The 20 Best Superfoods You've Never Heard Of
It's time to rethink how you feel about your weekly grocery shop—starting with the shop itself.
Your local market may feel like a sterile, fluorescent migraine of marketing come-ons and disillusioned checkout teens—or, if you're shopping at Whole Foods, an overwhelming bounty of overpriced organics. But imagine it instead as a vast frontier of hidden treasures and untold adventures, a place packed with new sights, flavors, and textures.
See, most big supermarkets are loaded with cool weight loss foods that you have never tried—exotic fruits from the Amazon, heirloom vegetables nurtured by family farmers, spices and herbs from Asia, ancient grains loved by civilizations long forgotten. Of course, there are plenty of Frankenfoods concocted by food marketers, but there are even more stalks and roots and vines that have been grown for centuries that deserve more attention.
The great thing about these 20 superfoods below is that they're phenomenally nutrient-dense and nutrient-diverse, meaning they bring potent quantities of the vitamins and minerals we need every day. The next time you head to the store, find them and discover new flavors, unique sensations—and a healthier, happier you.
Jicama (HE-kuh-muh) is a Central American root vegetable that looks like a potato or turnip but is juicy and slightly sweet.
Why it's healthy: One cup contains just 49 calories and is loaded with 6 grams of fiber. It also packs a hefty dose of vitamin C. Find it in the produce sections of high-end supermarkets, like Whole Foods and Fresh Market.
How to eat it: You can slice it and eat it raw or boil it like a potato until soft.
This cousin of durum wheat was once considered the food of pharaohs. It's now embraced by mere mortals as an alternative to brown rice.
Why it's healthy: Kamut has higher levels of vitamin E and heart-healthy fatty acids than most grains. It also has up to 40 percent more protein than wheat.
How to eat it: Boil it in water for up to an hour, until the grains are tender. Drain and toss with sautéed vegetables, a dash of soy sauce, and a squeeze of lemon.
A fermented Chinese tea with an earthy flavor, Pu-erh can literally shrink the size of your fat cells.
Why it's healthy: To discover the brew's fat-crusading powers, Chinese researchers divided rats into five groups and fed them varying diets over a two month period. In addition to a control group, there was a group given a high-fat diet with no tea supplementation and three additional groups that were fed a high-fat diet with varying doses of pu-erh tea extract. The researchers found that the tea significantly lowered triglyceride concentrations (potentially dangerous fat found in the blood) and belly fat in the high-fat diet groups. It's a natural fat-blaster, along with barberry, rooibos, and white tea.
How to drink it: We love Pu-erh so much, we made it part of the weight-loss plan, The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Diet and Cleanse. Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in just one week!
Like quinoa, this nutrient-packed seed is native to the Americas and was a staple of the Incan diet. The grain-like seeds have a mild, nutty taste.
Why it's healthy: Gram for gram, few grains can compete with amaranth's nutritional portfolio. It's higher in fiber and protein than wheat and brown rice, it's loaded with vitamins, and it's been shown in studies to help lower blood pressure and harmful LDL cholesterol.
How to eat it: Amaranth cooks up just like rice, but it's even more versatile. Toss it with grilled vegetables as a bed for chicken or steak, or with apples, almonds, and goat cheese for a serious salad.
These crunchy, nutty-tasting sprouts arise when sunflower seeds are grown in soil for about a week.
Why they're healthy: They contain much of the heart-healthy fat, fiber, and plant protein found in sunflower seeds, but with fewer calories. Locate the greens in your local farmers' market or in the produce section of some higher-end grocery stores.
How to eat them: Wash the greens thoroughly, then drizzle olive oil and sprinkle sea salt on them for a simple and crunchy side dish, salad, or bed for grilled chicken. They're also great on sandwiches.
This tangy, curry-scented herb is used in many tasty Indian dishes.
Why it's healthy: Several studies show that fenugreek can help regulate blood sugar. Scientists think it may lower your blood-sugar response after a meal by delaying stomach emptying, which slows carbohydrate absorption and enhances insulin sensitivity. Find it in Indian stores.
How to eat it: Fenugreek is a component of most curry powders. You can also mix a teaspoon of pure fenugreek powder into a beef stew to kick up the flavor, or add whole seeds to a rice dish to create a Southeast Asian–style pilaf.
These tangy, dark yellow berries are native to South America, where they're sold fresh or made into preserves. In the United States, you're more likely to find the fruit dried and bagged.
Why they're healthy: One serving of dried goldenberries contains 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. They're also a great source of vitamin A and disease-fighting antioxidants. You can find them at Whole Foods.
How to eat them: Snack on the dried berries alone like you would raisins, or toss a handful on a salad or your breakfast cereal. And if you need an extra energy boost, get it from healthy snacks, like the ones on this ultimate list of the best snacks for weight loss!
Once revered by Native Americans as a miracle fruit, this tiny, tart berry (also called a chokeberry) has resurfaced as a superfood.
Why it's healthy: No fruit packs more anthocyanins, potent cancer-fighting antioxidants that lend the berry its deep purple color. Because of this, aronia has been shown to fight cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and even liver damage in rats.
How to eat it: Slurp down the benefits of aronia with a bottle of Oki, a juice blend that balances aronia's sharp flavor with the natural sweetness of a mix of other antioxidant powerhouses, including blueberry, black currant, and açai. Or blend some into a smoothie.
These oily fish are a top source of omega-3 fats, rivaling even salmon. Plus, they're packed with bone-building calcium.
Why they're healthy: Research shows that omega-3s can improve everything from your cholesterol profile to your mood to your ability to ward off Alzheimer's. Look for sardines packed in olive oil.
