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When you’re eating to nourish your body the way it deserves, you can’t go wrong with adding more superfoods into your diet. These healthy dietary staples earn their name for being highly nutritious and full of some of the best natural compounds you should be eating more of.
So eating more superfoods is one of the most effective ways to improve your diet and nutrient intake, which can do your entire body a world of good. The best news? Many of the best superfoods in the world are plant-based and vegan-friendly!
Here’s everything you need to know about superfoods: what they are and why you should be eating more of them, plus the best vegan superfoods to add to your diet today.
What Is A Superfood?
The first use of the term “superfood” was actually created for marketing purposes, not by scientists or nutritionists. The United Fruit Company coined the term as a marketing tactic to increase their sale of bananas during the first World War. After all, bananas are highly nutritious for a relatively cheap price.
However, this doesn’t mean that the term “superfood” isn’t an accurate descriptor of some of our healthiest dietary staples. In fact, several foods that earn the title of “superfood” are the exact foods that dietitians and nutritionists want you to be eating more of.
Simply put, a superfood is one that is nutrient-dense. You might also know of them as “functional foods” - or, to put it even more simply, healthy foods! Many of the best superfoods are fruits and vegetables.
Per serving, these superfoods might be rich in a specific desirable nutrient or have a wide range of beneficial bioactive compounds to cover a range of your nutrition needs. For example, seaweed is often touted as a superfood because it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Quinoa is also a favorite superfood because it's rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and various vitamins and minerals. Blueberries are often trending as a superfood because they are full of plant compounds with antioxidant properties. Some of these superfoods might even be linked to certain health benefits like boosting your heart health!
Benefits of Superfoods
So even though "superfood" started as a marketing term, the nutrition profile of several superfoods goes beyond their hype and can make a difference in your health and wellness. Because they are so nutrient-dense, superfoods are the healthy staples that we should be eating more of in a balanced diet.
When you eat more superfoods, you’re improving your intake of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In the case of many plant-based superfoods like various fruits and vegetables, you’re also increasing your intake of phytonutrients. These plant-based compounds can act as antioxidants and reduce cell damage in your body.
When eaten as part of a healthy and balanced diet, this can lead to improved immunity and can give your body a better chance to fight off some of our most common and dangerous chronic conditions and diseases. Some superfoods have even been linked to slowing down the effects of aging!
It’s especially helpful to load up on the superfoods if you have a more restrictive diet that limits the kinds of foods that you eat. Take veganism, for example. Vegans don’t eat animal products like meat and dairy, which reduces their sources of nutrients like B & K vitamins. But by loading up on plant-based superfoods, you can get more of your essential nutrients without compromising on your dietary restrictions!
10 Vegan Superfoods You Should Be Eating More Of
1. Goji berries
Part of the unofficial criteria that classify a superfood is that it contains a wide range of nutrients with potential health benefits, and goji berries fit the mark here. Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are highly nutritious. They contain many biologically active compounds like carotenoids, phenolic acid, and flavonoids, which can have antioxidant effects and minimize cell damage. In addition, eating goji berries will also increase your vitamin and mineral intake - one serving comes with copper, magnesium, magnesium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a ton of essential amino acids.
As a result, goji berries have been linked to a number of potential health benefits like improved eye health and vision. Its powerful antioxidative nutrition profile may even play a role in fighting off aging and oxidative damage linked to cancer!
A ton of your daily nutrients can come from a surprisingly innocuous source: algae!
Both microalgae, which are tiny photosynthetic organisms, and macroalgae (i.e., seaweed) are excellent sources of various nutrients. For example, many kinds of algae contain a decent amount of protein that is used for protein powders and has even drawn some interest for its potential as an alternative protein source. Meanwhile, microalgae are the primary producer of omega-3 fatty acids, which may play roles in protecting your heart, brain, and eyes.*
Seaweed is also a good source of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and B12 (one of the only non-animal sources of this vital vitamin!).
You can consume seaweed in a variety of forms. For example, edible dried seaweed nori is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, spirulina is used to give smoothies a boost of vitamins and minerals, and algae oil supplements are a popular vegan alternative to omega-3 fish oil pills.
3. Green tea
Green tea is a popular drink among the health-conscious, and for a good reason. This mild brew is rich in catechins, which are organic compounds that have been linked to a variety of health benefits. In the case of green tea, its powerful catechins have been studied for potential roles in reducing blood pressure, fighting off oxidative damage, and even minimizing the risk for obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
As a bonus, green tea is also a milder caffeinated drink than other brews like energy drinks and coffee. Besides keeping you alert, there's evidence that caffeine in moderation can help boost your metabolism and increase fat oxidation, making green tea one of the better vegan superfoods for weight loss.
