Consuming foods that are packed with nutrients (as many so-called superfoods are) is certainly a good idea, Hyde told Live Science. But the key to a healthy diet is to consume a variety of nutritious foods in the right quantities, she added.
The "exotic fruit of the year" will surely be on any superfood list, too. This might be acai berry, noni fruit, dragon fruit, rambutan or pomegranate. These fruits might be healthful, but scientific studies do not show that they are more healthful than other, less exotic (and therefore less expensive) fruits, such as blueberries. Some of these fruits may be particularly dense in certain kinds of nutrients. Pomegranate, for example, contains ellagitannins (ellagic acid), which have known anti-cancer properties. But red raspberries, which are arguably just as delicious as pomegranate seeds, also contain ellagic acid.
Salmon, sardines, mackerel and certain other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The benefits of eating fish may far outweigh the risk of harming your health from the mercury these fish contain, according to Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. If you worry about the contaminants your fish dinner may contain, you can try eating lower down on the food chain. Certain fish, such as sharks, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, contain higher levels of mercury than smaller fish, like sardines, smelt, and anchovy.
Sweet potato and squash also usually make the superfood list, for similar reasons as those listed for leafy greens. Both kinds of food are generally excellent sources of fiber, vitamin A and much more. They are also naturally sweet and don't require the butter, cream or salt typically added to potatoes.
Kale lives up to the hype of a superfood. But so do most dark, leafy greens: Swiss chard, collards, mustards (including radish greens), spinach (and others in the amaranth family), and cabbages. Add broccoli to that list, as well. It's in the cabbage-mustard family; the modern version is merely grown for its floret instead of leaves. These dark vegetables are loaded with vitamins A, C and K, as well as fiber, calcium and other minerals.
Nuts and seeds contain high levels of minerals and healthy fats. Although these are common additions on superfood lists, the downside is that they are high in calories. Portion control is key. Shelled nuts and seeds, in this regard, are ideal because they take time to ***** open and slow you down. A quick handful of shelled nuts could contain more than 100 calories, according to Hyde. [Related: Reality Check: 5 Risks of Raw Vegan Diet]
Beans and whole grains are standard additions to the superfood lists. Beans are a source of low-fat protein. Beans contain insoluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol; soluble fiber, which provides a longer feeling of fullness; and loads of vitamins and trace minerals largely absent in the typical American diet, such as manganese. Whole grains — named such because, unlike refined grains, they are not stripped of their nutrient-containing bran and germ during processing — have similar benefits to beans, though they don't contain as much protein. Quinoa is not a grain, but it cooks up like one, and this too is a remarkable source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
Kiwifruit also tops many a list of popular superfoods. Its benefits are similar, for the most part, to berries, melons, citrus fruit, apples and pears, all of which are high in vitamin C and rich in antioxidants. Kiwifruit is labeled a superfood perhaps because it contains a wider range of nutrients compared to some other fruits. A very small study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that consumption of kiwifruit (which also contains serotonin, a hormone that helps induce and maintain sleep) might promote a better night's rest in people with sleep disorders.
Blueberries often top many lists of superfoods because they are rich in vitamins, soluble fiber and phytochemicals. But the same nutrients found in blueberries are also found in many other kinds of berries, including strawberries and cranberries. A study published in 2013 in the journal Circulation found that a high intake of phytochemicals known as flavonoids — which are found in blueberries, as well as other kinds of berries — may reduce the risk of certain heart conditions in young women.
Some of the nutrients that certain superfoods contain include antioxidants, thought to ward off cancer; healthy fats, thought to prevent heart disease; fiber, thought to prevent diabetes and digestive problems; or phytochemicals, the chemicals in plants responsible for deep colors and smells, which can have numerous health benefits.