2020 has been a roller coaster of a year by any standard. Nearly everyone on Earth has had to make changes to their daily routine. Sometimes in the middle of a big life change, it’s hard to make time for ourselves and to prioritize our health and wellness. But it’s so important to put your health first so you can keep up with the pace of life.
If you’re struggling to make healthy choices, here’s some fun options that can really boost your daily health–the top superfoods of 2020. Superfoods get a lot of attention in wellness blogs...and for good reason! Simply mixing one superfood into your daily routine can make big impacts on your health.
But what is a superfood, exactly?
What is the definition of a superfood?
There are a lot of definitions out there for what exactly a superfood is. Most people will agree that a superfood is an all natural, whole food that contains exceptional amounts of micronutrients or some other necessary compound. Superfoods can also be a food that contains a hard to find nutrient often missing in a standard diet.
It’s important to remember that the term “superfood” isn’t a scientific term–it’s a marketing term for nutrient dense foods. Since there’s no scientific or medical definition, it becomes extra important to consider the research backed facts regarding things that are called superfoods. We encourage you to check our facts with the research articles linked throughout the blog.
It’s also important to remember that eating any one food, even a superfood, is not a balanced or healthy diet. It’s a cliché but it’s true: variety is the spice of life!
You may have read articles on superfoods like kale, walnuts, or blueberries. While those foods are certainly excellent for your health, in this article we’ll define superfoods as exceptionally nutrient dense foods that are also rare, little known, or hard to find. This shortlist will help you spice up your daily diet with some fun new health foods!
Superfoods of 2020 – the ultimate shortlist
- Maqui berry: this dark red, Chilean berry is used in South America for an array of health benefits, including reducing fatigue, decreasing the risk of cancer due to its extremely high antioxidant content, and was found in clinical trials to increase tear volume in people with dry eye syndrome!
- Tart cherry juice: This juice gained popularity a few years ago due to research that found Montmorency tart cherry can accelerate recovery after exercise in humans. It’s now slightly more available than it was 5 years ago, but still little known in health circles.
- Cacao nibs: These flavor-packed nibs are actually crumbled pieces of chocolate fruit beans. They’re extremely high in antioxidants and research shows that the moderate intake of cacao nibs or dark chocolate has more benefits than negatives (but remember to eat in moderation!).
- Cascara (coffee cherry): For a long time, coffee cherries–the fruit around the coffee bean–were discarded since the pulp changes the flavor of the resulting coffee. However, these cherries are now embraced for their high levels of phenolic antioxidants and are made into teas, sodas, and supplements. Buying cascara also has the dual benefit of reducing waste from the coffee production process!
- Mushrooms: Mushrooms are the biggest trend of 2020, and for great reason. Mushrooms offer a staggering array of health benefits due to polysaccharides like beta-glucan and beneficial terpenes found only in certain mushrooms. Mushrooms like shiitake, lion’s mane, maitake, and oysters all contain beneficial polysaccharides. Mushrooms also contain bioactive substances that are antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-tumor, and act as adaptogens and immunomodulators. For these compounds it’s usually best to take the mushroom extract instead of eating the actual mushroom. Look for companies that use extracts from the actual mushroom, as opposed to mycelial grain. Reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, and Cordyceps all contain health-boosting compounds that are sometimes found nowhere else in nature!
- Mycelium-based meat alternatives: Mycelium is the main body of mushroom-making fungus. Think of the mycelium as the apple tree, and the mushroom as the apple fruit. Mycelium is often found in soil or wood and looks like very thin, white string. Move over plant-based burgers...many companies are using mycelium to make mycoprotein: a more realistic meat alternative that contains more protein and nutrients than meat, is minimally processed, and has incredible implications for saving the environment.
- Microgreens: These baby vegetables gained popularity a few years ago when they were shown to often have higher levels of micronutrients than their adult counterparts, and their popularity hasn’t slowed down since. Even though they’re small, they pack a powerful nutritional and flavorful punch. If your local grocery store doesn’t yet stock microgreens, try growing them yourself or buying shelf-sable Microtea. Our Broccoli Booster is an easy addition to almost any meal and contains health-boosting sulforaphane.
