While it’s true that no one food is a medical cure-all, multiple scientific studies have shown that certain foods provide greater health benefits than others. Here are some of the foods that have earned themselves the title of “superfood” — and the science to back it up.
Açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berries are native to Central and South America, especially Brazil where they grow in parts of the Amazon rainforest. Also known as the Brazilian beauty berry, their high antioxidant content (more than blueberries or cranberries) can help prevent signs of anti-aging and keep your skin looking youthful and healthy.
Despite its name, an Acerola cherry is not a true cherry. The cherry-like berries contain one of the highest levels of vitamin C — even more than oranges. Acerola is also a rich source of
vitamin A and antioxidants.
Alfalfa is a foraging crop. While it’s primarily cultivated for animal feed (especially for its hay), alfalfa sprouts have an impressive nutritional profile. In addition to being rich in vitamins and minerals, alfalfa has been shown to lower cholesterol levels as well as reduce inflammation and oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Bananas are one of the world’s most popular fruits, making them an easy and accessible superfood to add to your diet. Most people know that bananas are a great source of potassium, which is beneficial for heart health. A banana’s fiber content also aids in digestion and keeps blood sugar levels from spiking.
Baobab (pronounced bay-oh-bab) is a fruit from Africa’s “Tree of Life.” The antioxidant- and polyphenol-rich fruit has been used for centuries to treat many ailments. Thanks to its high vitamin C content (7-10 times more than oranges!) baobab can boost the immune system and increase iron absorption. Studies have also show the African superfruit can regulate blood sugar and improve digestion. (Read more about Baobab here.)
Barley is a nutrient-rich food loaded with vitamins and minerals such as fiber, iron and calcium. Research shows barley grass can not only boost the immune system, but it can also kill cancer cells.
Blueberries are proof that superfoods come in small packages. These tiny, but mighty berries are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients like antioxidants and phytochemicals as well as high levels of vitamin K, C and E.
Cacao is cocoa’s healthier cousin. Not only does raw cacao contain 300 different chemical compounds, the antioxidant content is 4 times the amount of regular processed dark chocolate and 20 times more than blueberries.
Similar to cacao, carob is rich in antioxidants (gallic acid and flavonoids) which kills cancer cells. Carob is also high in fiber, calcium (and oxalate-free, so it won’t inhibit the body to absorb it) and potassium.
Ch-ch-chia became a household name in the 80s thanks to those As Seen On TV grass planters. However, chia seeds date back as far as 3500 BC and they were a staple in the Aztecs’ diet. In Mayan, “chia” means strength, which makes sense considering chia seeds are an excellent source of protein. They’re also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants.
Chlorella is a powerful micro-algae that contains more chlorophyll than any other plant. Because of that, chlorella has been shown to protect the body against radiation treatments. Research also shows that chlorella detoxifies heavy metals from the body and keeps them from being absorbed.
While coconuts are usually associated with tropical vacations, this exotic fruit is actually a great source of healthy fats and essential nutrients.
Guarana berries are native to Brazil and they have been used for centuries by Amazonian tribes for its therapeutic properties. Due to its natural caffeine content — 4 to 6 times more than coffee beans — guarana has been shown to reduce fatigue and improve focus.
Lucuma (pronounced loo-koo-mah) has been consumed in South America since 200 AD and is known as the “gold of Incas.” The sweet tasting fruit is rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, which can protect against chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Lucuma also contains fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin C.
Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca root is similar to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Several studies have shown maca to be a natural mood booster by reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. Other interesting benefits includes an increase in libido (in both men and women) and an increase in fertility in men.
Maqui berries are extremely high in antioxidants — three times more than blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. They’re primarily rich in anthocyanins, which give the berries their dark purple color. Anthocyanins have been shown to reduce free radical damage, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and even suppress tumor growth.
Matcha, or powdered green tea, contains 3 times more catechins (a type of antioxidant) than regular brewed green tea. The natural caffeine in matcha has also been found to promote alertness while avoiding a crash in energy levels. Additional research shows matcha improves attention, reaction time and memory.
Moringa is rich in antioxidants as well as protein, potassium and calcium. It also contains 6 times the amount of iron than kale and provides all 9 essential amino acids. As far as health benefits go, research shows moringa fights inflammation, supports brain and cardiovascular health and reduces liver damage.
Spirulina is a blue-green mirco-algae and one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. The Aztecs, who referred to spirulina as “Tecuitlatl,” consumed it for energy and strength, which makes sense considering it’s a complete protein source. There are also 70+ peer-reviewed articles that demonstrate spirulina’s anti-cancer effects.
Wheatgrass (which, by the way, is gluten-free) is an edible grass that’s high in vitamins A, C and E as well as iron and calcium. It also contains 17 amino acids — 8 of which the body can’t produce on its own — and chlorophyll. Research has shown wheatgrass can help kill cancer cells and reduce oxidative stress.