Superfoods to Boost a Healthy Diet

Superfoods
Discover the famous superfoods, that are assumed to confer health benefits resulting from their exceptional nutrient density.

So-called superfoods are foods that are rich in nutrients. Superfoods are foods — mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy — that are thought to be nutritionally dense and thus good for one’s health.

If you don’t know how to incorporate these powders in your diet, here are some ideas:

  • Add it to smoothies, which gives the drink a green color;
  • Sprinkle spirulina powder on salads or in soups;
  • Mix it into energy balls, along with other healthful ingredients;
  • Stir a tablespoon into fruit or vegetable juices.

List of Superfoods to Have at Home

Spirulina

Spirulina is a simple, one-celled, spiral-shaped microalgae that grow naturally in warm, freshwater lakes, natural springs, and saltwater. Spirulina isn’t just one of the world’s healthiest foods – it’s also one of the oldest. In fact, the Aztecs reportedly used it as a food source in the 16th century. With its abundance of vitamins, minerals, and protein, it’s easy to understand why.

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Spirulina became popular again recently when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space for use by astronauts. A standard daily dose of spirulina is 1–3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively.

This tiny alga is packed with nutrients. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains:

  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
  • Copper: 21% of the RDA
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA
  • It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that you need.

Thanks to these nutrients, Spirulina has been shown to help your body fight infection and allergic reactions like rhinitis, reducing various symptoms. Phycocyanin, which is the main active compound in spirulina, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Spirulina may provide multiple exercise benefits, including enhanced endurance and increased muscle strength. Some evidence suggests that spirulina may benefit people with type 2 diabetes, significantly reducing fasting blood sugar levels.

It may also help protect against cancer and lower bad cholesterol, all while raising good cholesterol and possibly aiding in weight loss.

In addition, the same amount holds only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbs. Gram for gram, spirulina may be the single most nutritious food on the planet.

The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent — comparable to eggs. It gives all the essential amino acids that you need.


Chlorella

Chlorella emerged over 2 billion years ago and was the first form of a plant with a well-defined nucleus. Unlike Spirulina, Chlorella is a spherical shaped, single-celled microorganism. Chlorella grows in freshwater and is extremely small, with each chlorella cell being a mere two to eight microns wide. But, much like Spirulina, this tiny superfood packs a nutritional punch.

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Chlorella may not be as ancient as spirulina, but it boasts just as many nutritional accolades. In fact, this green algae contains the highest amount of chlorophyll of any known plant. Chlorella is rich in the carotenoids beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein. It’s also an abundant source of vitamins (B, C, D, E, and K), and minerals (phosphorous, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron).

Like spirulina, chlorella is rich in protein and contains more protein per ounce than a serving of steak (chlorella is 50-60% of protein). This superfood is also a rich source of healthy fats, including oleic acid.

Chlorella has gotten some buzz for its ability to help the body “detox”. In fact, animal studies indicate that it’s effective at helping remove heavy metals and other harmful compounds from the body.

Chlorella has been shown to help support healthy hormonal function and good cardiovascular health, fight against the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, help lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol.

The antioxidants in chlorella may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can possibly improve asthma and other respiratory diseases. One more claim associated with Chlorella is that it promotes eye health, as it contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect the eye and lower the risk of macular degeneration.

Differences between Spirulina and Chlorella

Clearly, these superfoods are similar, but they do have marked differences, starting with their looks. Chlorella is a green algae, whereas spirulina is blue-green in color. Chlorella’s green hue demonstrates that it’s richer in chlorophyll than spirulina.

Chlorella also contains a unique complex called chlorella growth factor. This growth factor is caused by its rapid reproduction rate. With the ability to quadruple in numbers every 20-24 hours, chlorella has been shown to possibly repair damage to nerve tissues and aid in cell production.

Spirulina is thousands of years older than chlorella and can be up to 100 times larger. Spirulina is also richer in protein and healthy fats, including gamma-linoleic acid, which is essential for maintaining a sharp mind and a healthy heart. Spirulina also offers higher concentrations of phytochemicals that help prevent cancer. Just as chlorella is known for detoxifying, spirulina is especially effective at fighting symptoms of allergies and boosting the immune system.


Black Maca

Black Maca eliminates the effects of aging such as memory loss, brain fog, arthritis, chronic fatigue, menopause, decreases in testosterone, immune system function, muscle and joint pain, sagging skin, decreased libido, and more.

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It’s actually a plant native to Peru and it has traditionally been used to enhance fertility and sex drive. It’s also claimed to improve energy and stamina.

Maca root powder is very nutritious and is a great source of several important vitamins and minerals. 28 grams of maca root powder contains:

  • Calories: 91
  • Carbs: 20 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Vitamin C: 133% of the RDI
  • Copper: 85% of the RDI
  • Iron: 23% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 15% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 10% of the RDI

Maca root is a good source of carbs, is low in fat, and contains a fair amount of fiber. It’s also high in some essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, copper, and iron.

