For thousands of years throughout ancient cultures, certain superfoods that keep you healthy have been used for medicinal treatments. Certain berries, nuts, plants, and seeds that have been used to holistically medicate the body are now being viewed today as exotic, delicious superfoods. What is a superfood exactly, anyway? Foods that are especially nutrient-dense which are so high in vitamins, minerals, and other healing compounds, more so than average foods we find at mainstream supermarkets, are being called superfoods by health experts worldwide. With all the superfood hype that can occur today, here are 8 superfoods with proven health benefits. Some are more common than others, but all are superfoods that keep you healthy in their own right.
1. Goji Berries
Goji berries are one of the most popular superfoods that keep you healthy today. These tiny, bright red, dried berries are rich in many nutrients, and even outrank some of the highest antioxidant-containing fruits that we know, such as prunes and blueberries, in antioxidant load. Goji berries boast 18 amino acids, Vitamin C, 12% of your daily iron requirements, are high in fiber and contain 5 essential fatty acids, which include a decent source of protein. They originated in Chinese medicine practices and are said to improve circulation and even enhance libido. You can add dried goji berries to cereals, trail mixes, smoothies, or even let them soak in hot water to make Goji tea, which is a popular drink using the berries.
2. Chia Seeds
I love chia seeds because they are so filling, energizing and they really help to thicken up just about any food pretty nicely. Chia seeds are high in fiber, iron, Omega 3 fatty acids, plant protein and magnesium. Chia seeds are also extremely hydrating, making them important for energizing long workouts, or preventing you from losing too many electrolytes through dehydration. You only need a little to make a difference as well. Soak 1 tbsp. of chia seeds in ½ cup water and the chia seeds will expand up to ten times their size, soaking up the water to make a gel. Chia seeds are also excellent for keeping you regular and helping to prevent bloating. You can use the chia gel or chia seeds in a smoothie, or drink it as it is. One popular way to eat chia is to let this mixture soak with oats, berries and almond milk for a filling and high-fiber breakfast.
This is one spice you definitely want to make yourself familiar with. Turmeric is one of the most prized spices that prevent inflammation and disease in the body. The bright orange hue can seem unappealing, but the rich color hues signal just how nutritious this food actually is in antioxidants. Turmeric has the amazing ability to soothe skin disorders like psoriasis, calm the nervous system and prevent or treat PMS, and even potentially fight cancer due to its active ingredient, curcumin, which gives it the orange hues and works as a powerful anti-inflammatory in the body. Turmeric has even been linked to studies that show it helps to aid in burning fat in the body. It is the ingredient that gives curry powder its orange glow and can be used in various ways throughout cooking. Since it has a potent flavor, try adding just a pinch or two to your rice dishes, chili dishes and chicken, fish or egg dishes. It also pairs well with foods such as quinoa, tofu and stir-fry veggies.
Most of us wouldn’t guess that a flower that is coined as a backyard weed is actually one of the most potent superfoods and detox foods on the planet. While it is true, don’t go picking those in your backyard and start noshing down just yet. Most likely, those are coated with fertilizers and weed treatments if you have lawn services that treat your yard. Instead, opt for organic dandelion greens sold in markets like Whole Foods, found in the produce section, or opt to drink organic dandelion herbal tea, which is an easy way to get in the powers of this superfood. In folk medicine, dandelion leaves are eaten to rid the body of built-up toxins stored in the body. Doctors in Ayurvedic cultures recommend eating dandelion leaves to protect the liver, kidneys and gallbladder. 1 cup of dandelion leaves contains 112% of your vitamin A and 32% of your vitamin C needs for the day. Not too shabby for a measly little weed, right?
