Superfoods are what they sound like: superfoods — they’re super healthy and contain a lot of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Common ones include avocados and berries, although there are several more surprising superfoods you’re likely not eating — but should. Yes, it’s probably much easier to reach for that juicy burger than it is a kale salad, but there are several fun, off-the-radar (and appetizing) foods out there, not to mention easy ways to incorporate them into your diet.
“Superfoods are generally foods that are high in nutrients and give you ‘good bang for your buck,’ so to speak,” Christina Iaboni, registered dietician, tells TZR in an email. “Eating a variety of these foods is the best way to ensure that you are meeting your nutritional needs. No one food is perfect and meets all your nutritional needs, but some foods definitely contain more nutrition than others.” Let’s think about that juicy burger again — sprouts can be the superfood you add to it, though, overall, it’s best to focus on eating sprouts more so than burgers.
Ari Whitten, a functional health practitioner, founder of The Energy Blueprint, and author of the forthcoming book Eat for Energy: How to Beat Fatigue, Supercharge Your Mitochondria, and Unlock All-Day Energy, elaborates. “Food is fuel — and some choices are like ‘super’ fuel in their health-promoting abilities,” he tells TZR in an email. He says that not only do some people not consume superfoods, but they’re also probably not even aware of certain ones, like spirulina (which we’ll get more into below), that can really do the body good.
To give you a crash course on superfoods, ahead, some more surprising ones to add to your grocery list, stat.
Whitten says spirulina (which comes in green and blue forms) is a superfood you’re likely skipping. This nutritional wonder is a form of algae that’s been consumed for centuries. “It contains an incredibly potent phytochemical [a bioactive nutrient plant chemical] called C-phycocyanin, which mimics the structure of the bilirubin we naturally make [which breaks down red blood cells],” he says. “Therefore, it has similar physiological effects, including potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”
There is also substantial evidence that spirulina improves metabolic health and endurance exercise performance, as well as reduces fatigue in both recreational athletes and the average person looking to improve their health through exercise. Additionally, research has found that it can also help increase the duration that you can exercise.
Michelle Razavi and Nikki Elliott, Equinox fitness instructors and founders of ELAVI, agree that adding spirulina to your diet is a great way to boost your health game. “It is one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods on the planet that most people aren't incorporating into their wellness routines,” Elliott tells TZR in an email. “Derived from blue-green algae, the blue form has a vibrant blue hue which is as beautiful as it is good for you with its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and brain-protective properties. In addition to its nutritional benefits, spirulina is proven to improve memory and cognitive focus, and protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).
As far as how much to consume, Whitten says to aim for using about one to two teaspoons of the nutrient in powder form. The only thing is, most people find spirulina to be unappetizing in flavor and smell, but that’s what you get with a cyanobacteria superfood, he explains. “It’s easiest to consume mixed into a protein shake, smoothie, or some other dish that can mask the taste,” he says. “There are also tablets you can buy and take like any other pill.”
Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author of Get Off Your Sugar and Get Off Your Acid, says superfoods should be incorporated into your diet on a daily basis. “They will boost your energy, strengthen your immune system, and have a positive impact on your ability to manage stress and overall health,” he tells TZR in an email. “My favorite way to incorporate superfoods is in a smoothie. Every morning, I add a handful of sprouts, plant-based protein powder, chia seeds, and coconut oil to unsweetened almond milk. It’s an easy and powerful way to get these superfoods into your body.” Sprouts, in particular, are “super” since they’re chock full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and K, folic acid, and antioxidants. And chia seeds are superfoods, too — probably one of the smallest ones out there — but with big benefits. They have plenty of fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.
And, speaking of sprouts, they come in all kinds of varieties, from alfalfa to radish to broccoli. Whitten is a big fan of broccoli sprouts. “These can be easily purchased and eaten as a garnish to any dish — salads make it particularly easy,” he says. “And they are the richest source of sulforaphane [a natural plant compound] in the world.” This compound helps protect your cells from inflammation, as well as several types of diseases. Broccoli sprouts have also been found to help with digestion and heart health.
Katey Davidson, dietitian and founder of Taste Of Nutrition, says her superfood recommendation is always cabbage. “I like to recommend less ‘trendy’ foods because they are still packed with nutrition and are usually more affordable,” she tells TZR in an email. “Cabbage is a versatile, affordable, and nutrient-dense vegetable. It’s rich in fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals. It’s also rich in antioxidants, which are important for scavenging free radicals and protecting our cells from damage.” She says an added bonus is that it’s easy to incorporate cabbage into your diet — via salads, soups, casseroles, and many other dishes. She recommends having at least one to two vegetables at each meal and incorporating cabbage into your diet a few times a week.
Braelyn Davis, CEO and co-founder of Planet Based Foods, says many people don’t realize that hemp is actually a superfood that not only has many nutritional benefits, but is also good for the environment. “Hemp seed is a cleaner, nutrient-dense product that has sustainability at the forefront,” he tells TZR in an email. “It’s a combination of healthy fats (omega-3+6+9), complex carbs, fiber, and protein, as well as an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.” Davis adds that hemp is a superfood that’s good for you while also being one of the most versatile crops in the world. He suggests consuming one serving per day.