Turmeric, a plant in the ginger family, is commonly used as a spice in cooking (for example, it's one of the main ingredients in most curry powders). However, it has also been used in ancient Ayurvedic medicinal practices. This is because curcumin, one of the major components in turmeric, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
While it’s hard to isolate curcumin for studies, scientists have found that it may be helpful to add turmeric to your diet if you experience inflammatory diseases and conditions like arthritis, anxiety, high cholesterol levels, and muscle soreness - as well as anyone who wants to increase their intake of nutrient-rich superfoods for better overall health support.
In addition to cooking with turmeric as a spice, you can also add this yellow spice into your smoothies or use it to brew teas to increase your intake and give your body the tools it needs to prevent inflammation.
5. Acai berries
The Brazilian superfruit, the Acai berry, has been gaining a lot of attention in recent years as a superfood because of its impressive antioxidant nutrition profile. Acai berries are rich in many antioxidant compounds but are especially valuable for their anthocyanins. These plant-based antioxidants, which give the Acai berries their deep purple-black hue, have been shown to effectively fight inflammation in the body and all of the various health complications that can come with it.
You might be most familiar with acai berries as the base ingredient for smoothie bowls. Take advantage of this tasty superfruit by blending the pulp up with clean ingredients like coconut water and topping it with other healthy and nutritious additions like pumpkin seeds, bananas, and berries to pack in the nutrients. You might also find acai in other forms like juices and powders.
Another South American superfood, cacao is like a healthier, more nutritious version of the chocolate you know and love. They both come from the same place: the cacao seed! But the difference is in the processing. Rather than being roasted at high temperatures, like chocolate, cacao is processed at a lower temperature. This results in a more bitter powder than the chocolate you might be used to, but that retains its superfood nutrition qualities.
In this form, cacao is truly a powerhouse superfood, with more polyphenolic antioxidants than blueberries and even goji berries. Cacao is also a good source of other nutrients like magnesium, fiber, potassium, and iron.
Flaxseeds are a staple in many vegan and vegetarian diets because of their high-nutrition superfood status. This functional food contains a high amount of plant protein (about 20-30% of its weight!), making it a popular ingredient in various plant-based meals and snacks. It also has both soluble and non-soluble fiber to boost your digestion and keep you full for longer and is very helpful if you're looking for superfoods for weight loss.
In addition, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are both rich in alpha-linolenic, an omega-3 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. You can also get a ton of micronutrients from flax. Each serving of flax contains Vitamins A, C, F, and E, plus the minerals phosphorous, magnesium, iron, sodium, potassium, and zinc.
Buy some ground flaxseeds for easier digestion and add them to your cereals, yogurts, smoothies, and baked goods.
If you’re looking for a superpowered green veggie, you don’t have to look much further than kale. This cruciferous green has skyrocketed in popularity in the past couple of decades because of how many vitamins and minerals it boasts. According to WebMD, just one cup of raw kale delivers almost 3g of protein and 2.5 grams of fiber, along with folate, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and calcium, plus the vitamins A, C, and K. As a bonus, kale is still low in calories despite its impressive nutrition profile: that one cup with all its nutrition will only cost 33 calories.
Use kale raw as a salad green or cook it into a stir fry. Some people even bake or air fry kale as a healthy alternative to crispy chips!
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support your gut health and immune system. Unfortunately, many probiotics are found in fermented foods like yogurt and kefir, which aren’t vegan-friendly. So one of the best ways to get your probiotics if you’re following a plant-based diet is to eat more sauerkraut!
Sauerkraut is made from raw cabbage that is fermented by lactic acid bacteria in brine. The result is a flavorful, tangy spread that can be put in your sandwiches, added to your veggies, or used as a dip for a burst of flavor and plenty of gut support.
Avocados have earned their time in the spotlight: not only are they delicious and indulgent, but they also happen to be a superfood as well! Avocados are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats that are heart-healthy and help you digest your fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins K, D, and E. In addition, eating avocados will also provide a ton of other nutrients like lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, avocados are very filling, which can help with weight loss as long as you're eating them in moderation.
Use them as a topping for grain bowls, salads, toasts, and dips.
While vegan superfoods are a valuable addition to any diet, it’s important to note that eating superfoods on their own doesn’t constitute a healthy eating pattern. You can’t eat superfoods alone and confer any real health benefits if the rest of your diet isn’t balanced. So for the best results, make sure to eat superfoods in addition to other healthy staples.