The term “superfood” has gained tremendous popularity due to health claims made in support of certain foods labeled as superfoods.
The word superfood can be misleading due to lofty unrealistic and unfounded health claims made in support of those food items. The term is often used by marketers representing companies that make food products they represent.
For this reason, in this list of superfoods (mostly plant-based), only those foods are included that contain a healthy dose of anti-oxidant and/or special nutrition value based on scientific research without any unfounded health claim.
The antioxidant function has shown to be important for protection against many inflammatory diseases that include cancer, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (1).
1) Olive Oil
Olive oil is extracted from olive fruit growing on olive trees.
Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil is considered the best because it retains the quality, aroma, and highest level of health-promoting polyphenols (3).
Olive oil is a superfood because:
- It contains high amounts of polyphenols. To date, 36 polyphenols have been reported in olive oil which includes, flavonoids and phenolic acid (4).
- The concentration of polyphenols ranges from 2mg-550m/kg of oil depending on several factors such as processing, soil, tree age, and climate.
- Olive oil is 99% triglycerides which are mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) (5).
- Monounsaturated fatty acids are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) (6)
Oil olive has many health benefits due to its high polyphenolic content.
Eggs are a cheap source of protein. They are regularly consumed all over the world.
Eggs are among the superfoods because:
- High protein content (12 g/100g of total weight) is easily digested (7).
- Egg proteins are known to make you feel full which could help in weight loss. Egg and bagel breakfast could lead to weight loss after 8 weeks on a low-calorie diet (8).
- The egg protein, Phosvitin in egg yolk exerts antioxidant properties that can prevent the occurrence of inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease (9,10).
- Other antioxidants include Ovalbumin, Ovotransferrin, Lysozyme, Vitamin E and Carotenoids (11).
- Eggs are high in Polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to animal fats.
- Eggs also contain vitamins and minerals. 100g boiled egg contains Iron (0.59mg), vitamin B12 (0.56 μg), choline(680mg), riboflavin(0.257mg), zinc(0.53mg) and, calcium(25mg) (12,13,14).
Cholesterol in eggs has been the cause of controversy due to cholesterol in egg yolk.
High cholesterol is considered bad for its potential to cause cardiovascular disease. But recent research has shown that egg consumption is not correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (15). Therefore a moderate amount of egg consumption has health benefits.
Eggs are an easy, cheap and healthy source of proteins, mineral, vitamins and antioxidants.
Want to add eggs to your diet?
Here are 5 easy, classic egg recipes>>
3) Chia seeds
The word Chia comes from the Spanish word “chian” meaning oily.
Chia was used by Mayan and Aztec civilizations as medicine and food.
At some point, it was the second most-produced crop in Columbian cultures (16).
Chia seeds are rich in unique proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (17).
Chia seeds are superfoods because:
- Chia seeds have unique antioxidants that include chlorogenic and caffeic acids, quercetin and kaempferol (18).
- Due to the presence of antioxidants, they are considered to have anti-inflammatory functions (19).
- Chia seeds have high fiber content which is also the highest carbohydrate. A 100g of Chia seeds contain 34g to 40g of fiber which is equal to 100% daily fiber requirement and higher than many nuts and dried fruits.
- A 100 g also contains 18-24g of protein which is all gluten-free.
- Abundant Omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids e.g alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Chia seeds are super healthy with high fiber, protein, and good fatty acids.
Berries are packed full of micronutrients that include vitamins and minerals.
Consumption of berries is associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease (20).
A plethora of options are available when choosing berries for consumption (21).
Commonly consumed berries include
- Black raspberry
- Red raspberry
Other berries that have gained popularity include Goji and Acai.
Berries are superfoods because:
- Berries contain large quantities of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E. Sea buckthorn berries contain up to 600 mg of Vitamin C per 100g (22).
- They are low in fats and high in fiber (23).
- Phenolic compounds in berries have many health benefits such as anti-inflammation and protection from cancer (24,25).
Berries are an excellent source of antioxidants, have low fats and high fiber.
Salmon is a healthy protein choice. Consumption of fish is associated with a reduction in the risk of heart-related death (26).
Salmon is considered a superfood because:
- Salmon contains a good amount of Astaxanthin- a pigmented antioxidant. In Atlantic Salmon, Astaxanthin is available up to 8mg/kg (27).
- Salmon is abundant in omega 3 fatty acids especially EPA and DHA which are associated with low risk of cardiovascular disease (28).
- Salmon is full of healthy proteins as well.