Kramer says that pears are an underrated superfood with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Some additional benefits include: their ability to increase production of body fluids, quench thirst, and strengthen the lungs. They also have a lot of fiber — one-fourth of the daily recommended intake — contain a lot of vitamin C, and help with gut health. Kramer says they can also help prevent constipation. For that, she suggests eating a pear, then drinking a half-cup of warm water, before bed.
When it comes to superfoods, Ryan Andrews, principal nutritionist and adviser for Precision Nutrition, says he considers superfoods to be foods that offer particular benefits to our personal health and the health of the planet. “Buckwheat is a win-win,” he tells TZR in an email. “It's good for us (it's rich in protein, fiber, vitamin B3, magnesium, and antioxidants). And it's good for the planet (it's used as a cover crop to improve soil health and attract pollinators).” He also says that it’s not daunting to prepare. “Buckwheat, which is a fruit seed, not a grain, can be purchased in the sprouted/dehydrated form, which makes it easy to use — you can sprinkle it on top of salads, cereal, smoothies, or yogurt,” he says. “Aim for 1/4 cup per serving.”
Dr. Juli Kramer, who holds a degree in Chinese Medicine Nutritional Therapy, is also a certified qigong and meditation expert. She says that superfoods can stabilize the body's gut microbiome, give you glowing skin, and strengthen your immunity. She recommends walnuts as a go-to superfood. They contain several nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, lecithin, and antioxidants. “They are also amazing in strengthening the lungs,” she tells TZR in an email. “They help treat asthma symptoms and coughs, including symptoms of chronic cough, wheezing with shortness of breath, clear or white watery mucus, and exercise-induced asthma.
Walnuts are also ideal for strengthening the back or bladder, improving soreness in the knees, and urinary incontinence, Dr. Kramer says. And if you want to get your colon moving, so to speak, walnuts can help nourish the large intestine, she explains. And adding them to your existing diet is easy. You can also make this breakfast porridge: Mix ¼ cup powdered walnuts, ½ cup rice (presoaked for 20 minutes in about a cup of water), then cook for 50 minutes. “Eat this for breakfast daily for 15 days to strengthen the kidney and enhance memory and mental acuity,” she says.
Sardines & Canned Salmon
Canned fish is generally under-appreciated, but it’s a great way to get a lot of nutrition into your diet at an affordable price, Iaboni explains. “Both sardines and salmon are affordable sources of brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” she says. “They are fatty fish and are good for heart and brain health, and it’s generally recommended to eat at least two servings (around 3-4 oz.) of fatty fish per week. “Sardines are very inexpensive (they are dirt cheap, actually) and are also a good source of protein and contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, potassium, zinc, selenium, Vitamin B12, and choline.” She says they’re also easy to add to your diet. “You can eat them right out of the tin or put them on a slice of toast or in a sandwich with cucumbers and tomatoes, in a salad, over rice, mixed into pasta, or on top of a pizza,” she says. “You can also add a squeeze of lemon or hot sauce for more flavor.”
Iaboni says fresh salmon filets can be expensive, but canned salmon is an affordable way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. “Canned salmon is also a good source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein. Plus, since it is already cooked, you can use it the same way as tuna (in a salmon salad sandwich for example, mixed with mayonnaise). You can also put it on top of greens in a salad or use it to make salmon burgers or patties.”
Whitten recommends adding amla (Indian gooseberries) to your list of superfoods. “This is a berry rich in vitamin C and several bioactive phytochemicals with potent antioxidant effects,” he says. It’s used regularly in Ayurvedic medicine, he explains, particularly as a cornerstone of rejuvenation therapies. “Therefore, it should be no surprise that researchers have been investigating its potential as a neuroprotective, anti-cancer, and general health agent. However, amla’s most promising avenue of benefit is toward metabolic health.” Whitten says you can buy amla fruit to eat, but it is pretty tart. “A better option may be using a simple amla powder mixed into dishes, or taking an amla supplement, with the goal being to consume around a ½ teaspoon per day,” he adds.
Eating pomegranates is an easy way to add more superfoods in your life. They contain antioxidants, vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, aid with digestion, and the list goes on... “Pomegranates are a rich source of ellagitannins, potent antioxidants,” says Whitten. “These substances have been heavily investigated for their cardiovascular and mitochondrial benefits… and are vital for optimal health and disease prevention.” He adds that regular intake of pomegranate juice has also been shown to reduce blood lipid oxidation and the accumulation of plaque in arteries over the course of one to three years. This is especially relevant in people who have higher levels of oxidative stress, such as those with type 2 diabetes and who are at an elevated risk for heart disease. And in recreational endurance athletes, supplementing with pomegranate extract for just two weeks increased the total time the athletes could cycle, plus increase their energy.
Kramer says that honey is the perfect superfood to treat general weakness, muscle soreness, and narrowing of blood vessels. “It also strengthens the digestive tract and lungs, moistens and relieves stomach spasms, treats stomach ulcers, and eases hunger pains and a runny nose,” she says. Honey also has several other benefits, including being rich in antioxidants, it’s better for blood sugar levels than consuming sugar, and it may improve heart health.