The term “superfood” can be a little confusing. While the foods we typically award this status to are high in nutritional value and have been shown through research to benefit human health, there’s no true scientific definition—according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—that separates superfoods from all the other healthy foods out there, dietitian Elise Harlow, R.D.N. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a top spot in your your smoothies, though!
While no superfood is a magic nutritional bullet, they can certainly do your body good and boost any liquid breakfast. But which are really worth the hype? Here are seven superfoods that belong in your blender bottle.
While spinach isn’t one of the more exotic superfoods, it tops this list for a very good reason.
One 2018 study suggests that spinach’s nutrition is so powerful that eating just one serving a day may help slow down age-related cognitive decline. Another study even describes dark, leafy greens as “the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food.”
“Greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K,” adds Harlow. “The high amount of antioxidants in them makes them one of the best cancer-preventing vegetables. In fact, consuming dark, leafy greens two or three times per week may lower the risk of stomach, breast, and skin cancer.” A 2021 study also highlights greens as a significant source of nitrates, making them particularly beneficial for protecting cardiovascular health.
And while the goodness that leafy greens like spinach have to offer is undisputed, many of us don’t eat enough of them. That’s why blending spinach into your smoothies is such a no-brainer. Jinan loves combining it with pineapple or strawberries, while Harlow enjoys a blend of raspberries, peanut butter, spinach, and almond or oat milk.
If you’ve never tried kefir, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise when you start adding it to your smoothies.
“Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is a little sour in taste and easy to digest,” says Harlow. Though you might think it’s similar to yogurt, kefir is actually considered superior because it’s fermented with both bacteria and yeasts, not just bacteria. In fact, brands purport that kefir contains more than twice the probiotics of yogurt. “It is rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins, and probiotics, and can strengthen your immune system and contribute to a healthy digestive system,” Harlow adds.
And did we mention that its creamy texture works wonders in smoothies?
If you’re lactose intolerant, there’s some good news for you, too: Even though kefir is traditionally made from cow’s milk, the yeast and bacteria in it break down most of its lactose, making it well tolerated, Harlow says.
Her go-to smoothie combo: kefir with kiwi, apple, and a little lemon—the perfect balance of sweet and tart.
Just in case you thought the collagen trend was fading…nope! “Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It helps stimulate nail growth, promotes healthy hair follicles, and helps our skin repair itself,” says dietitian Caroline Thomason, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.D.E.
Combining collagen with vitamin C, in particular, works wonders to support skin and boost the immune system. “This is because vitamin C is a cofactor for two of the amino acids, or building blocks, of collagen,” she says. “Without this cofactor, collagen production in the body would halt and skin health would decline.”
“Add unflavored collagen powder to smoothies for a creamy mouthfeel or swap in a flavored option, like chocolate, for a richer taste,” Thomason suggests. Add vitamin C-rich oranges to your next blend for an extra boost or opt for a collagen powder that contains vitamin C, like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Collagen Peptides Plus.
Not to be confused with cocoa powder, which is more processed and less nutrient-dense, cacao is one of the richest superfoods out there, says Thomason. Because of its revered health benefits, cacao was long a staple in Aztec and Mayan cultures throughout Central America.
Modern science shows that this bean truly is a powerhouse. According to Thomason, it’s rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, nutrients that help improve blood pressure and increase energy levels. What’s more, research has also shown it to contain the essential minerals copper, potassium, magnesium, and calcium—all of which are important for maintaining heart health.
When hunting for cacao to add to your blends, go for raw cacao nibs or roasted cacao, which are the truest form of cacao you’re likely to find, Thomason recommends. “The difference between cacao and cocoa can be hard to spot and product labeling is inconsistent and not well regulated,” she notes.
Once you’ve got a quality product and are ready to blend, know that a little goes a long way. “Try adding one or two tablespoons of cacao to a berry or banana smoothie for some chocolatey flavor,” she suggests.
5. Prebiotic powders
According to dietitian Laura Kunces, Ph.D., R.D., prebiotics are the most undervalued superfoods in the game. This specific type of fiber fuels the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut (which is associated with benefits like weight management, healthy blood sugar and mood, and more) by making their way through the gastrointestinal tract so that they can be broken down and utilized by those good gut bugs.
So, while prebiotics may not be sexy, they’re important. “Your gut is responsible for 70 percent of your immune system, 90 percent of your production of serotonin (the happy chemical that influences your mood), and the absorption and utilization of the nutrients you’re consuming from other superfoods,” Kunces explains.
Lucky for you, you can squeeze a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber into your smoothies with powdered supplements, says Kunces. Look for a powder specifically labeled as “prebiotic” and that includes fibers like inulin or PHGG (partially-hydrolyzed guar gum).
“They are some of the easiest ingredients to add to smoothies, often not changing the taste or consistency but adding extreme health benefits without calories or sugar,” Kunces says. Add them to whatever blend you usually whip up for a major boost. We like Ora’s Trust Your Gut Vegan Probiotic & Prebiotic Powder.
6. Camu Camu powder
“This exotic berry powder is especially high in vitamin C and helps keep our immune system healthy,” according to Thomason. “Just one teaspoon delivers over seven times our daily value of vitamin C.”
Important to note: Camu camu powder packs a tangy punch, so combining it with less acidic fruits (like bananas) will result in the most balanced smoothie, Thomason recommends.
7. Chia seeds
Nuts and seeds are generally rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fat—but chia seeds deserve some special attention, Harlow says.
“Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are known to improve cholesterol levels and promote the body’s anti-inflammatory response,” Thomason explains. Plus, their higher-than-average fiber content (two tablespoons offer about 10 grams) means they help improve digestion and increase feelings of fullness (which is often a struggle smoothie-drinkers face).
Try adding a tablespoon or two of chia to your smoothie for a nutritional punch. Harlow, in particular, likes a blend of cherries, cacao powder, chia seeds, and almond or oat milk, which packs in a few different superfoods.