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18 Science-Backed Superfoods For a Healthier You

Superfoods smoothie bowl

Food is the fuel that keeps your body running, and the quality of that fuel is a huge factor in your overall health and wellbeing. With the right nutrient-dense foods, you can actually eat your way to better health, and it doesn’t mean sacrificing tasty meals or switching to a hard-to-follow diet, it just takes a little know-how, pre-planning and a secret weapon known as superfoods.

What are Superfoods?

Superfoods are foods that are packed with antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins and minerals that support vibrant health that you can feel and see since they can also be skin-supporting and promote anti-aging. Superfoods are easy to incorporate into your regular meal plans. Simple things like sprinkling chia seeds into your morning oatmeal or daily salad, adding spirulina to your favorite recipe, incorporating amla fruit into your smoothie or adding a superfood supplement to your routine are all great ways to give your body the premium fuel it needs for your health to flourish.

To help introduce superfoods into your daily meal plan, we’ve cooked up a list of 18 science-based superfoods to add to your diet. Bon appétit!

Spirulina

Spirulina is widely considered to be one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods. This blue-green microalgae can be found in warm tropical lakes in Central America and Africa and is super nutrient-dense. This powerful algae superfood features high amounts of the potent antioxidants known as carotenoids, which neutralize free radicals and promote health throughout the body. It also contains high amounts of protein, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), copper and iron as well as smaller amounts of magnesium and manganese.1

Studies have shown that spirulina delivers many benefits to the body, including promoting healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range, antioxidant function, immune health and more.2 If you’re looking to add spirulina to your diet, it’s pretty easy to do. Spirulina powder mixes easily into recipes, drinks, smoothies or you can take spirulina tablets and pills.

Amla Fruit

Also sometimes known as the Indian Gooseberry, amla fruit has been prized by herbal practitioners of the Ayurvedic tradition since ancient times and modern science agrees. This powerful superfood berry grows from the Indian Gooseberry plant of Southeast Asia and delivers a wealth of nutrients, including skin-nourishing free radical fighters, minerals, amino acids and phenolic compounds as well as plenty of vitamin C.

Amla fruit can benefit your health in several ways, including by promoting collagen stimulation, providing antioxidant defense against oxidative stress on the skin, liver health, joints and much more.3 4,5 These delicious berries are great on their own, in amla powder form for smoothies and drinks, or in amla fruit supplements.

Maqui Berry

If you’re looking for an antioxidant anthocyanin powerhouse that will fiercely attack free radicals, maqui berry is an absolutely fantastic superfood. This dark purple South American fruit is even more abundant in antioxidants than acai berry and goji berry, which are also highly sought after for their antioxidant content.

The anthocyanins within maqui berry help support anti-aging, skin health, eye health, cardio health, digestive function and more.6 Like amla fruit and spirulina, maqui berry is a great addition to smoothies, but can also be incorporated into recipes, taken as a maqui berry supplement in powder or capsule form, or eaten on their own.

Chokeberry

The aronia plant is a shrub found in North America that grows primarily in damp wooded areas and around swamps or wetlands and it produces one of the more powerful superfoods known to man—the chokeberry. Also sometimes referred to as ariona berries, chokeberries are becoming increasingly popular among health and wellness enthusiasts, and for good reason.

Studies have shown that chokeberries have many health benefits, including the ability to promote healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range, healthy weight, antioxidant function, liver health, artery health and more.7,8,9 What’s more, chokeberry is an excellent source for vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-1, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-6, niacin, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, tocopherols, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

Chokeberry has many culinary applications too—including pies, cookies and muffins and it can also be made into jams and juices. Chokeberry supplements are also an extremely popular way to incorporate this superfood into your daily routine.

Golden Berries

While they have surprisingly few calories, golden berries are fully loaded with nutrients your body craves, including plenty of free-radical-neutralizing antioxidants. Close relatives of eggplants and tomatoes, golden berries originated in the mountainous regions South America and have an orangish/yellow hue.

