Superfoods are just what their name implies: Ultra-healthy foods that help us get the most nutritional bang out of each and every bite we take. With an exceptionally high nutrient density that includes concentrations of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, consuming superfoods on a regular basis promotes everything from improved immunity and mental performance, to faster healing and increased energy. And while the abundance of benefits makes superfoods arguably worth their weight in gold … that doesn’t mean every superfood needs to break the bank.
Many superfoods are surprisingly affordable and encouragingly easy to find. As supermarkets continue to expand their health-focused sections, bags of heirloom grains or pouches of “super seeds” are becoming ubiquitous pantry staples. And in produce departments and farmers markets, you can find an impressive array things like ripe berries and fresh greens—unassuming, “everyday” foods that are actually superfoods in disguise.
Whether local or exotic, all superfoods share one common trait: they promote long-term health, which is perhaps the best investment of all. Read on for some of the best superfoods that are both good for you, and easy on your wallet.
While we tend to think of herbs as garnishes or optional flavor additions for cooking, herbs are some of the most medicinal superfoods on the planet—and unlike taking vitamins, herbs come in their own ready-to-digest natural package. Every herb has its own unique set of benefits: For example, parsley is very high in vitamin C and a great detoxifier, oregano is strongly anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and rosemary increases circulation. To enjoy maximum nutrition, lean on fresh varieties of herbs as opposed to dried, which usually only cost a dollar or two per bunch. Better still, keep a potted herb plant on a windowsill or in your yard, and enjoy the health advantages of herbs virtually for free!
A tiny seed that’s a nutritional powerhouse, chia is an excellent plant-based source of essential fatty acids (EFAs)—important fats which support heart health and tissue function. Chia is also high in fiber, contains easily digestible protein, and has a wealth of minerals (most notably calcium and iron). A little goes a long way—an average serving of chia is 1½ tablespoons—making this superfood very affordable per serving. Energizing, easy-to-digest, and neutral in flavor, using chia is as simple as sprinkling on salads, cereal, smoothies … or just about anything.
CHOCOLATE The benefits of chocolate are many: It provides an excellent mineral boost (in particular magnesium and iron), offers special antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, and can enhance positive moods states and increase energy. Though raw cacao powder is the most nutrient-dense form, cocoa powder as well as dark chocolate (with a high cocoa content) still offer huge benefits. Note that cacao powder and unsweetened cocoa powder can be used interchangeably in recipes. (Save more tip: we don't know how long this deal will last, but our friends at Navitas Organics are currently offering 40% their entire line of superfoods ... cacao included!)
A shiny brown seed slightly larger than a sesame seed, flaxseed is known for its EFA profile (omega-3, -6 and -9) which are an anti-inflammatory group of macronutrients that can support joint health and boost the immune system. Flax also contains a notable amount of protein, is exceptionally high in fiber, and offers an excellent supply of valuable lignans—a class of phytochemicals (with antioxidant properties) known to help balance hormone levels. Flaxseeds are best digested when ground prior to consuming, and may then be mixed into oatmeal, flour mixes for baking, or added to homemade energy bars.
This potent rhizome has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, which is why ginger is commonly used for everything from reducing nausea to strengthening the immune system. With only a couple slices of fresh “root,” or a small scoop of ginger powder needed to obtain ginger’s benefits, the cost per use is in the pennies range.
All leafy green vegetables are packed with nutrients, but in many ways kale is king. Just a cup of kale provides incredible amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein and even important phytochemicals like quercitin, which is a known anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer antioxidant.
The salty flavor of sea vegetables like nori isn’t “just salt”—it’s a marker of high mineral composition, including calcium, potassium and numerous trace minerals. Nori also offers protein, an abundance of beta-carotene, chlorophyll, enzymes for efficient digestion, amino acids and fiber, making it an exceptionally well-rounded (and highly flavorful!) food. Though most people are familiar with nori as a sushi wrap, it also makes a savory addition when crushed on top of cooked or raw vegetables, popcorn, and even stirred into brothy soups.
Although quinoa is convincingly grain-like, it’s actually the nutritious seed of a vegetable that’s a closer relative to spinach, which means it’s also gluten-free. Abundant in vitamin E, protein (including all eight essential amino acids), and minerals like magnesium and zinc, quinoa does a delicious and nutritious job of functioning as the starchy component we crave in our food. Use it to replace rice in stir-fries, noodles in marinara-based baked dishes, or mix into salads.
New health research studies abound regarding this favorite juicy berry, with regular strawberry consumption now linked to lowered cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, and increased heart health, to name just a few benefits. A low-sugar form of vitamin C, strawberries are also an anti-inflammatory fruit, supporting healthy skin, joints, and a well-functioning immune system. Strawberries are least expensive during their peak growing season (spring and summer), or can be purchased frozen year-round as an even more affordable option. Note: Always buy organic strawberries as conventional varieties tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides.
While most spices will offer beneficial medicinal effects, turmeric’s saturated orange rhizome is best known for its concentration of a powerful antioxidant known as curcumin, which also serves as a strong anti-inflammatory compound for the entire body. Due to this unique nutritional makeup, turmeric is often used to help boost the immune system, increase circulation, stimulate brain performance, and strengthen the body against free radical damage. Especially when used as a dried spice, turmeric is very inexpensive, and can be added to blended or warm drinks, soups, and sauces with a little black pepper to enhance its absorption.