by Brittyn Howard, RDN, LD
The use and talk about superfoods has become increasingly common. Superfoods are loosely defined as nutrient-rich foods considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. However, since there is no technical regulations on what is or is not a superfood, many foods can be called "superfoods" that, in fact, really may not be superfoods at all! In my personal and professional opinion, I'm going to list what I believe to be my top 9 superfoods along with health benefits, nutrients, history, uses, and fun facts!
1. Chia Seeds
Benefits: Decreases inflammation, promotes weight loss, lowers LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, increases sports performance by increasing oxygen uptake and providing sustainable energy
Nutrients: Omega-3s, fiber, protein, antioxidants
About: Chia seeds were a staple food for the Aztecs and Mayans that were used for their ability to provide sustainable energy. Chia is actually the ancient Mayan word for "strength"
Uses: (1) Can be mixed with water or other liquid (like almond milk) and left overnight to form a gelatinous chia "pudding" (2) Throw a handful in your smoothie or on your cereal (3) Sprinkle on top of avocado toast
Fun Fact: By weight, chia seeds contain more Omega-3s than salmon!
2. Maca Powder
Benefits: Relieves menstrual issues and menopause, aids in correcting anemia, helps clear acne and decrease skin sensitivity, plays a role in mood balance, helps ability to cope with stress
Nutrients: Iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, amino acids, vitamins B, C & E
About: Maca is derived from a root in the radish family found in the Andean Mountains of Bolivia and Peru.
Uses: (1) Mix in smoothies (2) add in recipes as a "vanilla" flavor. (3) Also used to create a fermented drink called maca chicha in some South American countries
Fun Fact: Maca is one of the only food plants in the world able to thrive at an extremely high altitude (like atop the Andes Mountains!)
Benefits: Aids in detoxification, enhances immune system, decreases inflammation
Nutrients: High in protein, bioavailable iron, calcium, B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, copper, manganese, beta-carotene, and selenium
About: Spirulina is a blue-green algae first discovered for its medicinal use even before the 16th century
Uses: (1) Use the powdered form in smoothies (2) take in capsule or tablet form
Fun Fact: Spirulina is arguably one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth. Just one ounce contains 81 calories and 39 (YES, 39!) grams of protein. Also packed with Omega-3 fatty acids (230 mg) and Omega-6 fatty acids (351 mg).
Benefits: Boosts metabolism, calms the mind and body, may lower cholesterol and blood sugar
Nutrients: Fiber, chlorophyll, vitamin C, magnesium, chromium, and zinc
About: Matcha is a finely ground powder of specifically grown and processed green tea leaf that originates from China.
Uses: (1) Drink as a strong green tea (2) use the powder into a green smoothie (3) make it into a hot or iced latte! Ask to sub almond or coconut milk to make it plant-based! You can get an amazing Matcha Latte from Clarity coffee!
Fun Fact: Matcha has almost 17x the antioxidant level of blueberries! And about 6x the amount of goji berries per weight.
5. Flax Seeds
Benefits: Reduces inflammation, eases pain of arthritis, and reduces plaque buildup (which can reduce risk of heart disease!)
Nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, soluble and insoluble fiber
About: Flax seeds have been consumed for about 6,000 years and may have been the world’s first cultivated superfood!
Uses: In order to receive the nutrients in a flax seed, the seed must be ground. Use a coffee grinder is the quickest and easiest way! Put ground flax in smoothies, granola, baked goods, mix 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2.5 tbsp warm water (then wait 5 minutes to thicken) to make a “flax egg” to substitute for eggs in baked goods!
Fun Fact: Flax is one of the original foods recommended by Hippocrates!
6. Goji Berries
Benefits: Promotes eye health, may help regulate blood-glucose levels, helps increase immunity
Nutrients: Fiber, Vitamin A, C, iron, calcium, selenium, and zinc,
About: Goji berries are bright red and chewy berries (also known as wolfberries). They were originally used in ancient China for their medicinal purposes.
Uses: (1) Eat the dried berry as a snack (2) add to granola (3) on top of yogurt or smoothies!
Fun Fact: Contains all 11 of the essential amino acids!
7. Hemp Seeds
Benefits: Improves metabolism and digestion, increases sustained energy, supports the immune system, increases circulation, decreases inflammation, and expedites repair and recovery from injury and disease (even exercise-induced stress!)
Nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, high in iron and calcium, protein
About: While it is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, it does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) - so don't worry, you won't be receiving any "extra" benefits from hemp seeds ;)
Uses: (1) Sprinkle on your salad (2) smoothie or (3) cereal! Also great on avocado toast!
Fun Fact: Contain the highest amount of protein than any other nutritious seed. (3 tablespoons contains 11 grams of protein!)
Benefits: High in antioxidants, polyphenols prevent blood clotting, lowers bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol, helps curb sweet cravings
Nutrients: Magnesium, iron, sulfur
About: Cacao is the actual bean from the cacao plant that is dried and fermented. It can be processed into cocoa powder, and further processed into milk or dark chocolate, although it is has less nutritional benefits after processing.
Uses: (1) Use as nibs on top of smoothies or smoothie bowls (2) grind into a powder to use in chocolate baked goods.
Fun Fact: Cacao contains theobromine, which functions as a mild stimulant and can aid in depression.
Benefits: Highly anti-inflammatory, helps with depression, aids in arthritis pain, regulates cholesterol, and newer research shows possibly slowing the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease
Nutrients: Iron, manganese, vitamin B6, fiber, potassium, and copper.
About: Turmeric is an orange spice that is most commonly recognized as the main spice in curry. Many clinical studies have even reported that the main nutrient in turmeric, curcumin, is more advantageous than certain prescription drugs
Uses: (1) Mix with crumbled tofu and stir fry to make tofu scramble (add as many veggies as you’d like!) (2) mix in smoothies or (3) make your own curry!
Fun Fact: Turmeric is one of the most frequently studied herbs followed by cinnamon, ginger, ginseng, and milk thistle.
For a recipe for superfood energy bites, check out: