The term ‘superfood’ has grown in popularity over the last few years, but what exactly makes a food a superfood?
On the one hand, some apply the term superfood to exotic plants like acai and goji berries, wheatgrass, chia seeds, and maca.
On the other hand, others refer to healthy but boring staples like blueberries, oats, and almonds as superfoods.
So, do superfoods exist, or is it just a slick label applied to healthy foods of all kinds?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, compared to what the average Western diet, eating plenty of so-called superfoods will make a noticeable improvement in your health.
On the other hand, if you already eat a healthy diet, you’re probably already consuming what many people consider superfoods on a daily basis.
We’re going to get to the bottom of all of this in this article.
By the end, you’ll know what makes a superfood (and where the term came from) and how to include 31 foods commonly thought of as superfoods in your diet.
Technically, there’s no such thing as a “superfood.”
The term “superfood” was created in order to sell people on particular health food products that allegedly possess unique benefits that you can’t get from normal foods.
For example, supplement companies have been promoting wheatgrass and acai and goji berries for over a decade.
After artificially creating demand for these foods through aggressive advertising, supplement companies released thousands of products based around these low-cost, high-margin “superfoods,” which are super for their bottom line but mediocre at improving your health.
They applied the same formula to boring, everyday healthy staples like blueberries, kale, and dark chocolate.
After hyping these foods as “superfoods,” supplement companies created products based around these foods, too.
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In other cases, some people also label normal, healthy foods as superfoods in order to encourage people to eat more of them. While understandable, this has also led to the incorrect notion that some healthy foods are drastically healthier than others.
Here’s the truth: if you were to dismiss the idea of superfoods and superfood-based products entirely and stick to practical, simple, time-tested healthy eating principles, you wouldn’t miss anything.
There is a shred of truth to the idea behind superfoods, though.
It’s true that some foods do contain more of some nutrients than others.
For example, strawberries, oranges, and lemons contain more vitamin C per gram of weight than most other fruits.
Some foods also contain compounds that have unique health benefits.
For example, broccoli is a good source of sulforaphane, which may have powerful anti-cancer properties (and which may also negate some of the unhealthy chemicals produced from grilling meat).
The problem with the term “superfood,” though, is that it implies that the only way to get these benefits is to consume these specific foods.
This isn’t true.
For example, although strawberries, oranges, and lemons contain more vitamin C than most other fruits, almost every fruit contains large amounts of vitamin C—enough to help you reach the recommended daily value with only two to three servings.
Likewise, although broccoli is a good source of sulforaphane, so are Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables.
So, in the final analysis, what makes one food a “superfood” and another food just “healthy” are often minor and meaningless differences in their nutritional content.
The truth is that so long as you’re eating a variety of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and various meats, you’ll likely be consuming all the nutrients your body needs.
That said, the idea of superfoods has become thoroughly entrenched in the fitness world, so we might as well look at some of the foods most often considered superfoods.
For the sake of consistency, I’ll refer to them as superfoods throughout the rest of this article. Just remember that it’s not entirely accurate.
Summary: “Superfood” is a marketing buzzword created to sell exotic, expensive, superfood-based supplements, and most “superfoods” are really just regular fruits, vegetables, and other healthy staples.
Apples are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients that fight free radicals. They’re also packed with vitamins and dietary fiber to keep you full.
In one study, non-smoking women between the ages of 30 to 50 were randomly assigned one of three dietary supplements, adding three apples per day to their diets, three pears per day, or three oat cookies per day.
Of course, you’d expect the fruit group to lose more weight than the oat cookies group, and this was the case. The fruit group lost a pound on average more than the oat group.
That’s a small difference, but when you consider the other added benefits of fruit, it shows that having something packed with fiber is especially helpful.
It’s also worth pointing out that this small difference in weight loss was achieved after only a few weeks and with no other dietary changes.
Bananas are one powerful fruit.
They’re high in potassium, magnesium, fiber, and easily digested carbohydrates to fuel your workouts.
They’re also extremely convenient thanks to their peel, which serves as a natural form of packaging.
The deep blue color that comes from blueberries lets you know that they are rich in antioxidants that ward off free radicals.
They can also be helpful for weight loss thanks to the combination of fiber and water found in blueberries, which reduces appetite.
Goji berries have become extremely popular “superfoods,” and while they don’t quite live up to the hype, they do have a number of health benefits on par with other berries.
Goji berries are generally sold as a dried fruit, so I’ll sprinkle them on my salads or oatmeal for a little added sweetness.
Be careful not to go overboard, as all dried fruits are easier to overeat than their fresh counterparts.
If you can get past the super tartness of grapefruit, you’ll be well on your way to quick weight loss.
One study examined 91 obese patients and split them into four groups. One group was given a placebo, one received grapefruit capsules, one had to drink grapefruit juice, and the last group ate fresh grapefruits. The participants had to consume their allocated supplements three times a day before each meal over 12 weeks.
The fresh grapefruit group lost the most weight, the grapefruit juice drinkers came in second place, and the capsule consumers fared better than the placebo takers.
The reason for this is probably that the grapefruit eaters got more whole fiber, which generally helps control appetite better than plain juice.
If it’s hard for you to enjoy the tartness of fresh grapefruit slices, try blending them in your smoothies.
Pears are incredible for controlling appetite.
Since pears have an average of 5.5 grams of fiber per serving, they keep our digestive systems moving.
Fiber has a number of health benefits including improving blood sugar levels, reducing appetite, and supporting proper digestion.
If you’re feeling a little backed up or constipated, slice up a juicy pear and enjoy.
This low-calorie snack option also packs a healthy dose of fiber, making it an ideal afternoon treat.
I like to buy containers of pomegranate seeds so all I have to do is sprinkle them over some greek yogurt.
I have to admit that I love oranges, but I don’t drink much orange juice. It’s too easy to consume more calories than I want that way.
I don’t do anything fancy with my oranges. Occasionally, I’ll slice one up for an acai bowl, but other than that the fresh slices are where it’s at.
Do you ever get that feeling after you eat that you could go for something else, despite having eaten a full meal already?
I used to until I learned that adding half an avocado to your lunch could help prevent this issue from happening.
A study published in the Nutrition Journal on 26 healthy but overweight participants, asked them to either replace other foods with avocados or simply add avocado to their meals.
The results showed that those who added the fresh avocado to their lunches had a decreased desire to snack between meals by 40% over the course of three hours. Twenty-eight percent even reported feeling satiated (full) as long as five hours later.
I like to add half an avocado to my smoothies, sandwiches, or salads.
The combination of fiber and protein makes beans so healthy for you. Not only will black beans keep you full, but they provide slow-release energy from complex carbs.
I like to make black bean burritos using fresh salsa, avocados, and brown rice.
Instead of severely limiting your food intake, you can add more nutrients and cut calories simultaneously by eating broccoli.
With broccoli I keep it simple and steam it as a side dish or use it in a stir fry. I also like to cut it up raw for salads or hummus.
Chiles are high in fiber, nutrients, and flavor, making them an ideal choice for many meals.
If I’m feeling up for some heat, I’ll add chiles to my black bean burritos.
You may be familiar with garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, thanks to the rise in popularity of hummus, a ground up and seasoned version of chickpeas.
These tan colored beans are packed with soluble fiber to absorb water and help you feel full. Chickpeas are also nutrient dense and provide you with 7 grams of protein and 22 grams of complex carbohydrates.
I prefer eating chickpeas in a cold salad or ground up as hummus.
Similar to beans, lentils are packed with protein. In fact, a single cup can contain as much as 18 grams of protein for just over 200 calories.
Not only does this significant amount of protein help you build lean muscle mass and control your hunger, but it will also help you cut calories.
I like to eat lentils as a cold salad mixed with quinoa, pomegranate seeds, and green onions.
You could argue that all beans are superfoods, but I’ve found that black beans, kidney, and white beans are especially tasty.
Kidney beans, in particular, are popular among vegetarians as a hearty meat substitute. Thanks to their iron, protein, potassium, and magnesium content, they’re very nutritious.
My favorite way to eat kidney beans is in a vegetarian chilli. I’ll set up a crockpot with some tomatoes, corn, peppers, black beans, and onions and let it simmer for about two hours on high.
White beans have all of the benefits of other beans, but come with a unique flavor that many enjoy.
If you’re unsure of how to use white beans, I recommend adding them to a simple chicken noodle soup that has some fresh carrots and onions in it.
You could also use white beans to top off a tasty kale salad.
One cup of kale is only about 33 calories, yet it’s packed with nutrients to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
This helps you whittle down the amount of calories you consume each day without sacrificing essential vitamins and minerals, making it a perfect weight loss superfood.
I like to add kale to my smoothies or substitute it for watered down lettuces like iceberg. I even like to pair it with my next favorite superfood, spinach.
Spinach has recently taken a backseat as a result of the kale craze, but it shouldn’t be overlooked in your diet, especially if weight loss is your goal.
Three cups of raw spinach deliver 2.9g of protein for a mere 23 calories.
