Superfoods seem to be a fickle lot, finding favor amongst the health-conscious cognoscenti one year and then left to wither on supermarket shelves the next. Sometimes, the health halo associated with so-called superfoods isn’t totally earned or deserved, while many superfoods withstand the test of time admirably.
Defined as any nutrient-dense food especially beneficial for health and well-being, some foods stand out more than others for their sterling nutritional profile. Consider the superfood superstars listed below—although this primer is by no means extensive—they are all well worth adding to your culinary repertoire.
1. Apple cider vinegar
What it is: Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting the sugar from apples. This turns them into acetic acid, which is a main active ingredient in vinegar and may be responsible for its health benefits.
What it does: Some studies suggest it may offer health benefits that include killing bacteria, lowering blood sugar levels and promoting weight loss. †
How to incorporate it into your diet: One of the easiest ways is to mix 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with water to make a bracing tonic or tea, or you can simply add it to your salad dressing.
What it is: A highly prized plant, native to India and North Africa, whose roots and leaves are used frequently in Ayurvedic medicine. In recent years ashwagandha has become quite popular in this country because of its multiple benefits.
What it does: As an adaptogen, ashwagandha can help our bodies “adapt” to environmental and emotional stressors. Studies suggest it can help increase vitality, relieve stress and support brain and cognitive function. †
How to incorporate in your diet: You can get it in capsules, but the powder form is more versatile. Warm a glass of milk or water, whichever you prefer, and before it cools add in a quarter to a half teaspoon of the powder (or try this recipe for Macadamia & Ashwagandha Moon Milk). Mix well and drink. You can also add ashwagandha powder to smoothies or yogurt bowls.
What it is: Bee pollen, the result of industrious bees collecting the pollen from plants, is a nourishing mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax and bee secretions. Bee pollen has gained superfood status in the health community because it’s higher in protein and has more concentration of amino acids than any other animal source. It’s loaded with nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, lipids and over 250 active substances.
What it does: It’s said to boost energy levels, reduce inflammation and support immune health, liver function and digestion.†
How to incorporate in your diet: Use it as a yogurt topping, sprinkle over cereal or add to your smoothie.
4. Chia seeds
What it is: Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica, which is related to mint. Originally used in Aztec and Mayan traditions, chia seeds are prized for their ability to provide sustainable energy.
What it does: In recent years, the nutrient-rich seeds have become the darling of nutritionists because they are good sources of a-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. An exceedingly rich source of fiber that’s packed with protein, many health experts believe that chia seeds can aid weight loss by creating a sense of fullness. †
How to incorporate in your diet: Sprinkle them on top of cereal, yogurt, vegetables or rice dishes. Because of their ability to absorb both water and fat, they can be used to thicken sauces, bulk up a smoothie or as egg substitutes in recipes.
What it is: Collagen is found in the connective tissues of animal foods such as chicken and pork skin, as well as in the human body.
What it does: Collagen is the basic building block for skin, hair, nails, bones, and joints. As a supplement, its list of impressive benefits includes glowing skin, joint health, increased athletic performance, improved digestion and high-quality sleep. †
How to incorporate in your diet: As a powder, collagen can be added into smoothies, baked goods, and coffee. It is also a key ingredient in bone broth, which draws the collagen out of beef, chicken or fish bones, leaving a flavorful liquid that you can drink straight up or use in other dishes.
What it is: Matcha, which grows in Japan, literally means “powdered tea.” It has much more potency than traditional green tea, in which the leaves are steeped and then discarded. With matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely ground into an edible powder. Because the actual tea leaves are ingested, it’s a heftier source of nutrients than steeped green tea. It would take around 10 cups of green tea to equal the antioxidant and caffeine levels of 1 cup of matcha.
What it does: Matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been linked to exerting a protective effect on cells, improved blood sugar regulation, blood pressure health and overall anti-aging. One of the key polyphenols in matcha, called EGCG, has been shown in research to boost metabolism. †
How to incorporate in your diet: You can drink matcha hot or cold, plain, sweetened or added to plant or dairy milk to make a latte. If you are drinking in traditional style, mix about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water (heated to less than a boil), then whisk with a bamboo brush until it froths. Matcha can also be added to sweet or savory dishes, such as pastries, chocolate and ice cream, or to soup, stir-frys and even matcha guacamole.
What it is: Edible fungi, like shiitake, oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms, have been used for medicinal purposes, particularly boosting immunity, in Asian cultures for centuries. †
What it does: Mushrooms can support immunity, support healthy cholesterol levels and promote healthy inflammatory responses in the body. They’re also nutrient dense. †
How to incorporate in your diet: In powdered form, mushrooms can be added to smoothies, sprinkled over food, or added to your favorite recipes.
What it is: A relative of ginger, turmeric is a yellow root with powerful anti-inflammatory properties that has been prized in Indian cuisine and as a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for millennia.
What it does: Turmeric contains three naturally occurring phytochemicals called curcuminoids, the most notable and researched of which is curcumin.” Studies suggest that consuming turmeric may be a safe and effective way to support the body’s inflammatory response. Turmeric may also assist in cognitive functioning. †
How to incorporate in your diet: You can include turmeric in your diet by drinking golden milk, cooking with ground turmeric spice, and taking turmeric pills.