Maca has been heavily marketed as being effective at improving sexual desire, and this claim is backed by research. There is some evidence that maca root increases men’s fertility as well, by improving sperm production and quality.

One review of four studies in menopausal women found that maca helped alleviate menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and interrupted sleep. Several studies have shown that maca can enhance your mood. It’s been associated with reduced anxiety and symptoms of depression, particularly in menopausal women.

Supplementing with maca may improve exercise performance, particularly during endurance events. However, its effects on muscle mass and strength have yet to be studied.

Some evidence indicates that maca, in particular the black variety, can improve learning and memory.

A large prostate is common among older men and can cause issues with urination. Animal studies suggest that red maca can reduce prostate size. Maca is considered safe for most people, although those with thyroid issues need to be careful.


Camu-Camu

Camu-camu is a sour berry, similar to cherry in color. It’s native to the Amazon rainforest but has gained popularity worldwide due to its many purported health benefits — mainly due to a high content of certain nutrients and powerful plant compounds, including vitamin C.

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Camu-camu is rich in vitamin C, which helps strengthen your immune system and is needed for the formation of collagen, a protein that supports your skin, bones, and muscles.

Camu-camu contains a combination of antioxidants that combat free radicals, which may particularly benefit the health of those who smoke. Excess free radicals in your body can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer over time.

Camu-camu has been shown to reduce inflammation, but further research is needed to clarify these findings. Camu-camu may have antibacterial properties and help reduce blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar levels. However, more research is needed as well to support these findings.


Lucuma

Nicknamed the “gold of the Incas,” lucuma has been used as a traditional remedy in South America for centuries. Due to its sweet taste, it’s used as a healthier alternative to table sugar and other popular sweeteners.

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Lucuma is often used as a natural sweetener because it contains less sugar but more nutrients than table sugar. More specifically, it has about half the carbs and 75% less sugar than the same amount of table sugar. 7.5 grams of lucuma powder provides:

  • Calories: 30
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 6 grams
  • Sugars: 1.5 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams

Lucuma powder also offers a relatively rich in fiber, which adds bulk to your stool and prevents constipation by helping food move smoothly through your gut. It also contains smaller amounts of other nutrients, including calcium and iron.

Research shows that lucuma is particularly rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, two groups of antioxidants known for their anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and heart-health-promoting properties.

Lucuma is especially high in xanthophylls, a group of carotenoids responsible for lucuma’s yellow color that’s thought to promote eye health and good vision. It is also packed with vitamin C, a nutrient with antioxidant properties that play many important roles in your body.

Lucuma is rich in complex carbs and fiber and may reduce your body’s ability to absorb simple sugars. This may help prevent blood sugar spikes and regulate blood sugar levels, though research in this area is limited.

Lucuma contains heart-healthy polyphenols. Its ability to act as an ACE-inhibitor may further promote heart health by lowering your blood pressure. Still, more research is needed.

Lucuma powder can be used as an alternative to brown sugar to prepare pies, cakes, and other baked goods. It can also add flavor to other foods, such as ice cream, oatmeal, and yogurt. You can use a 1:2 ratio by volume to substitute brown sugar for lucuma. For instance, use 1 cup (120 grams) of lucuma for each 1/2 cup (200 grams) of brown sugar.


Raw Cocoa

Cocoa is thought to have first been used by the Maya civilization of Central America. It was introduced to Europe by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century and quickly became popular as a health-promoting medicine. Cocoa powder is made by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or cocoa butter.

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Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, which have significant health benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved cholesterol levels. However, processing cocoa into chocolate or other products can substantially decrease the polyphenol content (by 60%).

Studies reveal that cocoa (both in its powdered form and in the form of dark chocolate) is rich in flavanols, which lower blood pressure by improving nitric oxide levels and blood vessel function. Cocoa containing between 30–1,218 mg of flavanols can reduce blood pressure by an average of 2 mmHg.

In addition to lowering blood pressure, it appears that cocoa has other properties that may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Flavanol-rich cocoa improves the level of nitric oxide in your blood, which relaxes and dilates your arteries and blood vessels and improves blood flow. Eating up to one serving of chocolate per day may reduce your risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

Flavanols in cocoa can support neuron production, brain function and improve blood flow and supply to brain tissue. They may have a role in preventing age-related brain degeneration, such as in Alzheimer’s disease, but more research is needed.

Cocoa may improve your mood and symptoms of depression by reducing stress levels and improving calmness, contentment, and overall psychological well-being. The positive effects on mood may be due to cocoa’s flavanols, the conversion of tryptophan to the natural mood stabilizer serotonin, its caffeine content or simply the sensory pleasure of eating chocolate. However, more research is needed.


