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What are superfoods?

chopping board full of superfoods
Want to know what superfoods are and what the big fuss is about? Learn all about superfoods and discover 23 of the best superfoods you can include in your diet here.

Still a bit puzzled about ‘superfoods’? We’ve got you covered. Find out what they are, why they’re beneficial for your health plus 26 of the best, below.

What are superfoods?

The word usually describes a food, or indeed drink, that’s highly nutritious – from kale, beetroot and berries to nuts, green tea and salmon – although there’s no set legal definition.1

And when we say highly nutritious, we mean it’s a good source of things like protein, fibre, iron, copper, magnesium, antioxidants – all the good stuff! As well as this, they also contain natural plant molecules which have antioxidant properties.

4 top benefits of superfoods

Read on to find out the top 4 benefits of superfoods...

  1. Superfoods are full of vitamins and minerals

Superfoods contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Plant foods are notoriously rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and more.

Your body needs a certain amount of these micronutrients to maintain a varied and balanced diet optimum health.2

  1. Superfoods contain antioxidants

Superfoods contain natural plant molecules which have powerful antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties.

Antioxidants have been shown to reduce the damaging effects of free radicals, scavenging atoms that have been linked to the development of heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s among others.3

  1. Superfoods can promote good health

Often a superfood can promote health beyond simple nutrition.

For example, some superfoods, like oats, are wholegrains and have been shown to help reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.4

  1. Superfoods for weight control 

As superfoods are mainly plant-based or considered natural, including more into your diet could help you lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Why are superfoods also controversial?

Many experts say that with no legal definition of the word, the term is arbitrary and may mislead people into believing that a few foods will counteract an otherwise bad diet.

Some scientists are also concerned that the nutritional benefits may be over-sold: it can be tricky to prove scientifically how one single food impacts your health.5

26 of the best superfoods

There may be no such thing as a miracle food, but these plant foods can still make a valuable contribution to a healthy, balanced diet:

  1. Pomegranate

This fruit contains a host of nutrients, including fibrevitamin Avitamin C and some B vitamins, plus calcium, potassium – needed for the nervous system and muscle health – and iron, for red blood cells.6,7

It also contains 3 times as many antioxidants as green tea.8

A 2012 randomised placebo-controlled study by Sheffield Hallam University showed that drinking 330ml of pomegranate juice every day could lower blood pressure in healthy, middle-aged people.9

Nutritional value of one pomegranate

The nutritional value of one pomegranate is10

Calories 234kcal
Protein 4.71g
Fat 3.3g
Carbohydrate 52.7g
Fibre 11.3g
Sugar 36.8g

 

  1. Turmeric

This spice is a source of bioactive plant compounds called curcuminoids, shown to have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

A 2017 review by USA’s Central Michigan University found it can reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels, and also has an anti-anxiety effect.11

Nutritional value of one tablespoon of turmeric

The nutritional value of one tablespoon of turmeric is12

Calories 29kcal
Protein 0.91g
Fat 0.3g
Carbohydrate 6.31g
Fibre 2.13g
Sugar 0.3g

 

Handpicked content: 10 science backed turmeric benefits & uses

  1. Spirulina

This famously bright blue-green algae species is an ancient plant that has inhabited the world for over 2.4 billion years.

Spirulina is considered a superfood due to its nutrient content, which includes vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, iodine, and iron.

These nutrients can help support heart health, immune function, and spirulina’s antioxidant content can help protect against oxidative stress.

Spirulina is also a great source of protein, calciumpotassium, and phosphorus needed for good bone health the maintenance of normal bones; and also iron and magnesium essential for energy release and electrolyte balance.13,14

A 2014 study in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that taking 1g of spirulina per day for three months lowered overall cholesterol by almost 9% in people with raised levels of blood fats.15

It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and grows in freshwater ponds under warm sunlight.

Nutritional value of one tablespoon of spirulina

The nutritional value of one tablespoon of spirulina is16

Calories 20kcal
Protein 4g
Fat 0.54g
Carbohydrate 1.67g
Fibre 0.25g
Sugar 0.21g

 

  1. Quinoa

This wholegrain isn’t just a great source of fibre.