How to eat them: You can eat them straight from the can, but for a more sophisticated approach, wrap a sardine around an almond-stuffed olive. Or you can chop sardines and stuff them inside a peppadew pepper.
What it lacks in aesthetics, this lumpy winter root vegetable makes up for with a pleasant, celery-like flavor.
Why it's healthy: Celeriac is loaded with bone-building vitamin K, and it's a good source of vitamin C and potassium.
How to eat it: It goes well with other root vegetables in soups and stews or shred it raw into coleslaw. You can also swap celeriac for half of your next batch of mashed potatoes. Treat it the same way as the spuds—peel, boil, mash; it'll add a hint of earthy sweetness, and for fewer carbs.
This popular Indian herb, also known as tulsi, is the ideal ingredient for infusing freshness and flavor into almost any meal.
Why it's healthy: Animal studies have shown that natural chemicals in holy basil may help fight diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. You can find it at Asian specialty stores and farmers' markets, but if you're short on time, try fresh sweet basil, available at your local grocery store.
How to eat it: Fresh is best. Chop up a healthy dose of the herb and scatter it on scrambled eggs, soups, or stir-fried dishes.
Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy beverage is made by culturing fresh milk with kefir grains.
Why it's healthy: Because kefir contains gut-friendly bacteria, it's been shown to lower cholesterol, improve lactose digestion, and enhance the immune system. In addition, University of Washington scientists recently demonstrated that kefir was more effective than fruit juice or other dairy beverages at helping people control hunger. Look for kefir in the refrigerated health-food section of your local supermarket.
How to drink it: Pour a glass for a light breakfast, a sweet snack, or as a milkshake substitute for dessert.
Hemp Seed Nuts
Similar in taste to sunflower seeds, these nuts are derived from hemp seeds, which are also used to grow cannabis. (We know what you're thinking. The answer is no.)
Why they're healthy: By weight, hemp seed nuts provide more high-quality protein—6 grams per tablespoon—than even beef or fish. Each nut is also packed with heart-healthy alpha-linoleic acid. Find them in your local health-food store or in the natural-products section of your grocery store.
How to eat them: Enjoy straight from the bag, or sprinkle a handful on salads or in your morning oatmeal.
Derived from an Amazonian palm tree, açai (ah-SIGH-ee) berries are the size of grapes and taste a bit like chocolate blueberries.
Why they're healthy: A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that the black-purple berries contain higher levels of antioxidants than do pomegranates and blueberries. And a University of Florida study found that an açai extract triggered a self-destruction response in 90 percent of the leukemia cells it came in contact with—a promising finding for scientists working to cure cancer.
How to eat them: You may have to travel to Brazil for the berries themselves, but you can definitely find the frozen variety perfect for a smoothie in stores, too.
Commonly eaten in China and India, these beans have a tender texture and a sweet, nutty flavor.
Why they're healthy: Sure, they're high in potassium, iron, and fiber, but they're also 24 percent protein. What's more, unlike many other legumes, mung beans retain most of their high levels of vitamin C even after they're boiled.
How to eat them: Boil dried mung beans until tender and add them to your next salad. Their natural sweetness will add flavor without piling on extra calories or sodium.
This alga is popular in Japanese cuisine—you'll recognize it as the dark wrap holding your spicy tuna roll together. It adds a slightly salty, mineral flavor to soups, salads, and sushi.
Why it's healthy: High in fiber and protein, nori also contains a triple dose of cancer fighters, including phytonutrients called lignans, which have been shown to help prevent tumor growth. Look in the international section of your market.
How to eat it: Roll your own sushi, or for instant use, grind pieces in a coffee grinder and use the powder as a salt substitute to season dishes. Seaweed—along with a fruit that tastes like chocolate pudding (yes, chocolate pudding!) is also one of our secret superfoods for weight loss.
These sweet-and-spicy fruits look like a cross between a cherry tomato and a red pepper. Native to Africa, they're popular with chefs in the United States.
Why they're healthy: One-third cup of peppadews packs heart-protecting vitamin B6, cancer-fighting lycopene, and a day's worth of vitamin C. Find this fruit in the salad section of upscale grocers.
How to eat them: They're great tossed in a salad with avocado and almonds or in a simple pasta with olive oil and garlic. The compact peppers are also perfect for stuffing: For a killer snack or appetizer, try filling them with a hunk of fresh mozzarella or goat cheese.
Popular with chefs and home cooks in the Deep South, alligator has a soft, tender texture similar to veal and a neutral flavor that takes well to big spices and sauces.
How to eat it: Rub each pound of gator with two tablespoons of blackening seasoning. Cook over high heat on a grill or in a cast-iron skillet.
Aioli (eye-OH-lee) is a light, mayonnaise-style sauce made of olive oil, eggs, and garlic. It originated in the south of France and is traditionally served with seafood, hardboiled eggs, and vegetables.
Why it's healthy: As a replacement for commercial soybean-oil mayonnaise, aioli provides a tasty source of heart-healthy olive oil, protein- and vitamin E–rich eggs, and cholesterol-lowering, cancer-fighting garlic.
How to eat it: You can buy jarred aioli or make your own—you might never go back to mayo.
These vegetables are also called Jerusalem artichokes, but they're neither related to artichokes nor from Israel. They look like gnarled potatoes and have a nutty, slightly sweet taste.
Why they're healthy: Sunchokes contain fructooligosaccharides, sweet fibers that promote gut health and may help boost immunity.
How to eat them: Try sunchokes as an alternative to French fries. Slice them into matchstick slivers, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 to 20 minutes.