The 12 Best Superfoods To Eat Daily, From Nutritionists
Whether you’re seeking to boost your energy, immunity, or focus with a plant-based diet, you’ll probably keep stumbling across the word ‘superfood’ after just a little bit of research. A superfood – and a vegan superfood at that – sounds rare and precious, but that doesn’t mean it has to be tough-to-find, expensive, or something you haven’t heard of before.
What are superfoods?
“[A] 'superfood’ is sort of a trendy buzz term to indicate that a food has high nutritional value. While you may think that superfoods come from exotic plants deep in the jungle, superfoods are far more commonplace than you may think,” advises Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Fitter Living.
“Foods with great nutritional value can be found right in your grocery store: mushrooms, leafy greens, dark berries, bananas, nuts, and seeds, to name a few. Luckily there are many shelf-stable or frozen superfoods that are also vegan,” she elaborates.
While the term ‘superfood’ may connote a food that has otherworldly properties, the use of this word is mainly a marketing tactic, and a superfood simply refers to foods that offer your body something in addition to energy, whether that be vitamins, antioxidants, or amino acids.
Below, we’ve rounded up 12 of our favorite vegan superfoods to add to your plant-based diet. Some you may have overlooked before and others crop up on your grocery list from time to time, but we promise all are tasty, affordable, and a big nutrition punch.
12 vegan superfoods to add to your grocery list
Not just for camping trips, muesli is a dry cereal of rolled oats, corn flakes, and a smattering of nuts, seeds, dried fruit in the like, which can be a serious win for plant-based nutrition. “Muesli is an incredibly nutritious and versatile ingredient, snack, or breakfast item. It offers a balanced source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats, is low in added sugar, and rich in nutrients and antioxidants,” comments Jenna Gorham, RD, LN, who’s a fan of Seven Sundays Muesli which packs up to nine grams of protein per serving.
Whatever brand you buy, be sure to scan the label to make sure there’s low added sugar content or no added sugar at all.
2. Frozen Edamame
Whether out at a sushi joint or at home, indulge in the Japanese staple of edamame, or immature soybeans. “I always have edamame in my freezer to add to a bunch of meals: pasta dishes, stir-fries, soups. Edamame beans are a great way to get plant-based protein, plus, they are a complete protein source (they contain all essential amino acids) just like animal-based protein,” says Kostro Miller.
“Edamame is also notable for its high fiber content, vitamin K, iron, and folate. I buy them plain, frozen, and out of their shells so that I can add them straight into a hot dish while I’m cooking,” she continues, sharing that her favorite brand is Seapoint Farms Frozen Shelled Edamame because they don’t have any flavoring or salt.
You officially have our permission to treat yourself to this nutrient-dense whole grain. “Plain popcorn is great for when you are hungry in between your meals [since it] can fill you up and has lots of fiber,” says Kostro Miller. “It’s also pretty low in calories, which is great if you are trying to lose weight,” she adds, mentioning it’s wise to buy unflavored and unseasoned popcorn and then add your own non-sodium herbs and spices at home, such as nutritional yeast, a cheesy, nutty vegan powder which contains vitamin B12. For a sweeter bite, Kostro Miller loves added vegan dark chocolate chips and/or peanut butter.
4. Green Tea
If you normally opt for coffee over tea, it’s an excellent moment to add this nutrient-packed tea to your repertoire. “Now, more than ever, people need a boost in mood, given so much uncertainty. The amino acid L-theanine in green tea increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which has anti-anxiety effects,” says Nichole Dandrea, MS, RDN, of Purely Planted.
Bonus: L-theanine also increases dopamine and the production of alpha waves in your brain. As Dandrea explains, this can help you relax and even decrease stress levels. Additionally, green tea contains a unique plant compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, better known as EGCG “which quenches free radicals, or metabolic byproducts, that can damage cells,” she adds.
Aim to drink two-to-three cups of green day per day, but try to limit consumption to before 1 p.m. so you’re not wired from the caffeine as evening approaches.
5. Dark Chocolate
How does another mood booster sound to you right about now? “Chocolate contains a substance called phenylethylamine (PEA), which can stimulate the hypothalamus, inducing pleasurable sensations and increasing serotonin levels in the brain, making us feel happy,” offers Dandrea. “There are also substances in chocolate that may activate cannabinoid receptors in our body resulting in heightened sensitivity and euphoria,” she continues.
Another win for chocolate lovers is the psychoactive compounds it contains — like theobromine and a touch of caffeine — helping to provide eaters with a jolt of energy.
“Finally, the polyphenols in dark chocolate help to create nitric oxide in our body, dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients throughout,” adds Dandrea, giving us all yet another reason to indulge in this delectable superfood. Dandrea recommends buying organic and fair trade dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cacao content daily.
6. Frozen or Microwavable Quinoa
We’re all about buying whole grains in bulk, but buying frozen or microwavable versions is just as good, according to RDs. Like edamame, quinoa is also a whole complete protein: “Quinoa is considered a plant-based complete protein which means it contains all nine essential amino acids,” shares Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, of Balance One Supplements. “It is also gluten-free, high in fiber, and antioxidants,” she continues.
