- Superfoods are fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts that are considered nutritionally dense.
- The term “superfood” was created as a marketing term by food companies, so there are no guidelines.
- However, some “superfoods” recommended by dietitians include walnuts, blueberries, and kale.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
The term superfood is a buzzword in the health and wellness world. However, it’s used in so many ways, it’s hard to keep up with what it actually means.
Here’s what you need to know about what qualifies as a superfood and the ones you should consider adding to your diet.
What are superfoods?
Superfoods are types of foods – usually fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and some dairy products – that are considered nutritionally dense. However, the term superfood didn’t originate from any sort of medical or nutrition-related research.
In fact, it was first used in the early 1900s as a marketing strategy driven by United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) to promote its major import of bananas, says Hannah Magee, RD, a registered dietitian-nutritionist with a virtual practice.
“It’s important that people remember that this is a marketing term, not a nutritional definition,” she says.
When it comes to healthy food choices, what’s most important is looking at your diet patterns, instead of focusing on individual foods and nutrients, says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutrition and wellness expert with a virtual private practice.
Although the word superfood may just be a marketing term, some healthy foods outperform others in terms of nutrient profiles. Here are six examples of super-healthy foods to add to your diet.
- 7 grams (g) of protein, 14% of your daily value (DV)
- 11 g of fiber, 44% DV
- 2.6 milligrams (mg) of iron, 12% DV
- 48 mg of magnesium, 12% DV
How to eat it: Try adding chickpeas to baked goods. Or, you can roast them to eat plain, add to salads, and mix them in with soups. You can also eat it in hummus form, says Cassetty.
One cup of blueberries contains:
- 4 g of fiber, 16% DV
- 79.8 mg of potassium, 2% DV
- 3.6 mg of Vitamin C, 6% DV
In fact, a 2019 study found consuming one cup of blueberries per day led to improvements in blood circulation and suggested blueberries should be part of a dietary strategy to reduce the risk for heart disease.
How to eat it: Buy blueberries fresh or frozen and add them to yogurt, cereals, and smoothies, or eat plain for a snack, says DeFazio.
Spinach is a dark leafy green high in many essential nutrients.
Three cups of spinach contain:
Eating spinach may also boost your memory. A 2018 study found that among older adults, those that ate one serving per day of leafy greens over 10 years had less cognitive decline compared to those who didn’t eat as many leafy greens.
How to eat it: Add a fistful of spinach to a bowl of soup, smoothies, pasta dishes, egg scrambles, or sandwiches and wraps, says Cassetty.
Kale is another type of leafy green that is a bit more bitter than spinach but still boasts an impressive nutrient profile.
One cup of kale has:
- 23.4 mg of vitamin C, 39% DV
- 97.5 micrograms (µg) of vitamin K, 121.88% DV
- 15.5 µg of folate, 3.88% DV
How to eat it: Add kale to smoothies, stir fry, pasta, or make kale-based salads.
5. Canned white tuna
One can of white tuna contains:
- 40 grams of protein
- 400 mg of EPA
- 1,000 mg of DHA
How to eat it: Top salads, toast, or crackers with canned white tuna.
Walnuts are high in copper and vitamin B-6, which are both essential nutrients.
One-fourth cup of walnuts contains:
- 191.3 calories
- 2 g of fiber, 7% DV
- 0.8 mg of iron, 4% DV
Although walnuts also tend to be high in fat, research has found people who eat them regularly tend to have lower LDL cholesterol levels (aka the bad type of cholesterol) and have decreased hunger levels, thereby promoting weight loss.
How to eat it: Eat walnuts plain or mix them into oatmeal or salads.
Although the “superfoods” may just be a marketing term, foods like legumes, dark leafy greens, berries, and nuts can be great options to help you reach your daily nutrient goals.
However, the most important part of a healthy diet is eating a varied diet of whole foods that you enjoy. “Rather than focusing on loading up on specific superfoods, aim to switch things up and eat a variety of nourishing foods every day to meet your nutrient goals,” says Maggee.