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What Are Superfoods?

What are Superfoods? Good question. In fact, it turns out that there isn’t an answer.

While this term is being thrown around by marketers and nutrition experts alike, there isn’t actually a single definition of what constitutes a superfood. So, this article is going to list HTBM superfoods – and tell you why each one made the list.

Superfoods Diagram of Foods

The HTBM Superfood Judging Criteria

So, if there’s no legal definition of a superfood, how are we making a list? We make our own rules, that’s how. We factored in three key criteria:

  1. The foods that we selected as our official HTBM superfoods are nutrient-dense and energy-light. That means that they are full of healthy stuff and don’t come along with a bunch of empty carbs.
  1. Most of the foods on our list are category-defying powerhouses that combine the nutritional benefits that are usually associated with just one food group.
  1. The foods on this list are delicious and versatile from a culinary standpoint. After all, for a superfood to have a super role in your diet, you have to eat it.

Further, all of the superfoods that HTBM recognizes are accessible. A lot of “superfoods” that other sources tout are super exotic. And, there’s nothing wrong with that – except that they aren’t always well understood by science, they’re hard to find, and they’re expensive. Further, the stranger the food is, the less likely you are to know how to incorporate it into your diet.

Some of the foods on our list may be a little harder to find than others but if you need help consider checking out the HTBM guide to the grocery store.

  1. (Lean) Meat

Hear us out on this one. Superfoods lists tend not to include meat, but there are a few great reasons that meat (some meat more than others) deserve the title.

First, you probably know already that meat is low in carbs as well as high in protein, not to mention iron and other important nutrients, making it a favorite of athletes everywhere (Dunford & Doyle, p. 191). In fact, lean meats qualify as “thermic foods” – that is, foods that require more energy to digest than they release when eating. That’s right: eating meat burns calories.

The caveat, of course, is that the meat in your diet should be lean. The fat in most meats, particularly red meats, is very bad for you. So, when eating meat, make the most of it by choosing white meat or fish over red more often than not. When you do eat red meat, select lean cuts and cook them in ways that sheds that extra fat like grilling and broiling.

When grilling or broiling meat, the meat is heated on a raised surface allowing the fat to drain off. So, think about burgers: if you buy lean burger and then grill the burger, the end product can be virtually fat-free. That’s compared to cooking meat in a pot or a pan that retains that melted fat. This is deliberately done for flavor and texture in some dishes, but it isn’t healthy.

If we’re counting fish as meat, go crazy. Most cuts of most fish have very little fats – and those fats are good for you. So good for you, that you can get fish-oil pills as supplements. Of course, it’s better to eat the fish.

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  1. Nuts

To stick on the theme of fat, nuts also make our list. Like meats, nuts are high in protein and minerals. While nuts do have fats, the fats in nuts are healthy, unlike those in meats. Nuts are also a source of dietary fiber, which usually comes from foods heavier in carbohydrates. 

Do be aware, however, that many nuts are prepared in ways that aren’t ideal from a nutrition standpoint. Steer clear of nuts that are heavily salted, honey-roasted, or part of mixes and bars with less-than-healthy ingredients thrown in.

If you need more ways to incorporate nuts into your diet, explore nut milks and even nut flours. Nut flours have the added benefit of being a high-protein, low-carb alternative to the grain flours that we’re used to. This article won’t talk about nut milks, but it’s definitely a topic on the HTBM radar.

  1. Soy

Up for another protein-source superfood? How about Soy?

Soybeans are more low-carb powerhouses that have been called the “protein source of the future” and can also be eaten in about a million different ways (Shurtleff & Aoyagi). You might think first about tofu, but soy can also be used to make milks and butters which all have their own derivatives. 

Edamame, one serving method for soybeans, also landed on our list of the best bodybuilding vegetables.

A lot of people don’t like soy on principles because tofu is a meat replacement. However, soy is a common additive to just about every processed food because it adds bulk and protein without adding much else. If you use a protein mix, supplement, or powder, soy is probably an ingredient. So, put your machismo aside and reach for some soy.