It’s also higher in protein than most grains – it contains a good balance of essential amino acids – plus magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, zinc and vitamin E, both of which help protect cells from oxidative stress.17,18

It also contains antioxidants, including quercetin, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects.19

A 2004 study on people who ate quinoa instead of gluten-free breads and pastas experienced a drop in blood sugar, insulin and blood fat levels – factors important for heart health.20

Nutritional value in a cup of cooked quinoa

The nutritional value in a cup of cooked quinoa21

Calories 222kcal
Protein 8.14g
Fat 3.55g
Carbohydrate 39.4g
Fibre 5.18g
Sugar 1.61g

 

  1. Kale

Dark green, leafy vegetables are all superfoods, but many think kale wins the prize for its very high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K – needed for normal bone function and blood clotting.

It also contains vitamin B6, which is important for the normal functioning of both the nervous system and the immune system health.

Plus minerals iron, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium.22,23

It’s also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients important for eye health.

A French 2006 population study showed that people with low levels of these nutrients in their eyes were at increased risk of sight-threatening diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.24

Nutritional value in a cup of kale

The nutritional value in a cup of kale25

Calories 8kcal
Protein 0.6g
Fat 0.3g
Carbohydrate 0.9g
Fibre 0.85g
Sugar 0.17g

 

  1. Other green leafy vegetables

As well as kale, other green leafy vegetables are often considered to have superfood status. Some of the most popular edible green leafy vegetables include:

  • Spinach
  • Collard greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Spring greens

They contain a variety of important micronutrients like calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin K and vitamin C, as well as a healthy serving of fibre.26 

The antioxidants found in these foods have been shown to help:

  • Prevent certain birth defects
  • Protect bones from osteoporosis
  • Prevent against inflammatory diseases27

Not everyone is going to love munching on some raw kale or other plain green leafy vegetables; try including them in stir-frys, curries, soups, salads, smoothies, pasta dishes and more.

Nutritional value of one cup of spinach

The nutritional value in one cup of spinach28

Calories 7kcal
Protein 0.85g
Fat 0.11g
Carbohydrate 1.1g
Fibre 0.66g
Sugar 0.12g

 

Handpicked content: Healthy ways to cook & eat spinach

  1. Nuts

Nuts are one of the best sources of vegan fats and protein, with healthy fibre, vitamin and mineral to boot.

The likes of almonds, pistachios, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans and Brazil nuts not only taste divine, but they also contain all important antioxidants.

These anti-inflammatory compounds help protect the body from oxidative stress.

Nuts are also associated with good heart health, as they contain lots of healthy fats.29

Nutritional value in a serving of 23 almonds

Nutritional value in a serving of 23 almonds is30

Calories 164kcal
Protein 6g
Fat 14g
Carbohydrate 6.1g
Fibre 3.5g
Sugar 1.2g

 

Handpicked content: A - Z list of different types of nuts

  1. Seeds

Just like nuts, seeds are also often classed as a superfood due to their vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, healthy fat, fibre and protein content.

Some of the most popular seeds include:

Seeds can help support good heart health with all the healthy fats they contain.31

Nutritional value in one cup of sunflower seeds

Nutritional value in one cup of sunflower seeds are32

Calories 268kcal
Protein 8.8g
Fat 22.9g
Carbohydrate 11.1g
Fibre 5.11g
Sugar 1.26g

 

Need some recipe inspo? If it’s flaxseeds you’re stuck on, try your hand at this flaxseed porridge recipe!

  1. Berries

Juicy berries are a sweet way to get your fill of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fibre.

Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and blackberries are particularly rich in antioxidants, which may help reduce oxidative stress in the body.

These superfoods are a great way to get some sweetness in your diet without resorting to refined sugars and unhealthy snacks.

Nutritional value in one cup of blueberries

Nutritional value in one cup of blueberries are33

Calories 85kcal
Protein 1.1g
Fat 0.5g
Carbohydrate 21.8g
Fibre 3.6g
Sugar 14.9g

 

  1. Green tea

Green tea is antioxidant rich and a source of caffeine, widely consumed for its superfood qualities.

