Superfood. I first heard the word only three years ago, and yet, here it is, part of many of my daily conversations. But it didn't stop with Acai and spinach. Now, so many foods are called “miracle," "health-boosting," "makes you glow," or "good for this, this, and that” and just in general, a superfood seems to be anything and everything that's somehow good for you.
Aside from the noise on grocery store labels and smoothie bar menus, which foods are truly deserving of the "super" prefix? We asked a few nutritionists to weigh in.
1. Sea Vegetables
Shanti Pappas, HHC, recommends the full spectrum of seaweeds: kelp, dulse, kombu, wakame, arame, and hijiki." Sea Vegetables are an extremely mineral rich food — particularly important for containing iodine, which only occurs naturally in sea vegetables and crustacean sea animals.
"Iodine is important — it's an essential nutrient for thyroid health," Pappas says. "Even the seaweed snacks you can find at Trader Joe's are great. A packet of those a day is a great start."
"Another way I help clients get more iodine in the body is to use kombu, like you would a bay leaf," Pappas says. "Just add it to the pot when you're cooking grains, legumes, or soup."
2. Brazil Nuts
"Brazil nuts are one of a few great sources of selenium, an antioxidant with benefits for heart health," Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN says. Antioxidants protect our cells and are even said to help prevent cancer.
3. Bone Broth
You always knew your grandma was a superhero and now it's confirmed. "Broth made with real bones, like Grandma made," is one of Pappas' top super food picks. "Animal bones have minerals we need for our bones, brain function, and gut health," Pappas says. "L-Glutamine is a good example — it's an amino acid that helps our nervous system, it helps repair and build tissue, especially in our gut."
"The easiest way to make a healthful bone broth is by using the chicken carcass and putting it in a stock pot or slow cooker with water, kombu, bay leaf, a splash of apple cider vinegar, onion, celery, carrot, cilantro or parsley, salt, and pepper, and cook it as long as you can stand on very low simmer," she says. Doing it all day or over night works great as well. Check out more of Pappas' healthy recipes on this health website.
4. Leafy Green Vegetables
Most of us are not getting enough leafy green vegetables — even in spite of the recent popularity of kale. But kale isn't the only supergreen: chards, spinach, lettuces, bok choy, and cabbage are all "powerhouses of necessary nutrients," Pappas says.
5. (Freshly Ground) Flax Seeds
Pappas is full of enthusiasm for the many health benefits of flax seeds. To start, the seeds are rich in fiber. We know fiber is important, and one reason is because it helps our bowel movements stay regular and healthy. Though flax seeds are good for everyone, they're especially super for women, Pappas says. "They seem to lubricate our systems: Menopausal women have found that by adding flax seeds to water twice a day, symptoms of vaginal dryness can be relieved."
Plus, they can help hot flashes — "Flax seeds are a 'weakly estrogenic' food, meaning they mimic estrogen in a natural and safe way that fits in the estrogen receptors. This helps fill receptors that otherwise would be filled with xenoestrogens (i.e., fake stuff found in our water supply, heated plastics, etc.) harmful 'estrogen disturbers,' " Pappas says
Unfortunately, they don't stay fresh for long — hence the recommendation to keep them freshly ground. "I like to grind a small amount in a coffee grinder and have enough for the week. I love adding two teaspoons to my breakfast protein smoothies," Pappas says. You can also add them to a cup of warm water or almond milk, twice a day, or sprinkle them salads and vegetables. However, she says: "Don't cook with them, as the fat is fragile and can not handle the heat."
6. Coconut Oil
Like kale, coconut oil is having a moment. But according to Pappas, it's for good reason. "Coconut oil is a great source of saturated fat, which is extremely helpful with blood sugar regulation," Shanti says. Coconut oil is detoxifying and believed to have a positive impact on weight loss as a result of "the way medium-chain fats are both absorbed and burned more easily than other types, their consumption results in increased burning of fat in the liver and a larger overall energy expenditure," Dr. Bruce Fife said to Livestrong. Cooking with coconut oil is generally a great idea and a very easy swap to make.
7. Green Tea
My personal favorite superfood, green tea, is capable of the almost miraculous combination of both soothing us and waking us up. Green tea contains L-theanine, Pappas says, which fits in the calming neurotransmitter receptors, so while, it will focus and alert us, it's actually also calming to our nervous systems. Even better, tea does not stress our adrenals or irritate our bowels as coffee does.
Sauerkraut is a superfood for its double dose of nutrition. It contains the health benefits of cabbage — a cruciferous vegetable — and the probiotic perk that comes as a result of the fermentation process.
Eggs are a quick and reliable source of protein. Pappas recommends using whole eggs, preferably pasture-raised. "Eggs contain a lot of sulfur, which is essential for our liver function," she says, "and, they're one of just a few natural sources of Vitamin A and Vitamin D."
"Avocados — where do I start?" Jacobson says. Avocados are rich in fiber and monounsaturated fat (oleic acid).
"This helps your body absorb fat soluble nutrients in the intestines," Jacobson says. "Avocados also absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K."
Vitamin A helps to boost our immune systems, Vitamin E is an antioxidant that decreases oxidative stress and inflammation, Vitamin D has myriad benefits including immune health, energy restoration, and Vitamin K is getting more and more attention recently due to its heart health benefits. Furthermore, avocados contain phytosterols (plant nutrients) that also help to decrease inflammation in the body.
11. Chia Seeds
Jacobson says these powerful but tiny seeds are a personal favorite. "Chia seeds are incredibly high in fiber, great for digestive health and detoxifying your gut. They are also high in omega-3 fat, which helps build cell membranes, can aid in weight loss, improve mood, memory, and skin."
They're protein-packed antioxidants, and just three tablespoons provide as much protein as an egg!
"Beets contain betalines, which support detoxification in the liver. They're also rich in magnesium, which can help headaches and decrease PMS bloating," Jacobson says.
13. Bee Pollen
Bee pollen is a rich source of vitamin B, which Jacobson points out many of us are short on because stress, alcohol, and even air pollution deplete the body of vitamin B. Enriching our vitamin B intake supports energy production, detoxification, adrenal support, and mood regulation.
She recommends adding a tablespoon of bee pollen to a morning smoothie, but warns to "go a little slowly if you’ve never had it before, as some people have allergic reactions." Further, bee pollen also contains rutin, which is excellent for helping circulation, and decreases your risk of blood clotting.
Okay, so water is not technically a food, but without water we wouldn’t live, so we can all agree it's both super and super-essential. Water is crucial because it flushes everything through our systems — it's the ultimate detoxifier — some might even call it the original cleanse. Of course, as you probably know, most of us don't drink nearly enough water — you should aim for twp liters a day — that's 64 ounces, or eight, 8-ounce glasses. Drink up!