But, be careful. Soy derivatives, like soy sauces, can be low in soy-benefits and high in additives like salt.

  1. Avocados

Avocados might be trendy for a reason. Are they fruits? Vegetables? Gifts from God? Part of the reason that they get their own spot on our list is that they don’t fit any one food group nicely.

Biologically, they’re stone fruits like peaches and cherries, however, their low sugar content lands them squarely in the vegetable category. But, we’re not done: avocados also contain healthy fats – a relatively rare quality in any kind of plant. Combine the healthy oils, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and low caloric value, and you’ve got a superfood in our book. 

Guacamole is a favorite use for avocados but it is by no means the only use. Use them raw in salads or on toast, grill them and serve them with corn, or even put them in your morning capuchino. Just kidding about that last one.

  1. Eggs

Eggs land on our superfood list for their high protein and no-carb nature, as well as for their versatility. There are countless ways to cook an egg, and if you hardboil it the versatility doubles. Think about hot eggs all day long and then think about all of the uses for cold eggs – with salt, in salads, pickled to incorporate healthy prebiotics – the list goes on.

Every now and then, eggs get a bad rap largely because they do include cholesterol. It’s true, some people have problems with cholesterol and the wrong kinds of fats in their diet. However, eaten in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet, eggs are perfectly safe and healthy.

If you’re worried about cholesterol and other fats because you have had health issues or there is a family history of dietary disorders, talk to your doctor about how to incorporate eggs into your diet.

Kombucha Fermented Probiotic/Prebiotic
  1. Kombucha

We wouldn’t blame you for having been a little thrown by the mention of prebiotics in the discussion about eggs. They’re not quite a buzz-word in health and wellness, but they’re getting there.

Probiotics and prebiotics refer to healthy gut bacteria and bacteria that help to make your gut a healthy environment for those healthy gut bacteria. They’re even better for weight lifters who might eat too much meat and not enough fiber, potentially leading to gut issues.

Probiotics and prebiotics are typically found in aged and fermented foods. Think pickles, sauerkraut, even alcoholic drinks. No, the next superfood on our list isn’t beer. It’s Kombucha. Kombucha is another trendy food right now that you may already have heard whispers of – and for good reason. This aged sweet tea has a bit of everything.

A bit of sweetness, a bit of carbonation, a bit of caffeine, and a bit of bite. And, more than a bit of healthy prebiotics.

If you haven’t tried kombucha, pick one up. If there’s a healthfood store or food cooperative near you, kombucha will definitely be on the shelves, but they’re becoming increasingly popular and increasingly available at more “mainstream” establishments.

As good as they are for their own merits, they also scratch a lot of the itches that many of us satisfy with less-healthy drinks like soda and beer. Kombucha has a huge variety of flavors, but typically tastes like a cross between fruited seltzer and craft beer. If you’re trying to drink less beer or soda, kombucha may be your bridge to healthier habits.

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  1. Mushrooms

Here’s another earthy hit: mushrooms. Mushrooms are a great no-carb source of protein, vitamins and minerals, and fiber. They come in a variety of sizes, flavors, and textures, each offering more culinary possibilities than the last. 

Chop some raw in a salad, find a nice big cap to grill and eat like a burger, slice them and saute them with onions to put on potatoes or broccoli, use them to add texture and depth-of-flavor to soups and stews – some mushrooms are even dried and used as teas!

SuperFoods Diagram List

What’s Your Favorite Superfood?

There are so many foods out there and, while we tend to focus on the bad ones, there are so many that deserve more praise and attention.

Did one of your favorite foods not make the list? Tell us in the comments why it deserves superfood status as well as your favorite way to eat it.

Dunford, Marie & Doyle, J. Andrew. “Nutrition for Sport and Exercise.” Thompson Wadsworth. Belmont, CA, USA. 2008.
Shurtleff, William & Aoyagi, Akiko. “The Book of Tofu.” Ballentine Books. New York, NY, USA. 1975.

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