Superhero kid against blue sky background. Girl power concept
Superhero kid against blue sky background. Girl power concept

Make them a part of your on-the-go lifestyle.

First came the açaí berry craze, then quinoa, now moringa. Few consumers can correctly pronounce their names (say keen-wah), yet nearly everyone is familiar with the hype surrounding “superfoods.” What exactly makes a superfood “super,” and how can they play a role in your on-the-go lifestyle?

Superfoods are whole foods that contain a wide spectrum of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are extremely beneficial to physical and mental health — they are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. Superfoods are not processed or altered in any way that reduces the nutritional benefits, and they provide plenty of energy for busy lifestyles.

Green breakfast smoothie in bowl with superfoods like chia, quinoa, goji, fresh berries and sunflower seeds.
Green breakfast smoothie in bowl with superfoods like chia, quinoa, goji, fresh berries and sunflower seeds.

These foods can be easily incorporated into your daily diet for a huge nutritional boost. Many of the superfoods listed below require little cooking and can be conveniently added to quick, on-the-go meals to transform them into meals that are both food and fuel.

Sweet Potatoes

These tasty orange gems are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients, including enough vitamin A for your daily needs in just one serving. Sweet potatoes are a great source of B6 vitamins and potassium, which are excellent for heart health. In addition, they are high in anti-inflammatory, antioxidant benefits and contain vitamins that promote hair and skin health.

These starchy root vegetables are an excellent, relatively low-calorie source of carbohydrates (100 calories in a medium-sized potato). Most importantly, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, meaning they release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, preventing a rapid spike in blood sugar.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Ask for sweet potatoes rather than white potatoes when dining out at your favorite steakhouse. Limit toppings such as bacon, cheese, sour cream and butter. Use sweet potatoes as a hamburger or bun alternative or even as a bread alternative for “toast.”

Coconut Oil

In the past, coconut oil has gotten a bad rap due to its high levels of saturated fat. However, coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than the long-chain fatty acids found in most saturated fats. Essentially, the fatty acids in coconut oil are used as a quick energy source rather than being stored as fat.

There are a vast number of impressive health benefits associated with coconut oil, including ease of digestion, strengthened immune system, maintenance of blood sugar and cholesterol and prevention of liver and kidney diseases. Furthermore, it has antimicrobial, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-fungal properties.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Try frying eggs in coconut oil or using it in place of other cooking oils in a stir-fry or sauté.

Walnuts

Walnuts are best known for their ability to promote healthy cholesterol levels and protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia due to their high concentration of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Additionally, the powerful antioxidants found in walnuts are found in few other foods and help combat age-related deterioration.

Because nearly 90 percent of the antioxidants found in walnuts are thought to be located in the outer, somewhat bitter skin, look for organic or raw walnuts to ensure that the skin has not been removed. Eating just one ounce a day (about 7 walnuts) is enough to significantly impact your health.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Walnuts make a great topping to Greek yogurt, oatmeal or just plain by the handful. Pair walnuts with an apple for an easy, balanced, on-the-go snack.

Kale

The hype surrounding the dark, leafy green kale is not without merit. Kale is a nutrient powerhouse, chock full of essential vitamins A, C and K, iron, copper, calcium and manganese. In comparison to spinach, kale contains more vitamin C; therefore, the body more easily absorbs its iron and calcium.

Kale supports heart and bone health and helps control blood glucose in diabetics. The leafy green also promotes healthier skin and hair, and contains large amounts of fiber that aid digestion.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Kale can be enjoyed raw in salads, lightly sauteed in oil or blended into a smoothie. Just ask for this nutrient-dense powerhouse at the juice or smoothie bar. Replace kale for a high-sugar fruit and you will save on carbs, calories and sugar. Use kale as a sandwich wrap alternative, filling with lean proteins such as organic chicken breast, turkey slices or go veg and make a “BLT” wrap using tomato, Veganaise and coconut bacon.

Avocados

Avocados are one of the healthiest and most delicious ways to incorporate healthy fats into your diet. Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in avocado, raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol), without increasing total cholesterol.

