Not All Superfoods Are Actually Healthy, but These 7 Live Up to the Hype
Some superfood claims are overblown, but these foods pack serious health benefits.
The term ‘superfood’ is on the level of the word ‘foodie,’ which is to say that using it comes with a side of justified eye roll. It’s a noun that’s as cringey as it is vague—so let’s shed some light on the truth, shall we? While there isn't an official (read: scientific) definition of a superfood, it’s generally accepted that superfoods have high levels of nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals. They are also often a good source of antioxidants, which help prevent disease and shield our bodies from cell damage. While there are a number of common foods that we know provide these nutrients (kale, salmon, quinoa, and so on), there's no shortage of exotic, much-hyped ingredients flooding your Instagram feed at any given time. That's why we tapped three expert registered dietitians to cut through the fat by sharing which top trending superfoods are actually good for you.
Kimchi has been around forever, but many are just beginning to learn about its health benefits. This traditional Korean food is made of fermented cabbage and often includes other vegetables like radishes, red peppers, and onions. “Kimchi is a low-calorie powerhouse full of important nutrients,” explains Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, and member of the Jenny Craig Science Advisory Board. It boasts high amounts of vitamins A, B, and C, but it really shines for its probiotic qualities. Probiotics are crucial healthy bacteria that aid with digestion and overall gut health. Expect to see a lot more kimchi in 2020.
Whole mushroom varieties have incredible health benefits, says Alison Acerra, MS, RDN, MIXT Nutritionist Partner. They’re one of the few naturally occurring sources of vitamin D, contain fiber, and have anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. Acerra says we can expect to see emerging research on the potential benefits of other mushroom varieties like chaga and reishi for their adaptogenic (anti-stress) inducing properties.
According to Gellman, pumpkins are extremely rich in fiber and protein, helping you to feel full and satisfied. Their vibrant orange hue comes from beta-carotene, an antioxidant that your body turns into vitamin A. “Not only is vitamin A beneficial for eye health, but it helps your body ward off harmful infections, potentially boosting your immune system,” she adds. And the benefits don’t end with the pumpkin itself. Pumpkin seeds are packed with nutrients, like amino acids, protein, magnesium, zinc. Who doesn’t love a multitasker?
“This superfood has been getting its moment in the spotlight for the past couple of years and that will continue into 2020,” says Gellman. Cauliflower is rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, which is a necessity for healthy immune systems, as well as riboflavin and thiamin, B vitamins that help convert food into energy. One of the best parts? Cauliflower is incredibly versatile and, with the right preparation, can transform to mimic the texture of many popular foods that aren’t super nutritious.
Indeed, we haven’t seen the last of these superfruits. "These little powerhouses have always been much-loved, and it’s for good reason," Gellman says. Avocados are very nutrient-dense, meaning each calorie packs a punch of benefits with heart-healthy monosaturated fats and antioxidants. They also pair well with many popular foods, such as a topping for toast, adding slices to a salad or even adding some to a smoothie to make it extra creamy without adding unhealthy sorbets or ice cream.
This versatile leafy green deserves a spot in any balanced diet. Rich in iron, vitamin K, and vitamin C, spinach is great for restoring energy and even helping you get stronger. “Popeye wasn’t lying: spinach contains trace amounts of amounts of a hormone called ecdysterone that can help people gain muscle,” Gellman says.
Foods Fortified With Choline
According to Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color, health experts have been paying increasing attention to brain health, and 2020 will be the year that consumers take note and begin looking for specific brain health nutrients. “One nutrient in particular—choline—will be added to several food products,” Largeman-Roth says. While choline is still unfamiliar to many consumers, it’s an important brain nutrient that impacts pregnant and breastfeeding moms, kids, and adults. And omega-3 DHA, which is required for normal brain development, as well as heart health, is another nutrient we’ll begin to see added to more foods.
Choline is a nutrient that is similar to B vitamins. “It’s essential for preventing neural tube defects during a baby’s development and plays a role in the development of the hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain,” explains Largeman-Roth This nutrient is also responsible for delivering omega-3 DHA throughout the body. Choline is found in egg yolks, chicken liver, wheat germ, soybeans, cauliflower, broccoli, and pork chops. Omega-3 DHA is primarily found in fatty fish such as salmon and herring, as well as algae. “On average, kids are only getting 20 percent of the recommended amount of DHA per day and only two-thirds of the amount of choline they need.” Since the foods that are rich in these nutrients aren’t necessarily kid-friendly foods, it makes sense to add choline and omega-3 DHA to foods that kids do like, which is what we’ll be seeing in 2020.
This month, Brainiac Kids is launching an applesauce pouch (which comes in three flavors) that's fortified with both choline and omega-3 DHA to help kids reach their full potential. And Horizon Organic recently launched Growing Years, a whole milk designed for kids ages 1 to 5, that is fortified with choline, omega-3 DHA and prebiotic fiber.