David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
20+ Superfoods That Could Save Your Life
The very best thing you can do for your long-term health and well-being is to eat a good, well-balanced diet consisting mostly of natural whole foods. However, some foods are more beneficial than others, and although the term "superfoods" is becoming a bit overused these days, there are some foods that are so nutrient dense or contain such unique biologically active, health-promoting compounds that they can most certainly be referred to as superfoods.
If you eat a good amount of these foods on a regular basis, they can help fix all the damage that may have been caused by an otherwise poor diet, environmental toxins, chemical additives and physical and mental stress. So you’ll enjoy much improved health, and you'll also help to prevent many diseases that could otherwise have been coming your way.
So here, arranged in alphabetical order, is my list of 20 of the very best superfoods on the planet.
- Coconut Oil
- Dark Chocolate
- Dark Green Vegetables
- Fermented Foods
- Green Tea
- Red Wine
- Sea Vegetables
Avocados are an extremely nutrient-dense food. They contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, together with high levels of folate, vitamin E, potassium and magnesium. They are also rich in carotenoid antioxidants and are a good source of fiber too.
Eating avocados regularly helps decrease total and LDL cholesterol whilst raising HDL cholesterol and normalizing blood pressure. So they can help protect you from heart disease and stroke.
They also exert a protective effect against various types of cancer, especially breast, prostate and oral cancers. And on top of all that, they have a delicious buttery flavor and are extremely versatile to use, so it’s well worth serving them up on a frequent basis.
Blueberries contain a good amount of various vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, manganese, magnesium and copper. But it’s not their vitamin and mineral content that makes them a superfood; it’s the extremely high levels of flavonoid antioxidants they contain. Antioxidant activity is measured using the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) scale, and blueberries score extremely high on this.
These flavonoids can help prevent cancer, lower blood pressure, improve memory and other cognitive processes, boost immunity and even slow down the ageing processes. So blueberries are not only delicious, but they are also a true superfood.
3. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil consists almost entirely of saturated fat, but most of this is a very special kind of saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s).
MCT’s have potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, so they can help combat all kinds of disease in your body. They also help normalize blood lipid levels, so are great for cardiovascular health. They speed up the metabolism and they give you more energy too. Apart from this, coconut oil is by far the best oil for cooking, as it is very resistant to high heat.
4. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains a wide range of valuable nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and soluble fiber. However, once again it’s the extremely high levels of flavanoids it contains that makes dark chocolate a superfood. In fact, the ORAC score of good quality high flavanoid dark chocolate is far higher than even blueberries and acai berries.
It’s the cocoa in dark chocolate that contains the powerful flavonoid antioxidants and gives it its many health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, improving brain function, and even slowing down your rate of ageing. So always choose a good quality, preferably organic, brand with at least 70% cocoa content.
And remember to enjoy it only in moderation, as it is high in calories, so if you eat too much you could easily put on weight. See my article on the health benefits of dark chocolate for more information on why it’s so good for you.
5. Dark Green Vegetables (Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, etc.)
Dark green vegetables are among the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, are a good source of fiber, and they also contain powerful carotenoid and flavanoid antioxidant compounds, which have been shown to help fight cancer and heart disease, as well as reduce your risk of diabetes and much more. Some of the best dark green vegetables include:
This is one of the most nutritious vegetables there is, being extremely high in vitamin K, as well as containing very good levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium. This nutritional powerhouse also has anti-inflammatory properties and is a proven cancer fighter.
This is another vegetable that is packed with nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and calcium. It has extremely potent anti-cancer properties, and it also helps support cardiovascular health, build bones, boost the immune system and reduce the incidence of cataracts.
This contains a wider range of nutrients than any other vegetable, and calorie for calorie provides more nutrients than any other food. It is a potent cancer fighter and it helps prevent heart disease, age related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and much more. The tremendous range of nutrients in spinach work together synergistically in such as way that it would be hard to overemphasize the amazing health benefits that this particular vegetable can provide.
Apart from these, there are a number of other excellent choices, including collard greens, cabbage, Swiss chard and bok choy.
6. Eggs (Free-Range)
Despite the bad press they have received over the years, there are few foods that are anywhere near as nutritious as eggs. A large egg contains just over 6g of high quality protein, with all the essential amino acids being present in close-to-ideal proportions. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthine, which are powerful antioxidants that are especially good for eye health, choline, which is very important for brain health, vitamins A, B2, B5, B12, D, E and K, the minerals iron, selenium, sulfur – and much more.