This naturally good for you beverage is especially rich in an antioxidant called catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

The rich mix of EGCG and other polyphenols and phenolic acids are where green tea’s reported health benefits – like protecting the heart – come from.34

Nutritional value in one cup of green tea

Nutritional value in one cup of green tea35

Calories 2.4kcal
Protein 0.5g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 0g
Fibre 0g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Legumes

Legumes are a food group including the likes of beans, peas, lentils, alfalfa, chickpeas and peanuts (the great nut imposter!)

They are classed as superfoods as they contain lots of nutrients essential for good health. Legumes are particularly rich in B vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein.

Studies have shown that legumes may be able to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as promote healthy weight maintenance due to their filling fibre content.36,37

Nutritional value in one cup of cooked lentils

Nutritional value in one cup of cooked lentils38

Calories 230kcal
Protein 17.9g
Fat 0.75g
Carbohydrate 39.8g
Fibre 15.6g
Sugar 3.56g

 

  1. Seaweed

Seaweed is a collective name to describe nutrient-dense sea vegetables and is popular in Asian cuisine, and gaining popularity all over the world.

Each serving of seaweed packs in nutrients like folic acid, vitamin K, fibre and iodine.

It also differs to land vegetables and may contain different antioxidants, helping to reduce oxidative damage in cells.

Nutritional value in one cup of dried seaweed

Nutritional value in one cup of dried seaweed39

Calories 45kcal
Protein 4.8g
Fat 0.6g
Carbohydrate 7.9g
Fibre 0.84g
Sugar 0.45g

 

  1. Kefir

Kefir is a drink made from fermented milk that is rich in protein, B vitamins, calcium, potassium and probiotics.

It is quite similar to yoghurt, but typically contains more healthy probiotics and has a thinner consistency, which is why it is consumed as a drink.

The probiotic strains in kefir are largely responsible for its superfood status, and have been found to help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and improve digestion.40,41,42

You can find it in health food shops or make it by yourself if you’re feeling particularly adventurous – or want to avoid added sugar.

Nutritional value in one cup of kefir

Nutritional value in one cup of kefir43

Calories 127kcal
Protein 8.8g
Fat 2.3g
Carbohydrate 18.3g
Fibre 0g
Sugar 16.9g

 

  1. Other probiotics

Kefir isn’t the only probiotic on the block with superfood properties, you can also get a good dose of healthy bacteria from the following food and drinks:

It is advised that you consume a variety of probiotics in your daily diet for the fibre, antioxidants and healthy bacteria they contain.

Nutritional value in 100ml of kombucha

Nutritional value in 100ml of kombucha44

Calories 17kcal
Protein 1.1g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 3g
Fibre n/a
Sugar 3g

 

The Mediterranean diet is hailed as one of the healthiest ways to eat. One of the key components is olive oil – a natural oil extracted from the fruit of olive trees. It contains a lot of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyphenolic compounds.

Consuming extra virgin olive oil in your diet provides you with healthy fats, as well as polyphenols.

However, refined (processed) olive oils won’t benefit you in the same way so make sure to buy some of the good stuff!45

Nutritional value in one tablespoon of olive oil

Nutritional value in one tablespoon of olive oil46

Calories 124kcal
Protein 0g
Fat 14g
Carbohydrate 0g
Fibre 0g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Garlic

Garlic not only tastes amazing, it also contains several nutrients that make it a superfood.

You will find vitamin C, manganese, selenium, fibre and vitamin B6, which could help support immune function and other health benefits.47

Nutritional value of one garlic clove

Nutritional value of one garlic clove48

Calories 4.5kcal
Protein 0.2g
Fat 0.02g
Carbohydrate 0.1g
Fibre 0.06g
Sugar 0.03g

 

  1. Seafood

Seafood contains an array of health-supporting nutrients like protein, healthy fats, potassium, selenium and B vitamins.

It is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help reduce inflammation.

Nutritional value of 100g of seafood medley

Nutritional value of 100g of seafood medley (scallops, shrimps, squid, mussels)49

Calories 97kcal
Protein 17.7g
Fat 0.88g
Carbohydrate 2.65g
Fibre 0g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Ginger

Ginger has been used for centuries in cooking as well as a herbal remedy, originating in China.

The root of the flowering ginger plant is rich in antioxidants like gingerol, which is thought to be the source of reported ginger health benefits.

