What is a superfood?
Superfoods. You know them by their strange names and for being sourced (for the most part) from exotic locations. While they may sound like a fleeting trend or the next big diet fad, the real reason why so many health experts continually applaud superfoods is due to their ridiculously high nutritional value—some also pack anti-aging and beauty benefits as well. With some expert help, we put together a list of the top superfoods that should be claiming prime real estate in your kitchen.
Did you know:
Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha tea and miso, which boast good-for-you bacteria, have long been popular in China not just for their ability to heal, but also because they promote healthy digestion, aid in detoxification and potentially contribute to weight loss.
What kale is:A dark, leafy green, vitamin-rich vegetable. Popular in the U.S. but native to Greece, kale is most coveted for its array of nutrients and its ability to gently detoxify the body. “Kale is a great source of iron, vitamins A, C and K and calcium,” says nutritionist Lindsay Duncan. “It also helps support the body’s healthy, natural inflammatory responses. Its high fiber and sulfur content give it its ability to cleanse and detoxify the body.”
How to work it into your diet: Use it in salads as a substitute for lettuce, add it to fresh raw juices and smoothies or mix it into soups.
What Maca is: A yellowish powder (it’s dried and milled down to a powder from a root) that hails from Peru and promotes endurance and well-being. The original use of this ancient Peruvian superfood was by Incan warriors to sustain energy levels and fight fatigue—and it’s still used for those purposes today. “Maca is an adaptogen (it can adapt to deal with stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.) so when you eat it, the body knows exactly where the nutrients need to go and how to make use of them,” says food expert Tosca Reno. Maca also contains high levels of B vitamins, which help the body sustain its energy levels, as well as calcium and magnesium.
How to work it into your diet: Add maca to baked goods, tea, coffee and smoothies. Reno says it doesn’t have the best taste to it. “It’s kind of earthy and bitter.”
What japanese knotweed is: A nutrient-dense plant native to Eastern Asia that is loaded with the antioxidant resveratrol. Japanese knotweed is rich in resveratrol, a naturally occurring compound that offers multiple health benefits to the body. Duncan explains that resveratrol has a strong connection to cardiovascular health and promoting healthy aging. Data shows that resveratrol, which is often found in red wine, protects blood vessels from becoming damaged and lowers bad cholesterol levels, too.
How to work it into your diet: Steam, sauté it, use it as a flavoring or use knotweed honey in teas and smoothies.
What spirulina is: A blue-green algae full of iron and vitamin B12. It’s hard to believe that a sea plant can offer up so many antioxidants and vitamins but spirulina does just that. “It’s a great source of highly absorbable iron, protein and vitamin B12 and it contains essential fatty acids, too,” says Duncan. Some experts even say that spirulina is the “original superfood,” mainly because of its extraordinarily high levels of amino acids (necessary for healthy, glowing skin) and protein. “Spirulina most notably has a high protein content and a high amino acid profile, which is why it’s popular with vegetarians,” says Reno. It is also chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which take down inflammation levels to repair damaged tissue, skin and muscle, and make the skin more resilient to future damage.
How to work it into your diet: Spirulina comes in either a powder or flake form, making it easy to add to juices and smoothies or sprinkle on food.
What chia seeds are: Small, black, tasteless seeds that offer a healthy dose of fiber, omega-3s, iron, calcium and essential fatty acids. One of the biggest kudos that antioxidant-rich chia repeatedly receives is its ability to fight inflammation. When internal inflammation levels are reduced, premature aging is decreased (inflammation is a cause of aging and wrinkles). “Chia is great. It can be used for added endurance to provide energy to the body to remove harmful toxins,” says Reno. In fact, Aztec warriors were said to eat the seeds before fighting in war because they increase muscle hydration and slow down the rate at which carbohydrates are burned for long-lasting energy. Besides that, chia is full of essential omegas and fatty acids—as much, if not more than a serving of salmon—to promote healthy hair and nail growth and glowing skin.
How to work it into your diet: Add it to raw juices, smoothies and shakes, dust it on salads or sprinkle it on oatmeal.
What coconut oil is: An oil that is derived from the meat of a coconut that is heat-stable so it doesn’t emit free radicals when used for cooking. Reno says that people have jumped on the coconut water bandwagon because it’s full of electrolytes, which maintain good hydration, and she suspects that the same will happen with coconut oil. “It’s a fat but it doesn’t get stored in the liver right away. Instead, it turns almost immediately to energy like a carb does, helping to drive up your metabolic rate to keep the body slim.” She also says that because the fatty acids in the delicious tasting oil are small to medium in size, they help keep cell membranes flexible. “Rigid cell membranes are often diseased, making the skin and body look older.” Coconut oil also decreases inflammation by balancing out blood sugar and keeping it stable.
How to work it into your diet: Use it in baked goods and smoothies, as a replacement for butter or enjoy it raw (one to three tablespoons are recommended per day).
What acerola is: A South American fruit that is abundant in vitamin C. Acerola—it looks like a cherry—is best known for its high levels of vitamin C, which can help fight off cardiovascular disease, eye disease and even limit the degree of wrinkles on the skin. “Traditionally, acerola has been used to support a healthy immune system,” says Duncan, adding that it’s also a natural source of flavonoids and carotenoids.
How to work it into your diet: Mix it (when it’s formulated as a powder or capsule) with water or juice or take it as a supplement.
What kefir is: A protein-rich fermented milk drink that is low in sugar. Similar in taste and texture to yogurt—it’s creamy and somewhat tangy—kefir is made via kefir grains and fermented cow, goat or sheep milk. It offers the benefit of probiotics, a healthy bacteria and immunity defender that keeps the digestive system in check, as well as vitamins and minerals. “It’s considered a superfood because of its ability to largely support the GI tract,” says Duncan.
How to work it into your diet: Drink it like a yogurt drink or add it to shakes and smoothies.