The term “superfood” is as misleading and ultimately useless as “all natural”, “detox” and the fat-burning zone setting on an elliptical machine. That said, certain foods’ concentrations of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and other nutrients mean they pack more health benefits into each serving than other foods – even those you might think are healthier. With the help of top nutritionists and the most recent research, Coach’s sister title Men’s Fitness has put together lists of healthy nutrient-dense foods in six categories, and in the gallery above we show you how to combine them into delicious, nutrient-packed meals every single day.
1. Oily fish
These fish – including salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies – have a higher fat content, which means more omega 3 fatty acids, as well as lots of protein and high vitamin D levels. Additionally, some studies have shown oily fish to have beneficial effects on heart disease, prostate cancer, vision loss and dementia.
They’re easy to use in meals: salmon, for example, works with any cooking technique and seasoning; anchovies dissolve into sauces (making them taste balanced and robust rather than fishy); and high-quality canned sardines and mackerel are ideal snacks – just drain well and serve with a squeeze of lemon.
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High in protein but relatively low in fat and calories, chicken is a dietary staple that’s easy to cook and takes to just about any seasoning. You can even grind it in a food processor and use in place of minced beef.
3. Grass-fed beef
Grass-fed beef has more vitamins (up to ten times more A, for example), minerals and omega 3s than grain-fed. Ready-minced may come from hundreds of cows, so have a butcher grind it, or pulse cubed meat in a processor.
Egg whites are almost all protein, with minimal calories. But the yolk is where all the other nutrients are. For scrambled, use one whole egg for every four egg whites. Add turmeric for flavour and extra nutrients.
5. Greek yogurt and kefir
Greek yogurt (which has had the whey strained out) has fewer carbs and more protein than regular yogurt. You can use kefir, a fermented milk a bit like thin yogurt, to replace milk in smoothies and on cereal.
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6. Cruciferous greens
If anything deserves the term superfoods, it’s cruciferous vegetables. The likes of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, pak choi and collard greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and compounds called glucosinolates, which have shown promise in reducing the risk of lung and bowel cancer. They can be eaten raw or cooked; try using pak choi or brussels sprouts in place of regular cabbage in coleslaw.
7. Leafy greens
Always choose darker greens like spinach, chard and especially watercress, which is high in vitamin K, betacarotene, and the cancer-fighting compound PEITC.
Onions have more antioxidants than other veg, mostly in the outer layers, so peel off only the papery coating and sauté or roast whole at 200°C/gas 6 for an hour as an alternative to a baked potato.
9. Winter squash
Boil or roast butternut squash or pumpkin – top sources of carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin – and add to salads and pastas. And don’t forget the edible seeds too, for B vitamins and a variety of minerals.
Seaweed is full of iron and vitamin C. Get pre-made seaweed salads, add spirulina powder to smoothies and shred toasted nori sheets over eggs and salads.
Blueberries have it all: huge amounts of antioxidants (organically grown berries have even higher levels), anthocyanins, resveratrol and quercetin. They’re also super-low maintenance: you can eat them by the handful fresh from the farmers’ market, add them to porridge and smoothies, or freeze them for later use – they’ll retain virtually all their nutrients.
Strawberries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Tart green strawberries have also become a trendy addition to salads and savoury dishes.
This high-fibre, low-calorie summer staple has more cancer-fighting lycopene than tomatoes. Swap
watermelon cubes for tomato in green and grain salads, toss minced watermelon into any salsa, and serve grilled watermelon slices topped with watercress.
Tomatoes (yes, they’re really a fruit) are high in dozens of phytonutrients and are perhaps the most heart-healthy vegetable.
A prime source of the anti-cancer compound limonin, vitamin C–rich lemons can be squeezed over everything. Or blend one – peel and all – with parsley, oregano and garlic for a marinade.
Super herbs and spices
Think of parsley as both a herb and a salad green. Italian parsley dressed with olive oil, salt, and a squeeze of lemon adds a refreshing contrast to rich grilled salmon or steak. Parsley and garlic form the basis for many easy no-cook all-superfood sauces: just blend with olive oil and oregano to make the Argentinian steak sauce chimichurri; chop with lemon zest for a Milanese gremolata; add anchovies and lemon juice and you’ve got a powerhouse salsa verde for fish; or blitz with walnuts for a twist on a tasty pesto.
Its earthy, peppery flavour comes from curcumin, a phenol with antibacterial properties. The spice pairs well with scrambled eggs, salad dressings and even dessert.
Cinnamon, with its essential oils full of anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, boosts both savoury dishes (like steak or cooked pulses) and puddings.
Oregano’s bacteria-fighting oils have been shown to help cure some infections. Use it to season meats, or mince it with tomato, garlic and anchovies for a quick Italian salsa.
Slice the top off a head of garlic and roast at 200°C/gas 6 for an hour. It keeps in the fridge for a week and adds buttery flavour to dishes. It also fights viruses and helps improve cholesterol.
Super nuts and seeds
21. Cacao nibs and dark chocolate
Yep, chocolate. Cacao nibs, the plant-based source of prepared chocolate, have a high flavonoid content – comparable to that of tea, grapes, and berries – as well as fibre, iron and copper. They’re subtly bitter but contrast well in sweets and even on pasta (in place of breadcrumbs) or in salads for a nice crunch.
With prepared chocolate, the key is finding the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy (aim for 70% cocoa solids minimum), then eating it daily in moderation as a snack or dessert.
Very low in calories (30 pistachios have only 100), pistachios are also one of the only nuts to contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
23. Chia seeds
An Aztec staple, chia seeds provide calcium, omega 3s and antioxidants. They can absorb about ten times their weight in liquid, so they make a great pudding. (Mix with coconut or almond milk and leave overnight.) Tiny and almost tasteless, they can also be sprinkled on anything or coated on meat or fish as a crust.
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Like tomatoes, eggs, and onions, almonds are a good source of biotin, a B vitamin crucial for fat and sugar metabolism. Unsweetened almond milk (sub it in for dairy) is almost as nutritious as whole almonds.
High in omega 3s, copper, manganese and vitamin E, walnuts also contain phytonutrients found in few other foods, like juglone (a possible cancer fighter) and morin (which may combat Alzheimer’s and diabetes).
You love it in beer – but make it a wholegrain staple too. Barley has a nutty flavour and is packed with selenium, manganese, vitamin B1 and a type of fibre that digests slowly to stabilise glucose levels and keep you feeling full longer. Eating it can also improve blood cholesterol, the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition reported.
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Oats are tops for manganese (crucial for bone health and glucose control) and fibre.
The rare grain with all nine essential amino acids, quinoa’s also packed with antioxidants.
29. Haricot and black beans
Haricot beans are high in omega 3s; black are a rich protein source. They don’t have to be fresh – canned beans are also nutritious.
High in omega 3s and fibre, lentils cook quickly and pair well with turmeric and cinnamon.