Among their many nutrients are vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, iron and up to 34 unique compounds.10 Golden berries boost your health by supporting antioxidant function, immunity, vision health and may even promote bone health.11 A tasty treat the size of cherry tomatoes, golden berries are great in salads, sauces or jams.

Seaweed

If you’ve ever ordered sushi rolls, you’re already familiar with what a great culinary treat seaweed is, but were you aware that it’s a superfood? It’s true! Seaweed such as wakame and kelp deliver naturally-occurring electrolyte minerals including calcium and magnesium plus more minerals like manganese and iron and is also a rich source of iodine, which is essential for a healthy thyroid gland. Seaweed is also high in fucoidan, a polysaccharide which supports immune health, skin health, digestive function, liver and kidney function.12

Aside from a number of culinary dishes, seaweed supplements like Scottish Kelp are a great way to add this superfood to your life.

Mushrooms

Do you love mushrooms as a pizza topping, on a salad or maybe sautéed and served with a nice steak? If so, you’re in luck, because mushrooms like shiitake, maitake and chaga are a great superfood. These mushrooms are adaptogens, meaning they help you to counteract the effects of stress.13

While all three of these mushrooms boast the ability to support antioxidant function and immune health, they each have their own unique health benefits. For example, the shiitake mushroom is a natural source of vitamin D, which boosts your body’s ability to absorb calcium for strong bones.14

Maitake mushrooms are packed with beta glucans, B vitamins, vitamin C, copper, potassium, fiber and amino acids.15 And chaga mushrooms have long been cherished for their high amount of botanical compounds and beta glucans that can boost both heart health and energy.16

There are a lot of great ways to get the benefits from mushrooms, whether it’s adding them to a tasty dish, taking a daily mushroom supplement or even trying a health-boosting cup of mushroom coffee.

When it comes to mushrooms, the list of benefits is long, so it’s definitely worth your while to check out Top 10 Mushrooms for Better Health and The Health Benefits of Mushrooms.

Chia Seed

Chia seeds easily earn their distinction as a superfood by offering a veritable treasure trove of nutrients to boost wellness. Used by the Aztecs and Mayans to promote energy, these tiny seeds are low in calories and deliver a healthy dose of calcium, antioxidants, protein, essential fatty acids, and lots of fiber.17

Chia seeds are an excellent way to promote healthy digestion, bone health, skin health, heart health, energy and healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range.17 One of the great things about chia seeds is how easily they can be added to foods or beverages without impacting the flavor. Chia seeds go well with rice, yogurt, cereal, vegetables and much more, so eat up!

Hemp

Often misunderstood, hemp is a close cousin of the marijuana plant and has no psychoactive effects. Hemp is an extremely useful plant. It can be used for cordage, fabric, body oils, hemp cooking oils, lotions and paper and it even qualifies as a superfood.

Hemp seed, or hemp hearts as they’re sometimes called, is a protein-packed source of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, riboflavin, folate and a whole lot more.18 The health applications of hemp seed are many, including promoting a healthy weight, heart health, bone health, and healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range.18 Like chia seeds, hemp seeds are a simple addition to your daily diet and can be used for baking, added to smoothies, salads, cereal or yogurt or even made into hemp milk.

Pumpkin Seeds

If you’re like me, when you think of pumpkin seeds, it conjures up images of cleaning out the slimy insides of a Halloween pumpkin so you can carve a jack-o-lantern. But pumpkin seeds make for a delicious snack and are an outstanding superfood, jack-o-lanterns aside.

An excellent source of fiber, protein, fatty acids, iron, zinc, riboflavin and more, these antioxidant-rich seeds offer a lot to like.19 Consuming pumpkin seeds regularily is not only great for boosting antioxidants, heart health and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range, but it is especially useful for promoting men’s sexual function and prostate health.20 Pumpkin seeds go well with yogurt, smoothies and fruits, and can also be taken in pumpkin seed oil form.