- Turmeric: What is any superfood list without turmeric? Even though turmeric is fortunately no longer rare and hard to find, this antioxidant-packed rhizome is so great for health that we simply had to add it to this list.
- Celery juice: While celery may be a ho-hum vegetable found in any grocery store, it’s still uncommon to find fresh celery juice in many places. If you can’t find fresh juice, it’s worth the extra work to make your own, because this alkalizing juice is shown to have an array of antioxidants that can boost health.
- Hemp seeds: These tiny but powerful seeds of the Cannabis plant are an incredible source of fatty acids. They contain both linoleic (omega-6) and alpha-linoelic (omega-3) fatty acids, which are essential for human health. The ratio of these fats is in the range considered optimal for humans. They’re also incredibly versatile and easy to fit into many daily meals–try them on salads, in fruit salads, as a topping for eggs, in smoothies, or in yogurt for a crunch.
- Algae, cyanobacteria, and water plants
- Seaweeds: While many cultures have eaten seaweed for millennia, Americans often are only familiar with seaweeds through sushi rolls. But there are so many types of seaweed and myriad ways to eat it! Seaweed is algae and since it grows in the sea, it’s exceptionally high in micronutrients and minerals. For example, it’s high in iodine, a mineral that 2 billion people are deficient in worldwide, and is necessary for hormone creation. Try using wakame–a soft, mild flavored seaweed–to chicken soup. Or use some crisp kelp noodles as a replacement for noodles in a spicy cold noodle salad.
- Spirulina: Spirulina is cyanobacteria–a type of bacteria that uses photosynthesis for nutrition similar to plants. Spirulina is a powerful antioxidant, anti inflammatory, and has been shown to decrease lipids in blood, which is helpful for decreasing cholesterol levels. It’s easy to add powdered spirulina to smoothies or juices, and it even comes in innovative crunchy pieces for salads.
- Chlorella: Like seaweed, chlorella is algae. But unlike seaweed, it’s a single-celled organism. Chlorella has been shown in clinical studies to cause incredible positive changes in blood cholesterol levels. You can use chlorella in the same way as spirulina; mix it into smoothies or other liquid foods.
- Duckweed: Duckweed is about to explode. This tiny water plant, with the world’s tiniest flower, is surprisingly nutrient-dense. It’s particularly dense in one compound that may surprise you: protein. It also has an array of micronutrients that depend a lot on how it’s grown. Keep an eye out for highly sustainable plant-based duckweed protein powders in 2021.
- Fermented foods
- Kimchi: Kimchi is a Korean staple food consisting of fermented cabbage and spices. Like sauerkraut and other fermented foods, kimchi has an array of health benefits. Kimchi is shown to have anti inflammatory, antimicrobiral, anti-aging, anti-cancer, and antiobesity effects. It’s also delicious! Try topping a vegetable hash with a fried egg and a heaping pile of kimchi for dinner.
- Kefir: Although this drink has existed for nearly two hundred years, it’s only just started to become widely available in the United States. Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a consistency of thin yogurt. Its diversity of probiotic bacteria are shown to reduce cholesterol and reduce blood sugar levels. Because kefir bacteria are able to process lactose for nutrition, lactose-intolerant people can often drink kefir without adverse side effects. If you’re lactose intolerant and craving the calcium in a glass of milk, try a small glass of kefir instead.
- Ashwagandha: This herb has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to reduce stress and anxiety. Recently, it’s showing up in everything from chocolate to coffee, and its beneficial effects are supported by science. A recent double-blind, clinical study showed that ashwagandha significantly reduced blood cortisol (a hormone released during stress). If you experience stress in your life, it’s time to mix ashwagandha into your daily routine.
- CBD, or cannabidiol: Weed?! That’s right. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found in Cannabis that’s recently appeared in candy, lotion, tea, coffee, and even bottled water nationwide. It’s mainly recommended for reducing pain and inducing sleep. How you take CBD affects how well it works, and it’s important to find a reputable company that makes quality products. Additionally, while studies on CBD are promising, it’s still not known how much is safe over a long period of time or whether it’s safe for pregnant women.
- Moringa: Moringa is a genus of plants that’s been used traditionally in many cultures for wounds and for curing colds and even diabetes. Moringa species are high in a number of plant compounds, and contain the powerful compounds glucosinolates (pronounced “gloo-koh-sin-oh-laytes”) that are also found in healthy foods like broccoli and mustard greens. You can find this superfood powdered to easily add to smoothies, soups, or hot chocolate.
- Matcha: Matcha tea is simply green tea–but instead of steeping the leaves, they are ground up and dissolved in water to create a slightly thicker, foamier tea. All the benefits of green tea are amplified in matcha since you’re eating the entire leaf. Green tea is well known for its powerful beneficial health effects when drunk regularly, and these are mostly due to the potent antioxidant catechins (“cat-eh-chinz”) found in green tea leaves. Besides tea, matcha is delicious in desserts like healthy nice cream or mixed into smoothies.
- Milk thistle: Milk thistle, or silymarin, is used traditionally as a liver protectant, and is a popular herb for detoxing the liver. Research supports these claims, and studies have shown that milk thistle acts as a liver protectant and can reduce the negative effects of liver disease. Milk thistle is usually taken as a tea.
- Liver: Granny’s favorite meal is having a moment. Liver contains extremely high levels of nutrients, particularly vitamin A and all B vitamins. Because liver can accumulate toxins, it’s doubly important to find liver from a lean animal (venison and reindeer are great options) that’s grass fed and organic. If you don’t like the taste of liver, try making liver pills. Like all things, liver is best eaten in moderation. This study recommends once a week for children and occasionally more often for adults.
- Black cod or sablefish: This underrated fish is about to take your kitchen by storm. While black cod was traditionally thrown away by fishers angling for salmon or halibut, it’s actually a versatile, delicious, buttery white fish with high omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a “best choice” for sustainable seafood from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
How to use superfoods in smoothies
Superfoods make great additions to smoothies because they lend a big health boost to an already healthy drink. Additionally, drinking smoothies may make nutrients and healthy compounds more bioavailable. Bioavailability is the ability of some compound to enter the bloodstream, and it’s super important for bioactives to be able to actually hit your bloodstream for the food to be useful.
Leafy greens are easy to use in smoothies, just make sure you use a mild flavored green like broccoli microgreens, baby spinach, or dinosaur kale.
Cacao nibs are a fun addition to smoothies because they give just a slight chocolatey flavor with a big crunch. If you don’t want to add a chocolate flavor, try soft and nutty hemp hearts for a little bit of crunch instead.
Spirulina is a great addition to smoothies because it has quite a mild flavor but powerful benefits. Try spooning spirulina into your next green smoothie for a beautiful blue-green color and a punch of nutrition.
How to use superfoods for energy
Superfoods could be considered inherently energy boosting since optimal nutrition leads to high levels of energy. The best way to use superfoods for energy is to take a holistic approach, in other words, mix superfoods into your regular, everyday routine while taking steps to boost your energy in other ways too. Harvard Health recommends the following for boosting your energy naturally:
- Decrease stress
- Get enough sleep, but not too much
- Reduce alcohol and smoking
- Drink lots of water
- Eat low-glycemic whole foods, like protein and fats, for promoting sustained energy. Superfood options from our list above are hemp hearts, liver, and sablefish
Are microgreens superfoods?
It’s no secret that we love microgreens here at Beyond Microgreens. These delicious baby vegetables are truly a superfood–they’re nutrient-dense, sustainable, delicious, and beautiful.
While all the superfoods in this list are generally rare or hard to find, we hope that in the future microgreens (and all superfoods!) will be widely available so that everyone can enjoy delicious, healthy food.
In the meantime, give the gift of good health–try gifting Beyond Microgeens this holiday season!