The yolk is by far the most nutritious part of an egg, and although it does contain cholesterol, this should not be a concern, as dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol levels, and this is especially true with regard to eggs. Also, there is no link whatsoever between egg consumption and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. So you can eat as many as you want.
It is important to choose free range eggs, however, as the diet and living conditions of free range hens are much better, so they produce better quality, more nutritious eggs.
7. Fermented Foods (Miso, Tempeh, Sauerkraut, Kombucha, Kimchi, Kefir, Pickles, Live Yogurt, etc.)
As well as being rich in vitamins, minerals and enzymes, fermented foods also contain an abundance of good bacteria (probiotics). And because of this, they are particularly good for digestive system health, aiding digestion and the absorption of certain nutrients, as well as helping to heal various digestive system disorders such as IBS and leaky gut.
Fermented foods help fight infection and boost the immune system. They also help improve the condition of the skin and increase energy levels. And they have a powerful effect on brain health too, helping to relieve depression and anxiety. Some of the best fermented foods include:
Miso and Tempeh
These are made from fermented soybeans, and they are packed with nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. Add miso to hot (not boiling) water to make soup, and slice up tempeh to eat with salads or in sandwiches.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
These are made from fermented cabbage and are great energy boosters.
This is a fermented tea that contains several strains of beneficial bacteria.
Kefir and Yogurt
These are both made from fermented milk, and are full of beneficial enzymes and probiotics. They are also a good source of protein and are rich in calcium, while being very low in lactose, so they are well tolerated even by those who are lactose intolerant.
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and, apart from being used the world over to add flavor to various food dishes, it has been prized for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
There are almost 100 different nutrients in garlic, including various B vitamins, vitamin C, and the minerals manganese, copper, selenium, calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium – and many more. The main medicinal properties of garlic, however, come from its rich variety of sulfur containing compounds, of which allicin is the most important.
Garlic is particularly good for cardiovascular health, as it has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as reduce platelet aggregation. But garlic is also a potent cancer fighting agent, and it has powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties too. In fact allicin has been shown to be very effective against a wide variety of disease causing organisms, including the super-bacteria MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
9. Green Tea
Green tea is high in polyphenol antioxidants, the most notable of which is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and it is this that is responsible for most of its health benefits. It also contains a small amount of caffeine, together with two other mild stimulants, theobromine and theophylline.
By drinking green tea regularly, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Green tea also improves oral health and can help prevent or reduce cognitive decline in the elderly. On top of this, it speeds up the metabolism a little, and can increase fat burning during exercise, so it can be useful in helping you to lose weight. Check out my article on the health benefits of green tea if you want to know more.
10. Honey (Raw)
Honey is not only a delicious alternative to sugar; it’s also very good for you. Apart from glucose and fructose, honey contains a wide range of minerals, together with enzymes and antioxidant phytonutrients with cancer fighting properties.
Honey also helps boost the immune system and it is good for digestive system health. It has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, and it helps enhance athletic performance and improve recovery times. It needs to be raw though, as most of the health benefits are lost during the processing procedure.
Kiwis are one of the most nutrient dense fruits there is. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and they also contain a good amount of potassium, copper, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K. On top of this, they are rich in cancer fighting flavonoid and carotenoid antioxidants, as well as soluble fiber, which promotes good intestinal health.
One of the best ways to start the day is with the juice of half a lemon squeezed into a glass of warm water. Lemons are very rich in vitamin C, and they also contain several other vitamins, as well as minerals and various compounds with potent antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Lemons help improve digestion, boost the immune system, fight cancer, cleanse the liver and detoxify the body. And because they are very alkalizing, they help contribute to good bone and joint health too. They also help improve skin quality and reduce fine lines and blemishes.
13. Nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, etc.)
Nuts are a good source of protein, and they are also high in healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and a wide range of minerals, including magnesium and potassium.
Almonds, pistachios and walnuts are the most beneficial, but all nuts confer significant health benefits. The slight downside of nuts is that they are high in calories, so you should not eat too many. But a handful of nuts, four or five times per week, can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and may also provide some protection from type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer and many other degenerative conditions.
Despite the fact that many people are a bit anti-grain these days, oats really are an exceptional food. They contain protein, B vitamins (particularly thiamine and pantothenic acid), vitamin E and a wide range of minerals including manganese, copper, magnesium, chromium, zinc, potassium, selenium and molybdenum. They also contain a very special soluble fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. So oats provide significant protection against heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes and various types of cancer.
