What Makes Something a Superfood? 2022 Edition

Fresh collard greens lying on a striped dish towel.

It seems like every week we hear about a new superfood, but what does that really mean? There is no strict definition of what exactly makes a food a superfood, but it is generally considered to have a particularly high nutritional content and health benefits.1 Because of the non-specific definition, sometimes the title of ‘superfood’ is applied to foods that are not necessarily worthy of the designation. 2 Here are a few examples of nutrient-dense foods that deserve the name.

Foods That Live Up to the Title of ‘Superfood’

Salmon

Salmon contains essential minerals such as iron, calcium, and phosphorus, as well as vitamins A, B, and D, and omega-3 fatty acids.3 The nutrients in salmon can promote shiny hair and more radiant skin, decrease the risk of glaucoma, and improve brain function.4

Eating salmon helps strengthen cardiac muscles and lower cholesterol levels, and so it is especially recommended for those concerned about cardiac health. Studies show that eating salmon regularly can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.5

Cooking with Salmon

When buying salmon, always choose wild-caught fish. Farmed salmon contains pesticide residue, has a different fatty acid content, and often contains dyes to make it look better.

Wild salmon is easy and quick to cook and makes for a delicious, healthy entrée. It can be prepared with sauces or marinades or simply drizzled with a little olive oil and baked. For those who do not like the taste, salmon omega 3 fatty acid is available in capsules as well. 

Quick Salmon Burgers

Recipe courtesy of Dr. JoAnn Yánez

To the work bowl of a food processor or strong blender, add 2 boneless salmon fish filets (skin removed), 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. ground ginger, a dash of worcestershire sauce, 2 tbsp. prepared mustard and process to burger consistency. Form into patties (these are great as burgers or sliders).

To cook:  grill ~5 minutes or roll in panko crumbs and pan fry in oil until cooked through. These burgers freeze well, and if you pre-section out the patties before freezing them, you can pop out as many as needed for a quick and healthy meal.

Say goodbye to store bought, and say hello to homemade!

Ginger and Lime Marinated Salmon

Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University

Ingredients

  • 1⁄2 tsp. fresh lime zest (from approximately 1 medium lime)
  • 2  medium limes, juiced and divided
  • 1 tbsp. tamari or coconut aminos
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbsp. dry sherry wine
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. local, raw honey or sucanat
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. ginger root, grated
  • 1 lb. fresh wild salmon
  • 1 pinch fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

Instructions

In a small bowl, whisk the lime zest, lime juice, tamari, salt, sherry, oil, mustard, honey, garlic and ginger. Place the fish in a small shallow preparation bowl and cover with marinade. Flip the fish so it lays skin side up and the flesh touches the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours before cooking.

Remove fish from the fridge. Heat a 10-inch carbon steel or cast-iron skillet on high heat for about a minute. Add oil and allow it to coat the entire surface of the pan. Add fish skin side up and sear for 3-4 minutes. Flip fish, pour any remaining marinade over it and cook for 3-4 minutes to finish cooking. Total cooking time will be approximately 6-7 minutes (6-7 minutes per inch of thickness).

Remove from the stove, top with remaining lime juice and parsley and enjoy.

Collard Greens

Collard greens are often associated with comfort food and not as much as health food, but they should be – especially when prepared in a healthy manner. Collard greens contain vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, as well as iron, protein, magnesium, and manganese. 6 Collard greens, like other members of the cabbage family, also contain glucosinolates, compounds that boost immunity and reduce inflammation. 7

Collard Green Salmon Wraps

This recipe includes both wild salmon and collard greens. For an extra superfood boost, add flaxseed to the wrap filling or serve with a salad sprinkled with flaxseed.

Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. wild-caught salmon filet
  • 1⁄2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 orange, zested and then peeled and diced
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 4 large collard leaves
  • 1⁄3 cup almond butter
  • 1 tbsp. tamari
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 clove garlic, minced
  • Hot water, to thin
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions

Bake the Salmon

Preheat oven to 375° F. Rub salmon filet with salt and place in the refrigerator to cure for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and transfer to a baking sheet; top with cherry tomatoes and bake for 12-15 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once salmon has cooled, gently break apart into flakes.