These claims include nausea management and easing the symptoms of some chronic inflammatory conditions.50,51,52

Try cooking curries with minced ginger or make yourself a ginger tea with hot water and chopped ginger – it can help ease nausea this way.

Nutritional value in ¼ cup of raw ginger

Nutritional value in ¼ cup of raw ginger53

Calories 19kcal
Protein 0.4g
Fat 0.2g
Carbohydrate 4.2g
Fibre 0.5g
Sugar 0.4g

 

  1. Mushrooms

You can get lots of different mushroom varieties nowadays, from standard button and portobello mushrooms to shiitake, chestnut, and oyster mushrooms – and they’re all pretty delicious!

Although each mushroom has a unique nutrient content, most contain potassium and vitamin A, as well as fibre and special antioxidants not found in most other foods.54

Their unique antioxidant-rich makeup can help to defend the body from oxidative stress.

Nutritional value in one cup of mushrooms

Nutritional value in one cup of mushrooms56

Calories 15kcal
Protein 2.2g
Fat 0.2g
Carbohydrate 2.3g
Fibre 0.7g
Sugar 1.4g

 

  1. Avocado

Avocado is a fruit that is usually mistaken for a vegetable and used more like one too, e.g. in salads or spread on bread.

It earns its superfood status due to its nutrient content, which includes fibre, minerals, vitamins and healthy fats (monounsaturated fats).

Nutritional value of one avocado

Nutritional value of one avocado57

Calories 240kcal
Protein 3g
Fat 22g
Carbohydrate 12.8g
Fibre 10g
Sugar 1g

 

  1. Acai berries

Acai berries come from the Brazilian rainforest and are a real tropical treat – especially when it comes to antioxidants!

They’re often referred to as the beauty berry because of their health benefits.

You can usually find it as acai powder, which has a uniquely delicious berry and chocolate flavour that goes great in smoothies.

They also contain healthy fats that are essential for good health.

One preliminary study found that eating acai berry pulp may reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol in people who are overweight.58

Nutritional value in 100g of acai berry puree

Nutritional value in 100g of acai berry puree59

Calories 70kcal
Protein 1.75g
Fat 5.3g
Carbohydrate 5.3g
Fibre 5.3g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Hemp

Hemp isn’t just for making shopping bags and extracting CBD from; when consumed as a powder or supplement it can be considered a highly nutritious superfood.

A plant-based protein – hemp contains all 9 essential amino acids to support healthy muscles.

Add it to smoothies for a protein hit, as well as a mild nutty flavour.

Nutritional value in three tablespoons of hemp seeds

Nutritional value in three tablespoons of hemp seeds60

Calories 166kcal
Protein 9.5g
Fat 14.6g
Carbohydrate 2.6g
Fibre 1.2g
Sugar 0.45g

 

Handpicked content: 15 easy ways to use shelled hemp

  1. Chlorella

Chlorella is a type of single-celled microalgae that grows in fresh water.

It is full of nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron, which can help support muscle function, energy levels and immunity.

You will usually find it as a powder, which you can add to smoothies or other healthy concoctions.

Nutritional value in two teaspoons of chlorella powder

Nutritional value in two teaspoons of chlorella powder61

Calories 15kcal
Protein 3g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 2g
Fibre 0g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Wheatgrass

Considered one of nature’s most prized plants, wheatgrass is an incredibly nutrient rich type of grass. Each blade is cut at what’s called the ‘jointing stage’, meaning that it has reached high enough levels of carbohydrates, amino acids and chlorophyll for it to reproduce.

It’s also a great source of protein, iron and vitamin A – which is why it has reached superfood status.

Nutritional value in a 3g serving of wheatgrass powder

Nutritional value in a 3g serving of wheatgrass powder62

Calories 15kcal
Protein 1g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 2g
Fibre 1g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Maca

With all the benefits lying in its roots, the maca plant is now seen as a key contender in the superfood group.

This is because it’s naturally rich in a range of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, iron and zinc. But that’s not all. It’s also a good plant-based source of protein.

Nutritional value in a 7g serving of maca powder

Nutritional value in a 7g serving of maca powder63

Calories 25kcal
Protein 1g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 6g
Fibre 1g
Sugar 2g

 

Give it a go with this vegan maca latte!