- A 100g of salmon gives up to 26g of good quality proteins and 2g of EPA and DHA (long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) (29).
- Salmon contains vitamins and minerals. A 100g contains up to 3ug of Vitamin B12, 46ug of Selenium, 600mg of Potassium and 122mg of magnesium depending on the source of Salmon.
- Salmon is a low mercury fish and is not a big concern for mercury poisoning if consumed in moderation (30).
- Interestingly, baking does not alter proteins and fats quality in salmon (31).
Salmon is an amazing protein source that combines healthy amounts of minerals, vitamins omega-3 fatty acids in addition to having antioxidants.
Therefore it can be added to your diet with a variety of baked salmon recipes.
Beets are another cheap and full of nutrient food items, mostly used in the western world.
Beets are root vegetables with many health-promoting benefits.
Beets are one of the superfoods because:
- Beets are an excellent source of a bioactive pigment known as betalain with protective antioxidant properties against atherosclerosis (32,33).
- Beets also contain inorganic nitrate (250mg/kg of fresh vegetable) (34).
- Nitrate is converted into nitric oxide which improves blood flow and has cardiovascular benefits (35).
Beets contain antioxidants and significant amounts of inorganic nitrate. These are good for fighting oxidative stress and keeping the vascular system healthy respectively.
Turmeric, also known as the golden spice, is an integral part of Asian and Indian cuisine.
It is used as a food coloring agent but it also has many health benefits.
Turmeric is considered a superfood because:
- Turmeric has abundant quantities of bioactive polyphenol compounds called curcumins, that give turmeric its therapeutic value (38,39).
- It is considered a safe spice to consume.
- Even small quantities of Curcuma (80mg/day) has overall health benefits (40).
- The turmeric used is associated with anti-inflammation and antioxidant activity (41).
Turmeric has many health benefits due to polyphenolic antioxidant compounds.
Ginger belongs to the ginger family. Cardamom and turmeric are other famous members of this family.
Ginger is one of the most widely consumed spices in the world (42).
Ginger is used in many ways. It is used in powdered, crystalized, and pickled form. Ginger is also used in making ginger candies.
Ginger contains a peculiar pungent aroma which is the main reason for its addition to Asian cuisine to enhance the flavor.
Why is ginger a superfood?
Ginger has been used for many centuries for fighting the cold.
- Ginger contains bioactive compounds called gingerols, shogaols, and paradols. These compounds have antioxidants and other beneficial properties (43). The pungent aroma is due to these compounds.
- Ginger could reduce the activity of reactive nitrogen species which are implicated in DNA damage and cancer (44).
- Ginger bioactive compounds also provide anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing functions (45).
Ginger contains antioxidants and it is a worthy superfood with health benefits.
Like ginger, garlic is among the widely used herbs in the world.
Garlic is a member of the Allium family of plants. Other members include edible onions, shallots, chives and leeks (46).
Garlic is used in many food preparations, mostly oil-based dishes, because of its flavor.
Garlic is a superfood because:
- Garlic is abundant in a sulfur-containing compound called Alliin, an amino acid that gives garlic its therapeutic properties (47).
- Raw garlic contains minerals such as selenium, manganese, and calcium. It also has vitamins such as B6, C and Thiamin (50).
Garlic is one of the most healthy herbs in the world with many health benefits.
Garlic is a universal herb that can be added to almost any cooking preparation.
Consumption of fermented food is associated with weight management, low diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disease risk (51).
Yogurt is one of the healthiest fermented foods in the world. Yogurt is widely consumed in the world.
Yogurt is considered a superfood because:
- Yogurt is an excellent source of macronutrients. 100 g of yogurt contains fat (0.2- 3.8 g), proteins (3-6.5 g) (52). It also provides calcium, magnesium, vitamin B-12, riboflavin, and iodine.
- Yogurt also contains minerals and vitamins. A 100g of low-fat yogurt contains 70mg of calcium, 6g of vitamin C and 0.13g of iron (53).
- Moreover, Low fermented yogurt has anti-inflammatory activity (56).
- Research shows that the antioxidant potential of yogurt drinks can be increased by adding Salal berries and blackcurrant berries pomace (59).
Yogurt, a fermented food, is an excellent source of nutrients and antioxidant function.
Avocado has gained significant popularity in recent years especially among the followers of the Keto diet.
Avocado is nutritious and health-promoting phytochemicals.
Avocado is a superfood because:
- Avocado contains Phenolic and carotenoid compounds which include gallic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, and tocopherols that are shown to have antioxidant, brain cell and heart-protective functions (60,61,62)
- Avocados are an excellent source of fiber and healthy fats. 100g of avocado contains approximately 7g of fiber and 16g of fats (63).
