A quick scroll through Instagram yields dozens of smoothies, lattes, and scrumptious-looking snacks infused with superfood powders and elixirs that claim to cure all of your ailments, help you shed pounds, and basically change your life. But do all of the superfoods making their way into our kitchens deserve this superstar status?
“The term carries a certain level of hype, but some foods do earn that superfood status,” says Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?. “Food is medicine, and some foods are more powerful medicines than others.” And as nutritious—and just plain cool—as many of today’s trendy superfoods are (we love you, maca!), some of the most ‘super’ foods we can eat are actually everyday staples we often overlook.
How solid is your superfood foundation? Here are the six MVPs experts want you to eat more of.
Chia seeds, for one, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can contribute to glowing skin and mental clarity, and pack a whopping 10 grams of fiber per ounce, Hyman says. Hemp seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fats, as well as protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and iron. And flaxseeds are the richest source of powerful phytonutrients called lignans out there.
Make the most of these ‘superseeds’ by adding them to smoothies, or stirring them into pudding or coconut yogurt, Hyman suggests.
These little berries are mightier than they look. Blueberries are high in phytochemicals and antioxidants that can help fight off free radical damage that has been linked to diseases like glaucoma, heart disease, and cancer, says Kirsten David, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D, a dietitian with the online coaching group EduPlated. Blueberries are also rich in vitamin C and vitamin K, which help maintain a healthy immune system and healthy bones, respectively. One 2015 study even showed that postmenopausal women who supplemented with blueberry powder for eight weeks experienced an uptick in circulation-boosting nitric oxide and lower blood pressure.
Grab a handful of blueberries for a healthy snack, use them as a salad topping, or stir them into Greek yogurt, David recommends.
No matter how many foods are described as ‘the new kale,’ none have yet to actually replace the OG. This leafy green is rich in oxidative stress-fighting antioxidants, very high in vitamin A (which is key for eye health, immune function, and cellular growth), and actually packs more iron per calorie than beef, says David. (Kale’s iron content is particularly impressive—and important—given the common misconception that we can only get this key oxygen-transporting mineral from meat.)
Make a supercharged salad by topping chopped kale with berries and seeds, toss the green into smoothies, or sauté it into omelets, suggests Natalie Allen, M.S., R.D., L.D., a clinical instructor of dietetics at Missouri State University.
For real! Researchers have long identified a link between dark chocolate consumption and both reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved markers of immune function. The superstar here is the cocoa, and specifically flavanol, a flavonoid (a type of antioxidant) that’s best known for its positive effects on heart health, including on blood pressure and circulation, says David. Daily consumption of cocoa flavanols has even been shown to help improve cognitive performance, she adds.
The key to chocolate-covered health benefits is making sure your chocolate is 70 percent cocoa, or higher. Use dark chocolate chips in place of milk chocolate chips whenever you bake or treat yourself to a square or two to quash cravings.
Eggs received bad press for decades because of their yolks’ high cholesterol content, but they have now been shown to help raise your ‘good’ cholesterol, which has helped get the nutrient-dense food back on people’s plates, says David. In addition to providing B vitamins, iron, and omega-3s (as long as they’re pasture-raised), eggs also offer another key (and hard-to-find) nutrient: choline, a vitamin we need in order to support a healthy nervous system and DNA synthesis. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the nutrients eggs provide may help lower heart disease risk.
David recommends starting the day with scrambled eggs, an omelet, or even a piece of avocado toast topped with a fried or poached egg. Hard-boiled eggs also make for an easy, protein-packed snack.
Mushrooms also contain high amounts of antioxidants, which help ward off free radical damage, support healthy liver function, and maintain healthy cellular function.
Hyman suggests making reishi tea, adding shiitake mushrooms to a stir fry, or serving up mushroom soup to reap their benefits.