But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg for oats. They also contain a number of other health giving compounds, and can have a dramatic effect on your long term health and longevity.
Onions contain vitamin C, various B vitamins, and the minerals manganese, copper and potassium. They are also very rich in sulfur containing compounds and polyphenol antioxidants, and are a particularly good source of quercetin.
Onions can help lower cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce the clumping of platelets, so they help protect you from heart disease and stroke. They are also anti-inflammatory, they help increase bone density, and they offer protection from several types of cancer.
16. Red Wine
Red wine is rich in powerful flavanol and sapponin antioxidants, which help lower LDL cholesterol, normalize blood pressure, improve blood coagulation factors and reduce systemic inflammation. So if you drink it on a regular basis, it can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease.
Apart from that, consuming red wine can reduce your risk of certain types of cancer (particularly bowel cancer and prostate cancer), slow the signs of ageing, improve oral health and relieve stress.
The darker wines tend to contain higher levels of antioxidants, and so provide greater health benefits, and Cabernet Sauvignon is usually a particularly good choice.
The benefits of red wine, however, are only obtained by drinking it in moderation, and excessive consumption will have the opposite effect, leading to increased disease in the body and possibly resulting in cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism. Moderate drinking means about 4 to 6 ounces per day for women and 6 to 10 ounces per day for men.
17. Salmon (Wild)
Salmon is an excellent source of high quality protein, and it is also rich in potassium, selenium, vitamin D and several of the B vitamins. But what makes it a superfood is the high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that it contains.
There are two basic types of essential fats – omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are polyunsaturated fats, and both are an important part of a well balanced diet. However, the typical western diet tends to contain far too much omega-6’s and not nearly enough omega-3’s; and this imbalance contributes to increased inflammation in our bodies, which leads to poor health and an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
So if you eat a good sized portion of salmon (or other oily fish such as mackerel or sardines) two to four times per week, you will ensure you are getting an adequate supply of omega-3’s in your diet. And this will significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and many other conditions, as well as helping you to maintain healthy joints and good brain function too.
It should be noted, however, that wild caught salmon tends to be healthier and more nutritious than farmed salmon due to the fact that wild salmon eat a healthier, natural diet and swim freely in the oceans. So choose wild rather than farmed salmon whenever possible.
18. Sea Vegetables
Sea vegetables (or seaweed) contain vitamin C, vitamin A, several of the B vitamins and an extremely wide range of minerals and trace elements. But they are particularly high in iodine, which many people tend to be deficient in, due to the fact that most foods are relatively low in this essential mineral. Iodine is required for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland and deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, fatigue and mental retardation.
Sea vegetables are also rich in a variety of phytonutrients, including flavonoids, carotenoids, alkaloids and their unique sulfated polysaccharides (known as fucoidans). Fucoidans have potent anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and cancer fighting properties, and they also help lower cholesterol and decrease platelet clumping, so reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Sea vegetables also help improve insulin sensitivity, which helps with weight control and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
When you sprout seeds, grains or beans, their nutritional value increases substantially. So sprouts are extremely nutritious, being loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and enzymes; and they are a good source of protein too. Sprouts are easy to digest and can be eaten either raw or cooked, though the benefits are reduced somewhat when cooked.
By eating sprouts on a regular basis, you will be adding a tremendous amount of valuable antioxidants to your diet, which will help protect you from heart disease, various types of cancer, diabetes and much more.
You can easily grow your own sprouts at home by placing the seeds, grains or beans in a jar and soaking them overnight in water. Then drain them and place the jar on a windowsill for a few days, rinsing them once or twice per day until they are ready. The video below explains exactly how to do this.
How to Grow Sprouts at Home
Tomatoes are a very good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, E and K, biotin, folate, potassium, copper, manganese and molybdenum. They are also extremely rich in various antioxidant compounds, the most important of which is lycopene.
Tomatoes are exceptionally good for cardiovascular health, and can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also help support bone health and reduce the risk of various types of cancer. On top of this, tomatoes may slow the development of cataracts and age related macular degeneration.
So that’s my list of the top 20+ superfoods for great health. These are some of the most healing and health promoting foods in existence, and by eating a good selection of them on a regular basis, you’ll be helping to ensure you can live a long and productive life. What about you? What’s your favorite superfood, and do you have any extra ones that are not on this list?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on July 04, 2015:
Thanks RC. Yes, this list is arranged alphabetically rather than in order of benefits, but dark chocolate can be extremely healthy, depending on the processing method used (so it is very variable). But moderation is of course key; you wouldn't want to be eating a couple of bars per day :)
Reality Check on July 04, 2015:
Great article, and on a topic close to my heart as well! Have to agree with you on kefir, and many of the others (have compiled a similar "superfoods" list myself!). However, it is strange to me that dark chocolate can rank so highly alongside fruits and vegetables! I suppose the eating in moderation comment is important there.
