverage similar to yogurt but packed with more probiotic cultures than yogurt. Kefir is available in both dairy and non-dairy forms. These foods also provide protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
Avocado is a high-fiber, nutrient-dense food that may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and inflammation. Like olive oil, avocados are also high in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid (13). Aside from healthy fats, avocados also contain various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals (14).
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial in heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and other inflammatory diseases (17).
This nutritious fish also contains B vitamins, potassium, selenium, and protein, aside from healthy fats. However, one disadvantage of consuming seafood is the possibility of heavy metal and environmental contamination. For this reason, try limiting your fish and seafood consumption to 2-3 servings every week (18).
Eggs are still considered as one of the healthiest foods, in spite of their high-cholesterol content controversy in the world of nutrition science (19). One large egg contains protein and amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids, sterols, and trace amounts of carbohydrates (20). It is also important to note that almost all of the nutrients are found in the yolk and only protein in the white.
According to research studies, the regular consumption of eggs does not increase the risk of heart disease and further studies are still needed to confirm the risk of heart disease among patients with diabetes (21, 22).
Spirulina is a type of microalgae that is high in protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (23). It is even considered as one of the most nutrient-dense food on the planet. Some of the health benefits of spirulina include protective properties against cancer (24), lowering blood pressure (25), and preventing the buildup of plaques in the arteries (26).
Spirulina is available in the form of powder and can be purchased at health stores and online retailers. You can add spirulina powder to your smoothies or sprinkle it over foods to boost their nutritional content.
Both coconut and coconut oil contain high medium-chain triglycerides, which are beneficial fatty acids that possess antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Medium-chain triglycerides can also be burned as fuel instead of being stored as fat to help provide energy to the body right away.
The use of coconut oil is also associated with weight loss (27), bone loss prevention (28), and keeping the hair healthy (29). Ensure to use unrefined extra virgin coconut oil when using it for baking or cooking to boost healthy fats.
Good overall health is achieved and best supported by the regular intake of nutritious foods rather than shifting your focus to the latest food trends. However, when a balanced diet is combined with regular exercise along with including some of the superfoods to your diet, it can be beneficial to many aspects of your health.
Even though there are no specific criteria for defining what superfoods are, they are the type of foods that can help provide the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to survive, thrive, and feel great.
There are different types of food that qualify as a superfood and they can be included in your diet in many ways. To start your journey to better health and overall wellness, incorporating some of the superfoods into your balanced diet adds a powerful punch to your nutrition.