I adore maca! This root veggie that looks a lot like a turnip is one of the best foods for your adrenals, hormones and endocrine system that you can consume. You’ll find it in powder form around the United States since the root originates from Peru. You only need approximately 1 teaspoon of maca to make a huge difference in your energy levels, mood and overall sense of well-being. If you’re concerned with the taste, don’t worry. Maca doesn’t taste like turnips! Instead it has a sweet, almost caramel-like essence to it that makes it delish in smoothies, homemade cereal, energy bars, or anything else you want to put it in. It pairs especially well with chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla flavors. The root of the maca plant has been used in indigenous Andean cultures as a source of nourishment and healing for many millenniums. Maca has a rich nutrient profile containing amino acids, vitamins B1, B2, C, E and minerals, including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium and iron. It is also a good source of potassium, which helps control our blood pressure and water balance in our bodies.
6. Camu Camu Berry
If you think blueberries are your top berry to prevent illness, think again! While blueberries are great, the camu camu berry carries more bang for its buck, so to speak! This is the most potent source of Vitamin C of all superfoods and has been used throughout ancient folk medicine to treat and prevent colds, illnesses and more. Yet, it can be costly since it takes 25 pounds of the berries just to make 1 pound of the powder we find today in stores. Camu camu berries orginate from the Andean swamps, making it one exotic superfood. The good news is, it is so potent you only need roughly ¼ tsp. a day to make a difference. Therefore one bag of the powder could potentially last you around 3 months, which isn’t too bad when you consider how accustomed we are in the U.S. to living off cold treatments that we buy spring, summer, fall and winter. Camu camu has been proven to boost the immune system since it contains 30-60 times more vitamin C than an orange! It’s full of flavonoids and powerful antioxidants that give it a tart flavor similar to a cross between cranberries and oranges. It also contains several amino acids and B vitamins, making it an impressive small source of nutrients. It has even been used in ancient medicine as an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, hair tonic and an anti-viral remedy. Camu powder can be added to cold drinks, smoothies or herbal teas. I like Navitas Naturals brand, which you can find in stores or online.
7. Flax Seeds
While it may not seem like an exotic superfood considering it is one common kitchen staple used today, flax seeds are still one of the most popular superfoods with an exotic flair, due to their rich nutritional profile, possible medicinal therapies, and unique abilities in the kitchen. Flax seeds are one of the best sources of dietary fiber one can consume in such a small amount, with 5 grams per tablespoon. Flax seeds are also the highest source of Omega 3 fatty acids of all plant foods and contain phytoestrogens, which are excellent for PMS, helping to lift a bad mood in a jiffy anytime. They also help to reduce bloating and constipation, along with making a perfect substitution for eggs when cooking in the kitchen. When mixed with water, flax makes what is known as a flax egg, gelling up nicely to help baked goods stick together, much like an egg. I love cold-milled ground flax seeds in smoothies, homemade energy bars and homemade treats, but you can literally do anything with them. Buy them cold-milled when possible, so all their healthy fats stay intact.
Spirulina is a deep green algae that you definitely want to get to know! Spirulina is one of the top sources of plant protein of all foods, along with being high in iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12 and is a top source of chlorophyll, the plant pigment that gives plants their deep green hue. Chlorophyll reduces inflammation, treats acne, heals the digestive tract, treats and prevents constipation, eliminates toxins, and purifies the blood. In one teaspoon, spirulina contains 888% of your daily requirements of Vitamin A, 4 grams of protein, 70% of your daily iron requirements and 81% of your daily Vitamin B12 requirements. You can add the powder to your smoothies as an easy way to get in your dose. Just note that you'll want to sweeten it so you won't taste the seaweed flavor spirulina contains. Spirulina has an amazing ability to offer calming properties, along with sustained energy. It prevents inflammation, clears the mind and soothes the entire body. If you add any superfood to your diet, let spirulina be it!
You don’t need superfoods to live a healthy life, but they sure do make a difference in a small amount and can potentially make significant changes for your health. Do you eat any of these exotic superfoods? If so, which ones and how? Share your ideas with me since I love getting new recipes and ideas!