- Avocados also have a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals. A 100g of raw avocado contains potassium(507mg), magnesium (29mg), calcium (13mg), folate (89ug), vitamin C (8.8mg) and vitamin A (7ug) (64).
In summary, avocado is an excellent source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamins.
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable originating in Asia and it is packed with nutrients.
Spinach is one of the superfoods because:
- Spinach contains antioxidants phenolic compounds such as flavonoids which are enhanced by cooking spinach (66).
- Spinach is also a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
- 100g of raw spinach contains 2.4g fiber, 0.483mg vitamin K, 28mg vitamin C, 559 mg potassium, calcium 99mg, and 2.35g iron (67).
Spinach provides fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Oysters are a low-calorie food yet they have an excellent nutrition profile.
They are a regular item on the seafood lovers’ table.
Oysters are consumed raw and are a potential risk for food poisoning. It is recommended to consume fresh oysters sourced from trusted suppliers.
They are among superfoods because:
- They are also rich in a novel phenolic antioxidant compound called 3,5-Dihydroxy-4-methoxybenzyl alcohol or DHMBA.
- Oyster is also rich in vitamins and minerals
- A 100g of raw Oyster contains Zinc (39mg), Copper (2.8mg), Magnesium (18mg), Iron (4.6mg), Vitamin B12 (8.75ug), and Selenium (19 μg) (70).
Oysters are a good source of minerals and vitamins. They also contain DHMBA which is an antioxidant.
Lentils are one of the more prominent legumes.
They have been consumed for a long time mainly in Asia but they are also popular all over the world.
It is one of the cheapest sources of proteins and fiber.
Lentil is a superfood because:
- They contain the highest amount of polyphenols compared to other common legumes e.g. green pea, chickpea, cowpea, yellow pea, mung bean, and peanut (71).
- The lentil polyphenols have the antioxidant potential to scavenge free oxygen radicals, thus are beneficial for health (72,73).
- Lentils are a good dietary option for weight loss and diabetes management due to the high satiety effect and low glycemic index (74).
Lentils are a cheap source of proteins, fibers and antioxidant polyphenolic compounds that promote health benefits.
Bananas are among the most famous fruits in the world (75).
They are consumed raw, used in drinks, dessert and are even fried (plantain)
Banana is an easy source of carbohydrates.
Banana is a superfood because:
- Bananas contain many types of phenolics and carotenoids that have health benefits (76).
- Bananas might have more antioxidant value than it is normally associated with them. A study shows high antioxidant potential in simulated stomach conditions (77).
- One banana variety called Musa cavendishii also contains dopamine (2.5-10 mg/100g), which has a strong antioxidant function (78).
Banana is a widely used fruit with excellent nutritional value and antioxidant functions.
16) Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a good alternative to regular potatoes.
they are a good source of carbohydrates and fibers.
Sweet potatoes are superfoods because:
- Purple sweet potatoes possess high anthocyanin (cyanidin and peonidin) antioxidant pigments (79, 80).
- Anthocyanins have cardiovascular and age-related degeneration protection and antiulcer function (81,82,83).
- Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. In some preparations, heat treatment can enhance the antioxidant characteristics of Korean sweet potato (84).
- A 100g of Sweet potatoes contain fiber (2.7g), vitamins A (14091 IU), vitamin C (2.2mg), Calcium (36mg), and iron (0.65mg) (85).
In summary, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of healthy carbs, fibers and antioxidants.
17) Wheat Germ
Wheat germ is an important nutritional part of the wheat kernel but during the processing of the kernel, it is removed.
It is added to fortify different granolas, cereals, and cornbread-based breakfasts.
Wheat Germ is a superfood because:
- Wheat germ contains an antioxidant called AOP that can prevent glucose-induced oxidative stress (86).
- Wheat germ also has anti-inflammatory properties (87).
- Wheat germ is a source of quality proteins, carbohydrates and a high quantity of minerals and vitamins.
- A 100g of raw wheat germ gives protein (27g), carbohydrates (45g) slash fiber(18g), zinc (10mg), iron(6.5mg), Magnesium (290mg) and phosphorous(727mg) (88).
Wheat germ is a highly nutritious food and it can be a good addition to breakfast cereal because it is removed from wheat processing.
18) Green tea
Green tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It contains less caffeine than coffee.
Green tea can be considered a superfood because:
- The health benefits of Green tea are attributed to the bioactive compounds called Green Tea Polyphenols which constitute about 30% of the total dry weight (89,90).
