What makes a food a superfood? More than just fuel for your body, superfoods yield benefits beyond the nutrients they provide, explains Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health contributing nutrition editor. So whether you’re eating to shed a few pounds, maintain a healthy weight, or for overall health, superfoods make the cut. In fact, you'll find these foods on healthy eating plans that include a variety of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
A cup of black beans packs 15 grams of satisfying protein and doesn't contain any of the saturated fat found in other protein sources, like red meat. Plus, their polyphenol content makes them a potent antioxidant. Black beans belong to a food group known as “pulses,” the edible seeds of legume plants. A 2016 analysis of randomized controlled trials found that a serving a day of pulses may contribute to modest weight loss. That makes all sorts of beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils great superfood choices.
Oats are rich in a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. It can keep you feel full throughout the day and may help reduce cholesterol. Oats also provide magnesium, an essential mineral that can help regulate blood sugar. When given a choice, go for whole grain oats (like steel-cut oats, which are higher in fiber than rolled oats). Skip the processed, sugary stuff that can spike your blood sugar. Other healthy whole-grain superfoods to try: quinoa (a high-fiber, protein-packed staple of South America) and black rice (rich in anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant).
These emerald beauties contain monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), a heart-healthy type of fat that can keep you full for longer periods and stave off hunger. Not only that, a 2019 study in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition found that this plant-based source of fat and carbohydrate can lower inflammation in the body, which may aid weight loss.
As a source of protein, you can’t go wrong with salmon. This cold-water fish contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, known to protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation. Salmon is a rich source of selenium, a trace mineral which helps prevent cell damage, and it also provides several B vitamins. Evidence suggests that frequent intake of lean seafood, compared with meas, can prevent obesity.
There’s a reason blueberries edge out other fruits for superfood status. These versatile berries—tasty raw, cooked, or frozen—are abundant in anthocyanins (plant pigments that give them their rich hue) and other flavonoids (plant chemicals) that have been shown to protect against cell damage and obesity, among other benefits. Fresh blueberries clock in at just 85 calories per cup. Include different kinds of berries in your diet (such as low-sugar, nutrient-packed raspberries) for variety and maximum nutrition.
Cooked or raw, this member of the cabbage family is a stand-up addition to any plate. Along with its cruciferous cousins, broccoli is known for its potential to suppress tumor growth and reduce cancer risk. But with a punch of filling fiber, it also keeps blood sugar steady and supports weight management.
Tree nuts, like almonds, may play a role in reducing body mass index and waist circumference, research suggests. “In addition to being satiating, the combo of healthy fat, plant protein, and fiber in almonds boosts feelings of fullness and delays the return of hunger,” explains Sass. “Plus, research has also shown that almonds actually contain about 20% fewer calories than the labels state, because some of the calories are not absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.”
Green tea leaves consist mainly of antioxidant-packed polyphenols known for warding off cell damage and inflammation. Polyphenols are thought to protect against heart disease by acting on blood pressure and cholesterol. For a tasty pick-me-up, whip brewed green tea into a satisfying smoothie.
Though the evidence is preliminary, some small studies support the idea that green tea can aid in weight loss; one small study found that dieters who drank green tea lost more weight than those who drank water.
Cocoa is rich in flavanols, a category of polyphenols associated with lower insulin resistance and high blood pressure in adults, says the American Heart Association. Plus, flavonols may benefit vascular health by improving blood flow to the heart and brain, notes Cleveland Clinic. Choose dark chocolate (the darker, the better) and avoid versions loaded with extra ingredients that can bump up the fat and sugar content.
Despite what you may think, there’s no need banish carb-rich potatoes from your plate. One medium baked potato packs a ton of potassium—over 1,100 milligrams, or more than 1,500 if you eat the peel. Potassium is essential for keeping blood pressure in check. Potatoes also provide a good amount of filling fiber.
Chili peppers get their fire from capsaicin. This compound is responsible for boosting metabolism, causing your body to burn extra calories, says Sass. “Hot peppers have also been shown to curb hunger and lead to naturally eating fewer calories,” she adds. Eat them raw, cooked, dried, or in powdered form, and when in doubt, throw some cayenne or hot sauce onto your meal!
While kale has enjoyed superstar status in recent years, spinach (and really any dark, leafy green) is just as healthful and shouldn’t be overlooked. Besides being low-calorie, low-carb, and vitamin-rich, spinach is bursting with plant chemicals that “curb food intake by inducing secretion of satiety hormones,” according to a 2016 study in Food & Function.
Just one medium pear packs 6 grams of fiber. That’s about one fifth of your daily recommended intake. One study found that women who ate three pears a day consumed fewer calories and lost more weight than those who didn't. Ditch the peeler though; the skin is where all that filling fiber is hiding!
More than just a vehicle for vitamin C, this sweet citrus fruit makes the superfood list for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. With 3 grams of fiber, a medium orange can help fill you up and support gut health too.
These tiny seeds provide 10 grams of fiber per ounce, plus a good amount of magnesium (95 milligrams) and other minerals. The fiber content is “a major benefit for weight loss,” says Sass. That's because fiber helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduces calorie absorption, increases fullness, delays the return of hunger, and supports a healthy gut, she explains. Also, the plant-based omega-3s in chia seeds, called ALA, have an anti-inflammatory effect.
At only 59 calories, you may not expect much from an orange, but thanks to a hefty dose of fiber, it ranks highest among fruits on a list of 38 filling foods put together by Australian researchers. Feeling full can help you eat less throughout the day.