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What are superfoods? A primer on nature's best nutrients

The past few years have seen a few terms become ubiquitous: Detox. YOLO. Steampunk. Superfood.

You might have a handle on detoxing, and you certainly know when a "YOLO!" is appropriate. But what are superfoods, really - and why didn't we know about them before?

We're into keeping things simple, so here's our definition of a superfood:

A superfood is a naturally occurring food that is extremely nutrient-dense and contains health-promoting properties.

what is a superfood

Hold the phone. An apple is health-promoting, isn't it? And what about Greek yogurt?

The most important part of the superfood definition is nutrient-dense. Gram for gram, ounce for ounce, the small but mighty blueberry outperforms the apple by a long shot. And a pat of (minimally processed) butter from grass-fed cows will put that cup of yogurt to shame.

Superfoods work best as part of an overall healthy lifestyle

These foods really are amazing - and choosing from a variety of these hard-hitters every day can work wonders for your health.

These days, corporations large and small are jumping on the superfood bandwagon to attract new, health-conscious buyers. But let's just get this out of the way: a product claiming to contain a superfood is not healthy by default, especially if that product is highly processed. Just like vitamins, post-workout protein shakes, and hot yoga classes, superfoods are most effective when they're incorporated into a healthy lifestyle - a balance of good food, plenty of play, and limited stress.  

Below, some of our favorite superfoods to use in our recipes - and our daily snacks.

Is it good, or is it super? Consult our superfood list to find out

This is our attempt at a semi-comprehensive superfood list - in the future, we'll feature some of our most-loved superfoods in their own dedicated posts.

Super...fruits: When possible, choose local produce. Organic is second priority, and then flash-frozen if you can't find anything else. Use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help you choose! Of course, simply fresh produce is better than no produce - so whatever your resources, help yourself to plenty of the following:

  • lemons, limes

  • avocado (yep, our favorite green treat is a fruit!)

  • berries: goji, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries

  • coconut

  • pumpkin

  • pomegranate

Super….veggies: As with fruits, choose local, then organic, and then flash-frozen. Most of all, choose veggies over processed meals.

  • kale, spinach, and other dark leafy greens

  • sea veggies (kelp, kombu, spirulina)

  • root veggies: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes

  • black beans

Herbs and spices: if you can find fresh versions of the more exotic options, try grating them into food or simmering as a tea.

  • garlic

  • ginger

  • turmeric

  • cinnamon

  • cayenne

Nuts and seedsOpt for raw nuts when available, then soak for 24 hours and dry before eating.

  • chia seeds

  • flax seeds

  • pumpkin seeds

  • almonds, walnuts, cashews

Healthy fats: Cold-pressed is always better than refined. Make sure you're cooking with an oil that can withstand high heat.

  • Coconut oil

  • Olive oil

Meat, poultry, and dairy: Again, local is best, if you can get it. Look for grass-fed or pastured beef and poultry/dairy, and opt for wild-caught fish.

  • wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna

  • butter from grass-fed cows

  • pastured eggs

  • Greek yogurt or raw milk kefir from grass-fed cows

  • Organ meats (!) from pastured/grass-fed animals

Grains: Some people find all grains problematic, but many enjoy adding them in for slow-burning carbs (and, of course, long-lasting enjoyment). Look for gluten-free options.

  • quinoa

  • oats

Other superfood favorites

  • Cacao (raw chocolate), carob, or dark chocolate (look for 70% or higher cacao content)

  • Maca root

  • Green tea

  • Organic coffee - Choose freshly roasted beans for the health-boosting benefits.

  • Raw honey - With honey, going local can actually help you stave off seasonal allergies. Not bad, right?

What's our superfoods list missing? Let us know!


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