- One of the most abundant polyphenols in green teas are Catechins e.g. EGCG
Green tea is one of the most popular teas and contains high quantities of antioxidants, thus recommeded for consumption.
There are a number of varieties of mushrooms and the nutritional value depends on the type of mushroom (94).
The most commonly known and consumed mushrooms include the white button mushroom, crimini, and portabella, shiitake, straw (Volvariella volvacea), oyster, and enoki.
Other seasonal mushrooms include morels and chanterelles.
Mushrooms have umami or savory flavor which makes them a good choice for a vegetarian diet.
Mushrooms are superfoods because:
- They are rich in phenolic antioxidants (95).
- Mushrooms are low in calories, high in proteins and contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (96).
- Mushrooms have immune-boosting properties and have been studied for their anti-cancer properties (97).
Mushrooms are excellent sources of antioxidants and nutrients and can be a good substitute for meat for people with dietary preferences.
20) Cacao & dark chocolate
Cacao’s medicinal use originated in Olmec, Maya, and Mexico (Aztec) civilizations.
The word “cacao” comes from “kakaw” from Olmec and Maya languages and the word chocolate comes from the Aztec language-related word “cacahuatl ” (98).
Cocoa and dark chocolate are superfoods because:
- Cocoa and dark chocolate contain a hefty dose of antioxidant polyphenols.
- Major polyphenols are epicatechin and catechin, and procyanidins. One gram of cocoa contains up to 50mg of polyphenols (99).
- Cocoa and its products which also include dark chocolate contain more polyphenol than most foods (100).
- A commercially available dark chocolate contains approximately 5 times more polyphenols than chocolate milk (101).
- Dark chocolate contains low caffeine content which is approximately 0.2%.
- The fats in cocoa are mostly monounsaturated and saturated fats. Interestingly, the saturated fats in cocoa powder are considered non-atherogenic (102).
The cocoa and dark chocolate contain more polyphenols than most foods thus have strong antioxidant potential.
Figs are one of the main fruits of the Mediterranean diet due to their high abundance in the region and potential health benefits.
Figs are consumed in a variety of ways either fresh or dried.
Fig syrup is one of the famous ingredients of the Calabrian diet (103).
Figs are one of the superfoods because:
- Figs have abundant polyphenols, especially anthocyanins in their skin (104).
- Darker figs contain more polyphenols than lighter varieties.
- The dried figs are also a good source of polyphenols (105).
- Figs are low in calories. A 100g of raw figs contain only 74 calories (106).
In summary, Figs contain antioxidants that have health-promoting benefits.
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family that includes other members such as eggplants, bell peppers, and cayenne pepper, etc.
Tomatoes are superfoods because:
- The Consumption of tomatoes and tomato juice is associated with low LDL levels and reduced risk of cardiovascular and atherosclerosis (107,108).
- Tomatoes are full of antioxidants.
- A100g of fresh tomato contains beta-carotene (0.28-1 mg), lycopene (8–40 ug), flavonoids (2.6-25.6 mg), vitamin C (15-21 mg) vitamin E (0.17-0.62 mg) which are known to reduce oxidative stress (109,110).
- Most antioxidants are present in tomato skin, therefore eating tomatoes with skin is better (111).
- Tomatoes are a low-calorie diet with just 14 calories in 100g of common raw tomato (112).
Tomatoes are highly nutritious due to the high content of antioxidant bioactive compounds and consuming tomato juice is positively correlated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Coffee is the most consumed psychostimulant drink in the world (113).
Coffee consumption is associated with a low risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers (114).
Coffee is among the superfoods because:
- Coffee contains polyphenols which are mostly caffeine, chlorogenic acid, diterpenes, and trigonelline (115).
- Research shows that Coffee has the highest polyphenolic content among the beverages and the average consumption of polyphenols is 426 mg/day among the surveyed Japanese population (116).
- The antioxidant activity is increased by 5% in humans after consumption of coffee (117). Thus, consuming coffee can reduce the risk of developing diseases.
- In addition to polyphenolic compounds, coffee contains minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and manganese required by the human body (118).
Coffee has many health benefits due to high polyphenolic content including caffeine.
Superfoods is a marketing term used for food items that have special health benefits. But most often, the benefits are hyped.
For, this reason in this list of superfoods, those foods are included that have antioxidants and/or special nutrition value.
Most of the foods in the list are plant-based, with few animal origins. Eating these foods on a regular basis can improve overall health and quality of life.