Although I find it easy to add spinach to salads and smoothies, it’s easier to access some nutrients in the spinach after cooking
Plus, you can’t beat the simple fact that when sauteed, spinach reduces drastically in size, making it much easier to consume a healthy serving of veggies without having to chew on salad for 20 minutes.
These powerful nuts tide you over between meals and can be added to salads and oatmeal for a boost of omega-3s, fiber, and protein.
Almonds also help curb the urge to overeat by keeping you full between meals.
If you like almonds then you can’t go wrong with almond butter.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s perfect on bananas and apples or even on a slice of whole wheat toast.
Almond butter is high in nutrients, and has a distinct flavor that’s quite different from peanut butter.
When consumed, chia seeds expand and create a jelly-like substance in your stomach, which leaves you feeling full.
They also digest slowly so you have long-lasting consistent energy rather than high spikes that leave you sluggish on the comedown.
Flax seeds are also high in fiber, and do an excellent job of filling you up.
In order to get the most benefit out of your flax seeds, grind them up yourself or purchase them already ground.
The easiest way to eat flax seeds is by mixing them into smoothies.
Pine nuts are often overlooked in supermarkets, but they pack appetite suppressing goodness, which shouldn’t be avoided.
Plus, the healthy mix of protein, iron, and monounsaturated fat also gives you a boost of energy.
I love to sprinkle pine nuts over salads or add them to soups and they taste great slightly pan roasted.
Pistachios work their weight loss magic in two ways.
First, having to de-shell each pistachio helps slow your eating down. It also makes you less likely to overeat since un-shelling eventually becomes a chore. In other words, they help you eat more intuitively.
To avoid eating too many, you’ll want to set aside a portion instead of consuming them directly from the bag.
The next four starches have a few things in common:
- They’re complex carbohydrates
- They digest slowly
- They help keep you full
- They provide sustained energy
If you haven’t been convinced to eat it by now, I urge you to give oatmeal another chance. Oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast; it makes a great snack between meals.
I know that may not sound tasty at first, but trust me, you’ll get used to it in no time.
Especially if you know that you’ll be less tempted to eat a huge meal or snacks before bedtime. It’s a great little weight loss trick. Oatmeal is also a great way to consume more healthy calories while lean bulking.
If you haven’t been acquainted with barley, let me introduce you to this superfood.
Barley loves to control blood sugar spikes, just like bananas and goji berries.
Barley can be cooked like quinoa and used as a base with a variety of delicious toppings. From risotto to fiesta salads, barley and quinoa are as versatile as it gets.
Similar to brown rice, quinoa is a low-calorie option filled with both protein and fiber so you’ll feel full on fewer calories.
I usually make quinoa for dinner, but I’ve also found that it makes a great substitute for oatmeal in the morning. You can sprinkle in some cinnamon, almonds, and fresh berries for a hearty breakfast.
It’s also great on salads.
A 3 ounce serving of salmon has over 20 grams of protein, along with a large dose of omega-3 fats. With that high protein content you won’t be tempted to snack after dinner.
For such tiny fish, sardines pack a whole host of nutritional benefits.
With sardines you’ll get 7 grams of protein for a mere 59 calories. Plus, you’ll also enjoy a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
My favorite way to eat sardines is from a recipe I found on Chow.
All you have to do is combine smoked sardines with cottage cheese, greek yogurt, and the juice of one lemon to make a delicious pate. This is equivalent to a smoked fish dip without having the added calories of the mayo.
Earlier in this post I mentioned the benefits of avocados and they carry over when you use avocado oil too. By using it as a salad dressing, you’ll be feeling more satisfied with your salad of choice.
As a tip, I generally skip the avocados if I’m using the oil.
Avocado oil is also unique in that it has a very high smoke point, which means it can be used during high-temperature cooking without burning.
Cinnamon is great for adding flavor to otherwise “boring” foods like oatmeal.
I like to add it to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, and even chili. It provides the perfect amount of flavor and just enough of a healthy kick.
If you made it this far, you’re probably overwhelmed with the amount of superfoods to choose from. My hope is that this list doesn’t scare you off and instead provides a ton of options to suit your needs.
What’s more, you can also see that many everyday healthy staples are in fact superfoods, even though they don’t have fancy names, a big price tag, or require you to buy an expensive supplement to enjoy their benefits.
When it comes to eating healthy and losing weight, variety is key; you don’t need to go out and buy every item on this list. Instead, you can mix and match items and use a different combination each week.
What’s your take on eating filling foods for weight loss? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!
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