Avocados have more potassium than a banana and are abundant in nutrients such as vitamins K, C, B5, B6, E and folate. Additionally, the fats in avocado aid the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients found in many other fruits and vegetables.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Avocados are a surprisingly versatile food and are delicious spread onto toast and topped with a poached egg or blended into a creamy smoothie. Order guacamole as an appetizer at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Replace cheese with avocado, while still obtaining that creamy yummy texture you crave. Toss avocado in your scrambled eggs to boost your healthy fats at breakfast.

Chia Seeds

These tiny, black seeds were first utilized for their superfood qualities in ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, where they were prized for their unique ability to provide long-lasting energy.

Chia seeds are one of the most nutrient-dense foods, calorie for calorie, with very high levels of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and antioxidants per ounce. The micronutrients in chia seeds are particularly beneficial to bone health, with more calcium in a single serving than most dairy products.

When eaten, chia seeds absorb 10-12 times their weight, increasing fullness and slowing absorption. When consumed consistently, chia seeds may lead to weight loss. Chia seeds are also an excellent source of plant protein for vegetarians or vegans and have been shown to provide sustained energy for endurance athletes.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Chia can be added to any dairy or nondairy milk to make a rich pudding, sprinkled into oatmeal or yogurt, or even mixed into water or juice for a truly energizing drink.

Salmon

Salmon is an excellent source of high-quality protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Omega-3 oil protects against a host of health issues: most importantly, heart disease and cancer. The protein and amino acid content in salmon may decrease inflammation in the digestive tract and provide extra support for joint cartilage.

Salmon also contains vitamin D, which aids in boosting energy levels, as it is linked to the efficiency of mitochondria, the “power stations” within your body’s cells. The American Heart Association recommends eating salmon or other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Choose salmon over steak when eating out. If possible, always choose wild-caught Alaskan salmon over farmed salmon, as it has the lowest risk for possible contaminants, including pesticides and pollutants.

Blueberries

Fresh blueberries in wooden bowl. While most fruits provide abundant vitamins and minerals and are an excellent addition to any diet, blueberries rise to the top as a nutrient powerhouse. Blueberries are particularly well known for their extremely high antioxidant content. Antioxidants function by combating free radicals, which destroy cellular structure over time, and are thus essential to long-term well-being.

Blueberries also have a low glycemic index value compared to other fruits, making them a great source of fruit for those with type 2 diabetes or those looking to lose weight.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Choose blueberries over fruits high in sugar, such as mango, grapes or pineapple, if you are trying to limit sugar intake.

Black Beans

Black Beans are not only a great source of plant protein and fiber, but they are also beneficial to digestive health, specifically the colon. Digestive health is an overlooked yet essential part of overall health, and although black beans are often thought to be related with increased gas and bloating, they actually keep the digestive track moving at a moderate, healthy pace.

In addition to their powerful effect on digestion, black beans also contain an impressive amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients. The anti-inflammatory effects of these nutrients may prevent certain cancers, particularly colon cancer, and support heart health.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Black beans can be used as the main ingredient in a hearty chili, for a simple meal paired with brown rice, or as a healthy replacement for refried beans at your local Mexican restaurant. Black bean brownies are a great high-fiber, lower-carb dessert alternative.

Cacao

Dessert can be healthy, too! That is, at least when you incorporate cacao, the raw form of chocolate, which is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Raw cacao, which comes in the form of beans, butter, nibs or powder, contains extremely high doses of both antioxidants and magnesium.

Cacao has a large range of benefits to the cardiovascular system, including decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, the ability to rid built-up artery plaque and increase general health. Magnesium, which is a commonly deficient mineral among most Americans, also benefits the cardiovascular system, relaxes muscles and aids digestion.

Stacy’s Superfood Tip:

Although it is slightly bitter in its raw form, raw cacao nibs make a great crunchy topping for a smoothie, oatmeal or yogurt.

Stacy Goldberg is a nationally recognized nutritional consultant, registered nurse and the CEO of Savorfull, a Detroit-based company that sources healthy, allergen-friendly foods and provides nutrition-consulting. Savorfull is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies.