There are a lot of healthy foods out there, so how to pick the best? To make it onto the list of superfoods we used in our Nutritious Delicious cookbook, nutrient density was key, but we also focused on ingredients that we could cook with often and in significant amounts. Here are nine of the 50 ingredients we selected that are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, protein and fiber, healthy fats, and phytonutrients, and that you might consider working into more of your everyday cooking.
Nutritious DeliciousA simple approach to amping up the nutrition in our cooking, Nutritious Delicious focuses on 50 everyday superfoods among vegetables and fruit, grains, and proteins, and uses them as the basis for building more nutrient-packed versions of the dishes we love for every meal of the day.
If buying frozen or dried berries, make sure to look for the unsweetened variety. If you can’t find blueberries for a recipe, you can usually substitute strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Plump, juicy, and boasting a slight dusty sheen (or “bloom”), blueberries are loaded with anthocyanins, the antioxidant compound that gives them their unique hue and may be associated with everything from heart health to slowing the aging process. The same can be said for other berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries, all of which also boast deep red, blue, or purple skin, though each has its own unique nutritional qualities. Blueberries especially seem to appear on every superfood list you’ll find—and for good reason, as they’re also full of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. You can find them fresh, frozen, or dried.
Cranberries deserve more time in the spotlight (other than at Thanksgiving) thanks to their wide range of impressive health benefits. In Nutritious Delicious, we came to appreciate their tart flavor in both fresh and dried forms, using a modest amount of sugar to balance their tartness in muffin recipes, and pairing them with naturally sweet fruits like apples in crisp recipes.
What Makes Them a Superfood: The deep red berries are loaded with proanthocyanidins (PACs), compounds that have been linked to improved urinary, digestive, and dental health, as well as inhibiting cancer growth and decreasing inflammation. As with other berries, they are also an easy way to incorporate more fiber, vitamin C, and manganese into your diet.
No matter the type, cherries are a great choice and can be found fresh, dried, frozen, or juiced; be sure to look for unsweetened varieties. (In general, dried fruit contains similar nutritional qualities as fresh, but in more concentrated amounts; however, heat used during drying may decrease heat-sensitive nutrients such as vitamin C.)
What Makes Them a Superfood: Cherries pack a super-nutritional punch for their small size. They're rich in phytonutrients, including anthocyanin, beta-carotene, and phenolic acids, and also offer potassium and vitamins A and C. Tart cherries are an especially good source of vitamin A, while sweet cherries provide three times more anthocyanins due to their darker hue. Cherries have also been shown to reduce uric acid in the body, which can cause inflammation, and therefore may play a role in pain reduction in osteoarthritis and even gout. Similarly, the antioxidants in cherries may also help relieve postexercise muscle soreness and aid in muscle recovery, making them a great snack for athletes. Tart cherries may help as a natural sleep aid, as they are one of few natural sources of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.
Eating a pomegranate may be a labor of love, but they are well worth the effort. Shoppers can often find the edible seeds (called “arils”) prescooped and packaged (the rest of the pulp is not edible). Though this is certainly convenient, the longer the seeds have been removed from the whole fruit and exposed to light or air, the more the vitamins will degrade. You can also find pomegranate juice in stores; look for 100 percent pomegranate juice with no added sugar.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Native to the Middle East and India, the dark red fruit famed for its high antioxidant levels has grown rapidly in popularity and is now readily available in most grocery stores. True to reputation, pomegranate seeds contain a large number of phytonutrients (up to 122 have been cited). They are also rich in vitamin C and pantothenic acid, which may help ease muscle cramping and reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Though it really takes more than just an apple a day to keep the doctor away, the expression does hold some truth, as apples are a very healthful addition to the diet. Apples are readily available year-round, budget-friendly, and super portable. There are thousands of different varieties of apples (100 grown commercially within the United States alone) with varying skin colors, tartness, and crispness, but nutritionally speaking, the redder, the better. Red-skinned apples, such as Rome, Fuji, and Braeburn, contain the highest concentration of anthocyanins and may provide more antioxidant benefits. Be sure to eat the skin: In addition to antioxidants, it contains much of the fruit's vitamin C and insoluble fiber.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Apples are a good source of dietary fiber, including soluble fiber such as pectin (associated with lowering cholesterol levels and controlling blood sugar), and insoluble fiber (which aids in digestive health).
There are many different types of oranges, with varying hues of vibrant orange to deep reddish-purple. In recipes, you can substitute clementines or tangerines for oranges if you don't have any on hand.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Citrus fruits have an interesting historical past; though scurvy had been first described by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and wreaked havoc on long-distance travelers (on land and at sea) who lacked fresh produce, it was not discovered until the 18th century that citrus fruits, such as oranges, could cure the deficiency, and then another two centuries passed before vitamin C was specifically identified as the cure. Now we recognize the importance of this vitamin—it enables the body to efficiently use carbohydrates, fats, and protein, is required for collagen formation, has a key role in iron regulation, and acts as an antioxidant. It should be noted that processing and cooking may degrade vitamin C. But oranges offer more than just their vitamin C; they're also full of fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and more. Like all citrus fruits, they may help lower heart disease and stroke risk and seem to have anti-carcinogenic effects.
Grapefruit (Red and Pink)
Named for the way they grow in grape-like clusters, grapefruits are slightly mysterious, as their skin color does not typically give away the interior flesh color.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Similar to oranges, grapefruits are quite high in vitamin C, with just half of one providing 100 percent of your daily value. Though white grapefruits are certainly a healthy choice, we opted for red or pink grapefruits in the recipes in Nutritious Delicious as, in addition to being sweeter, they contain more lycopene and beta-carotene than their white counterparts. These carotenoids act as antioxidants and may reduce cancer risk, improve bone density, and slow down bone loss. No matter the color, all grapefruits have cholesterol-lowering potential thanks to their soluble fiber, which may help reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and potentially triglycerides; this may be enhanced by flavonoids also present in the fruit. The large citrus is also high potassium, folate, and more.
Despite popular belief, figs are actually more flower than fruit; they bloom inward, hiding their tiny blossoms and seeds within. Native to the Middle East and Mediterranean, figs may be small, but they contain a large number of health benefits.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Figs are high in fiber, thanks to the edible seeds within their delicate flesh. They're also rich in vitamins A, E, and K, and potassium, copper, and iron. You can find both fresh and dried figs; though they have similar nutritional qualities, dried figs contain less vitamin A and lose some B vitamins during processing.
Cultivated as early as 4000 B.C., dates are famous for their low moisture content and resulting wrinkly, shiny brown exteriors, chewy texture, and candy-like sweetness.
What Makes Them a Superfood: Along with their sweetness comes plenty of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, as well as vitamins A and K, potassium, and magnesium, which helps make them one of the most nutrient-dense fruits.