If you’re buying a pre-made quinoa dish like a microwavable quinoa bowl with brown rice, greens, and garlic, be sure to scan the nutrition label to make sure there aren’t any additives and that the sodium content is a low percentage of the overall recommended dietary allowance or RDA. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating plan.
7. Dry Chia Seeds or Chia Seed Powder
Again, standard whole chia seeds may be your go-to, but it may be easier to obtain less popular versions of the pantry staple — and you’ll still reap similar benefits. “Chia seeds are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and contain beneficial antioxidants. Antioxidants help the body fight free radicals and toxins which can lead to cellular damage and disease,” offers Best.
“The fact that their carbs are almost entirely from fiber makes chia ideal for stabilizing blood glucose and an efficient digestive system,” she concludes. Since they’re virtually tasteless, add them to smoothies, salad dressings, oatmeal, and more for a fuss-free nutrition boost.
8. Dark Berries, Cherries, and Strawberries
In addition to being a delicious summer fruit salad trio, cherries, blueberries, and blackberries also happen to be nutritional powerhouses. “Dark berries have been shown to slow the rate of cognitive decline. Antioxidants in dark berries help fight oxidative stress on the body, which can happen in your brain. Antioxidants inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory markers like cytokines and CRP, and work against harmful reactive oxygen species in the body,” remarks Kostro Miller. “Diets that are rich in antioxidants can help reduce pain (i.e. joint pain), help your body function more effectively and may even help preserve cognitive function in the long term,” she continues, adding that one study found that the equivalent of one cup of blueberries per day improved cognition in older adults better than a placebo.
“[Strawberries] contain vitamin A, C, and one of the highest natural sources of folates. They also contain flavonoids, anthocyanins, and phenolic acids, which are compounds shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications, cancers, and other conditions,” says Mark Windle, BSc, RD, nutritionist for Fitness Savvy. “The phenol compounds in strawberries detoxify free radicals thus preventing oxidative stress on the body and reducing cellular damage. The strawberry's antioxidant properties mean that diets high in them may protect the body from damage to the coronary artery vessel walls, which would otherwise make cholesterol plaques form easier, and cause the arteries to fur up.”
Tomatoes have gotten a bad rap from people who avoid lectins, but there is little evidence that lectins are harmful unless you have a specific allergy to them, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Tomatoes are high in vitamins, high in water, and have valuable fiber. Foods that are high in water and fiber can help you stay full for several hours and they help keep you regular. If you’re trying to lose weight, tomatoes are very low in calories,” says Kostro Miller. On the antioxidant front, tomatoes also deliver big time.
“Tomatoes contain carotenoids [a type of antioxidants] which can help reduce your risk of macular degeneration and reduce your risk of certain cancers. They work to reduce damage from free radicals. One of the most notable carotenoids in tomatoes is lycopene. Tomatoes also contain vitamin C, which plays a role in immunity, collagen rebuilding for fortifying muscles/bones, and aiding in iron absorption.
It may very well be a good idea to find more excuses to eat avocados given their nutritional prowess. “They are high in fat, but as part of a healthy plant-based diet, remember three-quarters of it is as monounsaturates (shown to prevent heart disease and regulate blood pressure),” says Windle. “Avocados are also a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E (another cardioprotective nutrient), and higher in soluble fiber than most other fruits — soluble fiber helps reduce LDL cholesterol levels which are the type that lines the arteries. While the jury is still out on whether specifically eating avocados directly reduces LDL cholesterol, intake has been shown to increase the favorable HDL: LDL cholesterol level.”
11. Plant-Based Yogurt
While you’re adding berries to your plate, add some dollops of plant-based yogurt. “Forager Project Cashewmilk Yogurt is one of my favorite summertime superfoods,” offers Jenna Gorham, RD of Gorham Consulting Group. “They use live and active cultures, offering plant-based probiotics. Probiotics can support a healthy immune system as well as healthy digestion. [It] tastes great in smoothies, fresh berry parfaits, and summer dips and sauces.” For more great dairy-free yogurts, check out our review of 12 dairy-free yogurts.
Walnuts are an easy way to get omega-3s into your plant-based diet with a little extra effort. A one-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of Alpha-linolenic acid, which is known to have major health benefits, including boosting your mood and protecting lipids. “Large amounts of omega-3 rich foods are trickier to incorporate in the vegan diet, not only because rich sources are harder to come by but also because in plant sources it is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), whereas the positive effects are primarily in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), normally found in marine oils (such as fish),” says Windle.
The Omega-3s in walnuts "can be used by the body however to make EPA, which in turn can convert to DHA. In a study of 100 women attending a fertility clinic who were struggling to conceive, those who had higher levels of blood omega-3 fatty acids (seen as a marker of dietary intake) had higher rates of live birth,” he adds. Windle is a fan of adding walnuts to summer salads or adding them into a vegan banana bread recipe, like this one from actor Mayim Bialik.
Recipes to get your superfoods in daily
Wondering how to incorporate these superfoods onto your plate? Here are a few of The Beet's recipes featuring these nutritional powerhouses.
- Kale Salad with Creamy Chipotle Dressing
- Healthy Moroccan-Style Vegan Lentil Stew
- Vegan Southwest Sweet Potato Hash
- Beet Carpaccio
For more great expert health advice, check out The Beet's Ask the Expert articles.