Flaxseed

A high-fiber superfood that’s low in carbohydrates, evidence of flaxseed use dates back more than 30,000 years. Also known as linseed, flaxseed comes packed with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, lignan antioxidants, plant-based protein, various B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, manganese and thiamine.21 A member of the Linum genus of the Linaceae family, the flaxseed plant produces seeds that are small and range in color from gold, brown to tan.

The benefits of these seeds are many, as they are able to promote healthy digestion, antioxidant activity within the body, a healthy weight and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range.21 Flaxseed can be easily blended into smoothies, sprinkled on cereal and yogurt, added to soups and taken in flaxseed oil supplement form.

Yacon Root

Are you familiar with the South American yacon root? If not, you’ll definitely want to check out this incredible superfood. A tuberous root with a sweet flavor, yacon roots feature a high quantity of prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS) as well as plenty of antioxidants.22 Yacon root provides several benefits including the ability to boost digestive health, antioxidant function, immune health and healthy blood glucose levels already within the normal range.22

Low in calories, yacon root is often used as yacon syrup, a great sweetener option that’s far healthier than sugar and is also available in yacon root supplement form. You can even eat yacon raw or cooked or boiled and added to a salad or smoothie.

Maca

Our next superfood hails from the Andes Mountains of Peru and is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng. A vegetable that’s related to broccoli and cauliflower, maca is celebrated for its edible root, which is packed with antioxidants and important vitamins and minerals including vitamin B-6, vitamin C, copper, potassium, manganese and iron.

Its popularity is due, in part, to its sexual health and libido boosting abilities, which have been backed by research.23 The benefits don’t end there: maca root is also an excellent adaptogenic herb, due to its ability to promote stress reduction, energy, mood health. It may even boost endurance and athletic performance.24,25

Maca is widely available in maca powder, maca capsules and maca liquid extract form, making it easy to work into your daily routine however you see fit, whether as a food or beverage additive or to be taken on its own.

Moringa

Though this mighty North Indian tree goes by many names, like the drumstick tree, the horseradish tree or the miracle tree, health and wellness enthusiasts widely refer to it as the moringa tree. One of the most useful trees in the world, moringa has played a significant role in the Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years.

Moringa oleifera supplements commonly include the moringa leaf, which is a superfood containing protein, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, riboflavin, magnesium and iron, the powerful antioxidant quercetin and chlorogenic acid. Studies show that moringa boosts heart health, antioxidant function, healthy blood glucose levels already within the normal range and healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range.26, 27 Moringa oleifera is available in moringa olifeira capsules and moringa oleifera powder.

Turmeric

What is turmeric? An orange/yellow herb that’s closely related to the ginger family, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years by India’s Ayurvedic herbalists and features a compound called curcumin, which is its main health-boosting source. Curcumin is effective in delivering antioxidant support. A powerful superfood that’s teeming with antioxidants, turmeric is probably most widely used for its ability to boost joint function and comfort, but that’s not all it can do.28

Turmeric has been scientifically proven to promote memory health, mood health, focus, skin health and digestive function.29,30,31 Turmeric is a versatile herb that can be taken as a turmeric supplement, as a turmeric tea, as a turmeric skin serum, as a spice or even in cocktail form.

Learn more about the benefits of turmeric with What is Turmeric? and What is the Ideal Turmeric Dosage for Health Benefits?

Cacao

Yep, the same beans that your favorite chocolate bar is made from are, in fact, a superfood. While chocolate is made from roasting and processing these beans, cacao supplements, cacao nibs and cacao powders are prepared by drying the beans at a low temperature.

Raw cacao is full of antioxidant flavonoids including anthocyanidins and features polyphenols, calcium and iron; in fact, it’s the highest known source of plant-based iron. Cacao can do wonders for you by promoting heart health, a healthy mood, cognitive function, increased blood flow, feelings of satiety, healthy weight and energy, to name just a few.32,33,34,35

Probiotic Foods

Gut health is vital and should not be overlooked, which is why eating probiotic superfoods is essential. What are probiotics? Probiotics are living organisms that provide food to the healthy bacteria that live within your gut. In turn, this promotes healthy digestion and immune function. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles are a great way to introduce probiotics to your digestive tract, so is eating yogurt or miso soup. You can even introduce probiotics to your system with beverages like kombucha.  You can also get the benefits in probiotic supplements. Just be sure that one way or another, your body is receiving the probiotic support that it needs.