Wheatgrass

Popping up everywhere from juice bars to health food stores, wheatgrass is the latest ingredient to enter the limelight in the world of natural health. Some claim it can do everything from detoxifying the liver to improving immune function. However, many of its purported benefits have not yet been proven or studied.

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Wheatgrass is high in chlorophyll and many vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (iron, magnesium, and calcium) and amino acids. Of its 17 amino acids, eight are considered essential, meaning your body cannot produce them and you must obtain them from food sources. Test-tube and animal studies have found that its antioxidant content may prevent oxidative stress and cell damage.

Some animal studies have found that wheatgrass may help lower blood cholesterol levels, but human studies are needed. Test-tube studies show that wheatgrass may help kill cancer cells and reduce cancer development. Also, one human study found that it may reduce complications of chemotherapy.

Some animal studies have found that wheatgrass may help decrease blood sugar levels, though more human studies are needed. One study found that wheatgrass may help treat ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, test-tube studies have found that chlorophyll, a compound found in wheatgrass, may also decrease inflammation.

Human and animal studies have found that the thylakoids in wheatgrass and other green vegetables may increase satiety and help with weight loss. Wheatgrass is considered gluten-free, but special precautions should be taken if you have a gluten sensitivity. It’s also susceptible to mold growth and may cause negative symptoms in some people.


Baobab

Baobab is a tree native to certain regions of Africa, Arabia, Australia, and Madagascar. Baobab trees can grow up to 30 meters tall and produce a large fruit that is commonly consumed and appreciated for its delicious citrus-like flavor. The pulp, leaves, and seeds of the baobab fruit have been associated with many health benefits and are a staple in various recipes and cuisines.

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Powdered baobab contains many important nutrients but is especially high in vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, iron, and potassium. Two tablespoons (20 grams) of powdered baobab provides approximately:

  • Calories: 50
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbs: 16 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 9 grams
  • Vitamin C: 58% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin B6: 24% of the RDI
  • Niacin: 20% of the RDI
  • Iron: 9% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 7% of the RDI

Baobab is high in fiber and has been shown to reduce feelings of hunger which could promote weight loss. Baobab may also help slow the increase of blood sugar levels and decrease the amount of insulin needed to keep your blood sugar under control.

Animal studies show that baobab may help reduce inflammation and prevent oxidative damage to cells, but more research in humans is needed. Baobab is high in fiber, which may improve digestive health and prevent conditions like constipation, intestinal ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, and hemorrhoids.


Acai

Acai berries are a Brazilian “superfruit.” They’re native to the Amazon region where they’re a staple food. However, they’ve recently gained popularity globally and are praised for being particularly beneficial to health and well-being.

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Acai berries are round fruits that grow on acai palm trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. They have a dark purple skin and yellow flesh surrounding a large seed. To make them edible, they are soaked to soften the tough outer skin and then mashed to form a dark purple paste.

They have an earthy taste that’s often described as a cross between blackberries and unsweetened chocolate. Fresh acai berries have a short shelf life and aren’t available outside of where they are grown. As an export, they are sold as a frozen fruit purée, dried powder or pressed juice.

Acai berries have a unique nutritional profile for a fruit, as they’re somewhat high in fat and low in sugar. 100g of frozen fruit pulp has the following nutritional breakdown:

  • Calories: 70
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Saturated fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 2 grams
  • Fiber 2 grams
  • Vitamin A: 15% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 2% of the RDI

But some of the acai’s most powerful health benefits come from plant compounds. The most notable one among these is anthocyanins, which give acai berries their deep purple color and act as antioxidants in the body. You can also find anthocyanins in other blue, black and purple foods, such as black beans and blueberries.

Acai is incredibly rich in antioxidants, boasting three times the amount found in blueberries. Antioxidants are important because they neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals throughout the body. If free radicals are not neutralized by antioxidants, they can damage cells and lead to a number of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Many animal studies and at least one human study have suggested that acai may help lower blood cholesterol levels. In animal and test-tube studies, acai has also shown potential as an anti-cancer agent. More studies are needed to determine its effect on humans.

Lastly, the many plant compounds in acai could also protect your brain from damage as you age and counteract the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidation in the brain,  stimulating its “housekeeping” response.


Moringa

Moringa oleifera is a plant that has been praised for its health benefits for thousands of years. Moringa is a fairly large tree native to North India. Almost all parts of the tree are eaten or used as ingredients in traditional herbal medicines. It is very rich in healthy antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds.

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Moringa leaves are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including protein, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin and iron. One cup of fresh, chopped leaves (21 grams) contains:

  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin B6: 19% of the RDA
  • Vitamin C: 12% of the RDA
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA
  • Riboflavin (B2): 11% of the RDA
  • Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 9% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 8% of the RDA

In Western countries, the dried leaves are sold as dietary supplements, either in powder or capsule form. Compared to the leaves, the pods are generally lower in vitamins and minerals. However, they are exceptionally rich in vitamin C. One cup of fresh, sliced pods (100 grams) contains 157% of your daily requirement.

However, there is one downside: Moringa leaves may also contain high levels of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of minerals and protein. Another thing to keep in mind is that taking Moringa supplements in capsules won’t supply a large number of nutrients.

Moringa is rich in various antioxidants, including quercetin and chlorogenic acid. Its leaf powder can increase blood antioxidant levels. Moringa leaves may also lead to reduced blood sugar levels, but more research is needed before any solid recommendations can be made.

In animal and test-tube studies, Moringa has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. This effect has not been studied in humans. Moringa can also lower your cholesterol levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.

Animal studies suggest that Moringa may also protect against arsenic toxicity. However, this has not yet been studied in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic may lead to health problems over time. For instance, studies have linked long-term exposure to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.


Matcha

Matcha has skyrocketed in popularity lately, with matcha shots, lattes, teas, and even desserts appearing everywhere from health stores to coffee shops. Like green tea, matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, it’s grown differently and has a unique nutrient profile.

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Farmers grow matcha by covering their tea plants 20–30 days before harvest to avoid direct sunlight. This increases chlorophyll production, boosts the amino acid content, and gives the plant a darker green hue. Once the tea leaves are harvested, the stems and veins are removed and the leaves are ground up into a fine powder known as matcha. Matcha contains the nutrients from the entire tea leaf, which results in a greater amount of caffeine and antioxidants than typically found in green tea.

Matcha contains a concentrated amount of antioxidants, which may reduce cell damage and prevent chronic disease.

The liver is vital to health and plays a central role in flushing out toxins, metabolizing drugs, and processing nutrients. Some studies have shown that matcha could prevent liver damage and decrease the risk of liver disease. However, additional studies are needed to look at the effects on humans in the general population.

Some research shows that several of the components in matcha could help enhance brain function. The researchers found that matcha caused improvements in attention, reaction time, and memory, compared to the placebo. It also contains caffeine and L-theanine, which can improve several aspects of brain function.

Test tube and animal studies have found that the compounds in matcha may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies show that green tea and matcha can also decrease several heart disease risk factors.

Some studies show that green tea extract helps increase metabolism and fat burning, both of which may aid weight loss.


Dried Seaweed (Wakame)

Wakame is a type of edible seaweed that has been cultivated in Japan and Korea for centuries. In addition to bringing a unique taste and texture to soups and salads, wakame is low in calories but high in several nutrients that are essential to health.

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Wakame is very low in calories but contains a good amount of iodine, manganese, folate, magnesium, and calcium.

Wakame is a good source of iodine, which is essential to thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones.

Animal and human studies show that wakame may help reduce blood pressure levels, but more research is needed to better understand cause and effect.

Animal studies have found that wakame may lower cholesterol levels to help promote heart health. However, human research is lacking.

Test-tube and animal studies show that wakame may help block the growth and spread of cancer cells, but the research remains inconclusive.

Animal studies show that wakame can reduce glucose production in the body and prevent insulin resistance to keep blood sugar under control. Yet, human research is lacking.

Several animal studies have found that wakame can prevent weight gain and reduce the amount of fat tissue in the body.


 

Vegetable protein

Avoiding animal products doesn’t have to mean missing out on protein. Whether you’re on the go or trying to refuel quickly after a workout, you can choose from a variety of plant-based protein powders — plain or flavored — to mix with water, non-dairy milk, smoothies, oatmeal or other foods. Plant foods like rice, peas and sunflower seeds aren’t protein-packed the way meat and fish are, but food processors can remove most of the fat and carbs and isolate the protein found in these foods to make protein-rich powders.

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Pea Protein

Pea protein powder is rich in BCAAs to support muscle building. Preliminary research suggests that it’s as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle gain. It may also help you feel full and lower your blood pressure.

Hemp Protein

Though hemp protein powder has more moderate levels of protein and is low in the amino acid lysine, it packs a lot of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium and ALA omega-3 fat.

Pumpkin Seed Protein

Though low in the essential amino acids threonine and lysine, pumpkin seed protein powder is very nutritious, supplying high amounts of several minerals. Its beneficial plant compounds may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Brown Rice Protein

Though not a complete protein, brown rice protein powder is rich in BCAAs and may be as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle growth as part of a weight training regimen. Choose a brand that tests for arsenic contamination.

Soy Protein

Soy protein powder is a complete protein source rich in BCAAs to support muscle building. It may also help lower cholesterol levels. Due to potential safety concerns, you can buy non-genetically modified soy protein and avoid using it every day.


Check other posts about food and recipes in the Food & Recipes section of my blog

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