Prep the Collard Greens

Rinse the collard greens and remove the thick stalk at the bottom. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Reduce heat and place greens in a strainer and set over the pot of simmering water. Cover strainer with a lid and steam for 2-3 minutes or until color turns a lively green. Remove from the steam basket and pat dry with a towel.

Make the Wrap Filling

Combine carrots, zest of orange, diced orange, and avocado. Set aside.

Make the Dipping Sauce

Combine almond butter, tamari, honey, lemon juice, and garlic. Adjust flavor to taste, adding more tamari for saltiness, honey for sweetness, and lemon juice for tanginess. Thin sauce by slowly whisking in hot water as needed until the desired consistency is reached.

Assemble the Wraps

Fill a steamed collard leaf with flaked salmon and cherry tomatoes and the carrot-orange-avocado medley. Fold the ends of the leaf and roll the wrap tightly around the filling. Drizzle with almond sauce or serve with dipping sauce on the side.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed (also known as linseed) contains antioxidants, thiamine, manganese, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and is a good source of both protein and fiber. 8 Studies show that flaxseed can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 9 Flaxseed can be ground or added whole to salads, soups, wraps, or baking. Once ground, the oils can become rancid – refrigeration can improve shelf-life.

Flaxseed Oil Fruit Smoothie

Get the heart health benefits from flax seeds with this delicious, healthy smoothie.

Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University.

Ingredients

  • 1⁄2 each banana
  • 2 each ice cubes
  • 1 cup juice (pineapple, apple, grape)
  • 1 tbsp yogurt
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed oil

Instructions

Mix all ingredients together in a blender. Try adding protein powder, fresh or frozen berries, cherries or any other fruit. This smoothie is great for breakfast or a snack.

Notes

Tips About Flaxseed Oil

  • Oil should always be kept in the refrigerator in a dark bottle to maintain freshness.
  • Never cook with flax oil or heat it on the stove or in the microwave — this destroys the benefits of the oil.
  • As the oil sits over time, it loses its freshness, smelling and tasting stronger.

Papaya

Papaya is a fruit that is native to Mexico, Central America, and some parts of South America. It has a sweet flavor and a texture similar to melon. Many people love papaya for its appealing taste alone, but it is also packed with beneficial nutrients as well.

Health Benefits of Papaya

Papaya contains lycopene and other carotenoids (the beneficial antioxidants that give orange fruit and vegetables their color). It is easier for the body to absorb carotenoids from papaya than from any other fruits or vegetables 10. Lycopene can help prevent cancer and slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 11 12 

Papaya is also rich in vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system. 13 Foods like papaya that are high in both lycopene and vitamin C can help prevent cardiovascular disease, so papaya is a beneficial dietary addition to those being conscious of their heart health. 14 15  

While more studies need to be conducted, evidence suggests that consuming papaya can help to fight cancer. 16 This is because papaya reduces free radicals in the body, which contribute to cancer development. 17

Papaya is also often recommended to those with IBS and other digestive issues and can reduce stomach pain. This is because papaya contains papain, an enzyme that helps manage digestive disorders. 18 

How to Prepare and Eat Papaya

You can tell that a papaya is ripe when its skin turns from green to yellow and it is slightly soft to the touch. To help a papaya ripen faster, place it in a paper bag with an apple. Apples produce ethylene, which helps fruit nearby ripen.

To prepare a papaya for eating, first cut it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape the seeds out from the center of each half of the papaya. Next, you can remove the flesh of the papaya using a spoon or melon baller, or you can peel it and slice the fruit into small pieces. Do not eat the skin.

You can simply eat fresh papaya on its own as a snack, or try one of these easy, delicious ways to incorporate more papaya into your diet:

Add chopped papaya to your favorite salsa recipe for a tropical kick.

Freeze chunks of papaya to have on hand and add to morning smoothies.

Grill papaya halves for a unique side dish that pairs well with meat, fish, and other savory dishes.

Sprinkle papaya with cinnamon and a little sugar, then bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes. Serve hot with your favorite dairy-free ice cream.

Add papaya to any fruit salad for a boost of flavor and nutrition.

Dry papaya pieces in a food dehydrator and enjoy them on their own as a snack or add to your preferred trail mix.

Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a perennial vegetable that is easy to grow in most climates. It comes in a variety of colors, including white, green, and purple. This low calorie, high nutrition spring vegetable is popular for its pleasing taste and versatility for use in a wide variety of recipes. In addition to being delicious, there are a number of other benefits to eating asparagus more often.

Health Benefits of Asparagus

Folic Acid

Asparagus is high in folic acid, which is especially beneficial in pregnancy. Increasing your folic acid intake before and during pregnancy reduces the risk of certain birth defects, including severe neural-tube defects and congenital heart defects. 19 Folic acid also promotes DNA formation and cell growth in adults. 20 These generative properties may improve cognition and slow the cognitive decline associated with dementia. 21 

Potassium

Asparagus is high in potassium. Potassium is a mineral that helps to regulate blood flow and lower blood pressure, which improves heart health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. 22  Increasing consumption of potassium while reducing salt intake decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. 23 People on potassium sparing diuretics, kidney disease or a predisposition to forming kidney stones should avoid large quantities of asparagus.

Fiber

Fiber is essential for good digestive health and helps to regulate weight. 24 Asparagus has a high fiber content and is an easy way to add more fiber to your diet. Additionally, fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria (specifically Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus), which improves immunity and strengthens overall digestive health. 25 

How to Cook Asparagus

Asparagus can be easily added to many recipes or eaten as a side dish. Cook asparagus by steaming, boiling, sauteing, or roasting until it is tender and eat it on its own or add it to omelets, pasta dishes, stir fries, or make this spring asparagus salad for a delicious light meal.

Spring Asparagus Salad

Recipe Courtesy of Bastyr University

Ingredients

  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1⁄4 tsp sea salt
  • 1⁄4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2  pasture-raised fresh eggs
  • Cilantro to taste
  • 2  lettuce leaves (for garnish)

Instructions

Mix together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, and sea salt until the salt is dissolved. Add the thinly sliced red onion and mix well. Allow the onions to marinate in the dressing for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a small saucepan about 2/3 with fresh water and bring to a boil. Gently pierce the “butt” ends of the egg with a push pin or small needle. You want to make sure not to push in too far, just enough to pierce a hole into the shell. Gently add the eggs to the boiling water and reduce the heat to medium. Allow the eggs to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes are up quickly rinse the eggs under cold water and set aside on a dry towel to cool further.

As you are boiling the eggs, place a steamer basket into a large pot and fill with water just so the water is under the basket. Gently bend each asparagus spear at the bottom end until it naturally breaks. Discard the ends into the compost or save for a future asparagus soup. Place the asparagus into the steamer basket, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until the asparagus is bright green and tender. Be careful not to over cook the asparagus, otherwise it will turn greenish-brown. Once the asparagus has reached optimal color and tenderness, quickly rinse the asparagus in cold running water for about 30 seconds to stop the cooking process.

Place the lettuce leaves in a nice dish and top with steamed asparagus. Sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro. Evenly pour the vinaigrette with the marinated onions over the asparagus and top with the sliced hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkle the eggs with chopped cilantro, fresh ground pepper, and a bit of sea salt. Serve immediately.

Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are all of the peppers in the Capsicum genus, which includes many varieties such as jalapeno, serrano, habanero, and cayenne peppers. Chili peppers are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. They are all spicy, but different varieties have different levels of heat. Chili peppers are popular additions to salsas, curries, chilis, and any other recipes that can benefit from a kick of heat. Chili peppers also have a high nutritional value and a number of health benefits.

The Health Benefits of Chili Peppers

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Chili peppers contain carotenoids, beneficial antioxidants that are responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of the peppers. Carotenoids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce the symptoms of various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. 26 

Weight Management

Capsaicin is the active compound in chili peppers that gives them their distinctive spicy flavor. 27 While more research is needed, initial studies suggest that capsaicin can be an effective weight management aid because it accelerates fat burning and reduces appetite. 28 The addition of chili peppers into the diet in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle may help to promote weight loss. 29 

Pain Relief

Although a diet heavy in spicy foods can aggravate heartburn, some studies suggest that regular consumption of hot chili peppers in small amounts can actually reduce pain caused by acid reflux. 30 If you experience painful heartburn on a regular basis, adding chili peppers to your diet in moderation may help to reduce the discomfort. 31

Note that the consumption of chili peppers and other spicy foods can exacerbate stomach pain and intestinal issues in some people. Those with IBS and other stomach conditions should avoid eating chili peppers. 32 

One very simple way to integrate chili peppers into your diet is to make jalapeno-pineapple infused water. Simply add sliced jalapeno pepper and cubed fresh pineapple to cold water and let steep before sipping. This is a deliciously refreshing beverage with a bit of spice.