Enjoyed the article, thanks.
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on December 10, 2014:
Yes it can be difficult for vegans or vegetarians to get sufficient iron, and iron supplements are not really recommended as you say. But there are three steps you can take to ensure you get enough of it:
1. First obviously eat plant foods that are high in iron such as spinach, quinoa and beans.
2. Eat foods with high levels of vitamin C at the same time as your iron rich foods as vitamin C increases absorption of non-heme (plant) iron.
3. Avoid or limit your consumption of foods which contain substances that reduce iron absorption, such as tea, coffee, cereals and soy.
Hope that helps.
Sunny on December 10, 2014:
I feel much the same as you with regards to sueltempnps! I take probiotics and calcium/magnesium powder fairly regularly because I don't eat dairy except for the occasional cheese, but that's about it I'd prefer not to take any sueltempnps, but when eating raw/vegan (or even vegetarian), it's tricky to manage that. Especially since the food we eat no longer has the same nutrient content that it did a few decades ago (boo to pesticides and other things we've done with messing with farming!).But I have a question: what do you do about iron? I had some blood work done recently which suggests that I'm mildly anemic. I don't want to take iron sueltempnps because I've heard that the side effects can be really brutal to the body. Most plant-based foods that are high in iron don't get absorbed as well as animal-based products into the bloodstream, so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that.
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on December 09, 2014:
A well balanced diet SHOULD provide you with all the nutrients you need; but unfortunately most of the food we eat these days is not as nutritious as it once was due to modern farming practices. So a good whole food multivitamin supplement is a good idea. An omega 3 supplement is also very valuable. Other than that you can take what you need for your own specific goals, or to address any health condition you may have.
Diego on December 09, 2014:
Do I supplement or not? I'm a firm beieevlr of not taking supplements when my diet is well balanced. I feel very fortunate to be able to access all that I need to eat in order to stay healthy. Having to take supplements is an indication that I am not providing myself with the foods I need.Having said the above, I do keep a bottle of supplements that I take when I feel like my system is on the verge of crashing (the annual cold). It's not only nutrition I focus on, but also the amount of exercise and rest I get in my day/week so that I don't have to wonder if I should supplement or not. Segan, maybe try taking iron supplements for a week once a month when your levels of iron, and other elements decrease (usually few days before, after, and during a womyn's mense) also when one eats too much fiber our body does not absorb the nutrients provided by our diet have fun figuring out what works well for your machine. The ultimate goal for me is not to rely on supplements at all, and in doing so I get to try new foods, and new ways of eating yumm yumm*-*
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on August 22, 2014:
Thanks Liz. Glad you found the information useful. Enjoy your green tea :)
Liz Mackay from United Kingdom on August 22, 2014:
I shall be coming back here regularly to check out the health benefits of these foods. Just about to have a mug of green tea.
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on July 02, 2014:
Thanks Oldiesmusic. Yes they are healthy fats in avocados - very good for the heart. Must be nice to have an avocado tree in your garden.
oldiesmusic from United States on July 01, 2014:
I don't know that avocados are healthy for the heart, considering that it's a rather "creamy" fruit! We have a tree in our front yard and now that it's avocado season our tree is heavy with fruits... I eat avocados. And I make them for a vegan chocolate mousse. Great info you've got there. :)
Lynn Jones from USA on June 30, 2014:
You are welcome dwelburn, yes I did have a good one. lyns 6/30/2014
Note: I always put the date because when we are off line for a minute and have mail I want to know so when did we last talk, lol. just kidding to me I like seeing the dates seem awkward when it's not there so I add my own, lol
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on June 30, 2014:
Thank you Lyns. Really appreciate your comment and glad you found it so useful.
Lynn Jones from USA on June 30, 2014:
I love this hub it is one and far the best I have read on healthy eating and foods, I am always looking into what veggies, etc best to eat since our foods are not very good with vitamins now days and this one has given everything and more that I have found out about food, I really love the structure as well as the information. Thanks so much for sharing it and writing this hub. Gave it Ups and Plus. Have a great day, lyns 6/30/2014 1:44pm