For an informative read on probiotics, check out Trust Your Gut Health: Build a Healthier Gut with Probiotics.

Bone Broth

One of the oldest superfoods known to man, bone broth is a delicious way to warm, comfort and nurture your body. Depending on the source, bone broths deliver different nutrients. For example, beef bone broth is packed with protein and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).36 Chicken bone broth is a great source for gelatin and protein and also contains vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorus, copper and potassium.37 Fish bone broth, meanwhile, contains folate, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, copper and calcium.38 Benefits of bone broth include support for healthy joints, digestive function, sleep, brain function and it may also promote a healthy weight.36

 If you’re looking for an outstanding bone broth supplement, look no further than Swanson Real Food Bone Broth Collagen in vanilla, chocolate and unflavored formulas.

Learn about more everyday superfoods plus smart tips for grocery shopping in Get Supermarket Smart: Grocery Store Hacks and ideas for stocking your pantry with nutritious whole foods in Pack Your Pantry: How to Make a Real Food Pantry

Lindsey Bristol, Swanson Health Products

 

 




About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products

Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for pie. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.

Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.

Sources

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2 Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications. Us National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/

3 Amla (Emblica officinalis gaertin.) extract promotes procollagen production and matrix metalloproteinase-1 in human skin fibroblasts. US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18588964

4 Amla Powder for Hair Health: Growth and Other Benefits. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/amla-powder-for-hair

5 Induction of Aptosis of Human Primary Oseoclasts Treated with Extracts from the Medicinal Plant Elblica officinalis. US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2587459/

6 10 Benefits and Uses of Maqui Berry. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/maqui-berry-benefits#section1

7 The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Improvement of Blood Glucose Levels and Obesity in Mice Given Aronia Juice by Inhibition of Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV and A-glucosidase. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286316000413

8 What are the health benefits of aronia berries? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320610.php

9 Effect of Bioactive Compound of Aronia Melanocarpa on Cardiovascular System in Experimental Hypertension. US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5733212/

10 Volatile Compounds, Antioxidants, and Anticancer Activities of Cape Gooseberry Fruit (Physalis peruviana L.): An In-Vitro Study. Academic OneFile. https://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=googlescholar&id=GALE|A443524746&v=2.1&it=r&sid=AONE&asid=2f840b9b

11 What are Golden Berries? Everything you Need to Know. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/golden-berries

12 Therapies from Fucodian: An update. US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4584361/

13 Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/adaptogenic-herbs

14 Why Shiitake Mushrooms Are Good For You. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/shiitake-mushrooms#section7

15 What Are Chaga Mushrooms and Are They Healthy? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/chaga-mushroom

16 Everything You Should Know About Maitake Mushroom. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/maitake-mushroom

17 11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds

18 9 Benefits of Hemp Seeds. MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323037.php

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20 Top 11 Science-Based Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds

21 How Healthful is Flaxseed? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263405.php

22 Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) as a Food Supplement: Health Promoting Benefits of Fructooligosaccharides. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4963912/

23 Effect of Lepidium meyenii (MACA) on sexual desire and its absent relationship with serum testosterone levels in adult healthy men. US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12472620

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29 Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1064748117305110

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32 Hypertension, the Kina, and the Epidemiology of Flavanols. Us National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16794446

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34 Chocolate and the Brain: Neurobiological Impact of Cocoa Flavonols on Cognition and Behavior. Us National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23810791

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36 Bone Broth: How to Make it and 6 Reasons Why You Should. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bone-broth

37 What are the Differences Between Stock and Broth? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stock-vs-broth

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


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