If you’re up for a slightly more complex recipe, try this fermented hot chili-garlic sauce:

Fermented Hot Chili-Garlic Sauce

This versatile spicy chili-garlic sauce, is a great way to add a kick to all sorts of foods. Add it to stir-fries, rice bowls, burritos, meat dishes, and more. 

Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University.

Ingredients

6  serrano peppers

4  jalapeno peppers

1  habanero pepper (optional for extra spicy sauce)

4  garlic cloves

2  limes, juiced

2 tsp. salt

Instructions

Wash chili peppers thoroughly and chop into 1-inch pieces using food handlers’ gloves to avoid letting the capsaicin come in contact with your skin. Discard the stems and place chopped peppers in a blender or food processor (using the pepper seeds will increase the heat content of your final product). Pulse to break down the peppers. Add garlic, lime juice, and salt, and pulse a few more times until a chunky paste forms. Transfer the sauce to a clean canning jar and close the lid tightly. Leave on the counter at room temperature and let it ferment for 2 to 3 days. During the fermentation time, check in with your sauce twice a day. Open the lid and mix the contents thoroughly, as the solids will separate from the liquid. After 2 days, check for taste. If you prefer a tangier sauce, prolong the fermentation time by one day at a time, mixing and checking for taste each day, for up to 5 days. Once the desired taste has been achieved, store it in the refrigerator between uses.

Dill

Each week we go back to the basics to use food as medicine in an effort to lead healthier lives. It can be intimidating to try new things especially when you don’t know what it is good for or how to prepare/cook it. Let’s learn together. Today, our focus is dill.

There’s so much more to dill than pickles which is probably what you first thought. Let’s dig into its history, origin, where you can find it, and how it works to benefit your health. Finally, let’s test it out with a tasty recipe: Dill Chicken Salad. This recipe is a delicious addition to any spring picnic or daily lunch box.

Dill 101

Dill has been used for centuries dating back to the Greek and Roman eras as a culinary and medicinal spice. In fact, the word dill means “to calm or soothe,” likely stemming from the herb’s power to treat upset digestive and immune systems. Dill is a light feathery weed that should be cleaned carefully with as little moisture as possible to prevent wilting. Its aroma and strong flavor make it a great compliment to many dishes, especially seafood and appetizers.

Where does dill come from? Where can I find it?

Dill originates in the Mediterranean region but today, its benefits are enjoyed throughout the world. You may find fresh dill weed in the produce section of your local grocer or in dried form in the spice aisle. It’s also pretty easy to grow in a kitchen windowsill.

How does dill help my health?

Flavonoids in dill work as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial to benefit the digestive and immune system.33

What medical symptoms is dill good for?

• Breath freshener
Anti-flatulence
• Heartburn
Menstrual disorders
Digestive health
Wound healing
Free-radical fighter for cancer prevention
Strong antioxidant

Let’s try it out with a delicious and high protein recipe!

Dill Chicken Salad

INGREDIENTS

2 organic chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
3/4 c organic Greek yogurt (or coconut yogurt for a dairy free recipe)
1 T fresh dill
¼ c organic dried unsweetened cranberries (can substitute dried unsulfured, unsweetened cherries) *optional if on a low glycemic/low carb diet
¼ cup chopped raw, unsalted walnuts
¼ c diced green onion
¼ c diced red onion
½ c arugula/spinach mix
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl combine ingredients and mix well. Scoop onto your choice of bread or romaine lettuce for a lower-carb option.

Not sure about this recipe but still want to incorporate the benefits of dill into your diet?

Try adding dill to your water to freshen your breath, add to Greek yogurt for a healthy veggie dip, in soup, or sprinkled over your fish filet.

If you are interested in superfoods and promoting health through nutrition, a career in naturopathic medicine may be for you.

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