  1. Cacao powder and nibs

Move over cocoa powder, there’s a new chocolate ingredient in town – and it boasts many nutritional benefits. Cacao is super rich in a range of nutrients, including copper, magnesium, zinc and protein.

Not sure how to use it? Simply sprinkle it over your morning cereal, or add it to your smoothies for a superfood boost! Or, try these delicious cacao nib brownies for a mid-afternoon snack.

Nutritional value in a 5g serving of cacao powder

Nutritional value in a 5g serving of cacao powder64

Calories 20kcal
Protein 1g
Fat 0.5g
Carbohydrate 3g
Fibre 2g
Sugar 0g

 

  1. Manuka honey

And last up in our comprehensive list of superfoods, is manuka honey. Not sure how it differs from regular honey? Well, manuka has strong anti-microbial properties from MGO (Methylglyoxal).

But if you’re thinking of making the swap, be sure to do your research so that you’re getting the best quality honey, rather than a cheap imitation as these do not offer the same benefits.

Nutritional value in a 5g serving of manuka honey

Nutritional value in a 5g serving of manuka honey65

Calories 15kcal
Protein 0g
Fat 0g
Carbohydrate 4g
Fibre n/a
Sugar 4g

 

How to get more superfoods in your diet

Not sure where to start? Try these tips to support your superfood intake:

5 easy ways to get superfoods into your diet

  1. Add pomegranate seeds, kale and spirulina to your salads and other dishes.
  2. Spice up scrambled eggs with turmeric. Season with black pepper, too – it boosts curcumin absorption
  3. Use quinoa instead of rice, or stir it pre-cooked into soups.
  4. Mix up your diet with as much brightly-coloured fruit and veg as possible – the more varied your diet, the wider the range of nutrients you’ll consume.37
  5. Make some superfood smoothies – check out the recipes below for some inspiration.

3 superfood smoothie recipes

Have a go at making these superfood smoothies at home to increase your nutrient intake for the day.

  1. Strawberry lemonade protein smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 150g frozen strawberry
  • 80ml plant-based milk
  • 3 tbsp acai powder
  • 1 tbsp nut butter

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a blender. 
  2. Sprinkle in a little water to wet the ingredients. 
  3. Blend until smooth.
  1. Salted caramel mocha smoothie

Ingredients

  • 240ml plant-based milk
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ¼ frozen courgette
  • 1 ½ tsp maca powder
  • 2 tsp cacao powder
  • 1 date (Medjool if you can find them)
  • 1 tsp coffee or 1 espresso s

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a blender.
  2. Sprinkle in a little water to wet the ingredients.
  3. Blend until smooth.
  1. Avo-go smoothie

Ingredients

  • ½ medium avocado
  • 30g spinach
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 tbsp hemp powder
  • Protein powder
  • 140ml plant-based milk

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a blender.
  2. Sprinkle in a little water to wet the ingredients.
  3. Blend until smooth.

3 superfood meal recipes

  1. Super green vanilla protein pancakes

Want to include superfoods in your breakfast, but fancy a change from smoothies? Try these protein pancakes instead!

  1. Pink superfood biscotti

Craving a sweet treat? Why not make it a superfood version? Do just that with this pink superfood biscotti recipe.

  1. Vegan burger nourish bowl

Perfect if you’re craving a big bowl of soul food, this vegan burger nourish bowl will do just the trick.

Are superfoods suitable for everyone?

It depends on the superfood in question and the person consuming it!

As with any food or supplement, you should always add it to your diet slowly to see how or if your body reacts to it.

Always check the labels of processed products like superfood powders and check with your doctor that you can take them if you are on medication.

However, as superfoods tend to be plant-based or largely natural, they should be safe for most people without allergies or other health issues.

The final say

  • Superfoods are foods or drinks that are considered highly nutritious and good for health – although there is no set legal definition
  • They tend to contain lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and healthy fats
  • You can enjoy an array of different superfoods, from plant-based ones like vegetables and herbs and spices to seafood and some dairy products
  • Superfood powders can be useful for throwing into a blender with fruits and vegetables and increasing your nutrient intake
  • Try and include more into your diet and see if they make a difference in your health and life!

Last updated: 3 May 2022

Sources 

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Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
 

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