9 Surprising Superfoods

Meet the amazing underdogs of the food world.

August 27, 2012

Imagine an award show dedicated to recognizing the best of the best in the world of superfoods. You’d probably picture powerhouses like acai berries, blueberries, and green tea bags sitting in the front row, each eagerly awaiting to glide onstage to claim the coveted Superfood of the Century award. While those antioxidant superstars often steal the show thanks to their amazing health benefits, the truth is, there are lots of underdogs that deserve some serious superfood props, too.

who knew that popcorn was loaded with antioxidants?



Turns out, that simple little TV snack is loaded with antioxidants—more so than most fruits! Popcorn kernels are bursting with 4 times more polyphenols—potent cancer-fighting plant compounds—compared to the average amount found in fruits. Just be sure to pass on the movie theater kind and make your own. A typical movie theater popcorn contains 825 calories, 46 grams of fat, including heart-damaging trans fat, and nearly 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

Prep tip: Most microwave popcorn bags contain nonstick chemicals linked to infertility, thyroid problems, and ADHD. For a safer savory snack, make your own on the stovetop using grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil. You can also use this microwave trick, or pop up safer packaged popcorn from the Quinn Popcorn company. They don’t use nasty chemicals.

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Photo: Thomas MacDonald

the oils in oregano have antimicrobrial and antifungal properties


This herb may be a staple for pizza and tomato sauce, but it also boasts powerful medicine cabinet credentials, too. Two of the plant's volatile oils, thymol and carvacrol, have been shown in test-tube research to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties tough enough to kill some E. coli, staph, and salmonella germs! The natural antibiotic immune booster contains 20 times more cancer-fighting antioxidant power than other herbs, on average. According to USDA researchers, 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano has the same antioxidant power as an entire apple. And gram for gram, the herb has twice the antioxidant activity of blueberries, long known for their antioxidant ability.

Prep tip: Opt for the chef-preferred Greek oregano, and dry the herb to deepen the flavor and cut back on a bitter aftertaste.

Read More: 9 Herbs to Make Any Meal Healthier

Photo: Mitch Mandal


Chicken Bones

Learn how to make chicken bone broth.

To be clear, we're not suggesting you eat chicken bones, but rather cook up nourishing broth using the leftover chicken carcass and bones. This traditional food is packed full of minerals that will improve digestion, nourish your joints, tendons, skin, and ligaments, and bolster your immune system (they don’t say eat chicken soup when you're sick for nothing!).

Prep tip: Be sure to boil your broth from a grass-fed chicken. Most store-bought chickens are raised on a steady diet of drugs, harmful additives, and low-quality feed, something you don’t want to cook down into a broth.

Read More: How to Make Homemade Chicken Broth

Photo: Photodisc

Ghee or Indian clarified butter is believed to have mystical healing qualities.


Also known as “Indian clarified butter” or “drawn butter,” ghee is butter that has been melted over a low temperature so that all the water content has boiled away and the milk fats have been skimmed off.

What remains is a nutty, intensely flavored fat that withstands higher cooking temperatures than butter and can even be stored in your cabinets, rather than in the fridge (it won’t go rancid). Indians believe it has healing qualities. And it’s even more nutritious than butter: The process of creating ghee concentrates the conjugated linoleic acid—a healthy cancer-fighter that also prevents atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)—found in the butter.

Prep tip: Use ghee from grass-fed cows to make stovetop popcorn for a rich butter flavor, or use it in this delicious apple recipe.

Read More: 11 Foods to Boost Your Mood

Photo: (cc) Cara Faus/flickr

Kelp is loaded with nutrition


This edible form of brown algae is loaded with potassium and mood-improving iodine and magnesium. The mineral-rich sea fare also contains a nice dose of protein and more minerals than what you’d typically find in land vegetables. One example? A serving of this sea veggie unleashes nearly 800 milligrams of magnesium into your system, helping to restore your energy and mood. 

Prep tip: Kelp is a powerful superfood addition to soup and potatoes. You can even replace chicken or beef with kelp for a healthy soup stock. Choose Main Coast Sea Vegetables for a sustainable, domestic source of kelp.

Learn More: Eat for Happiness: The Diet You Need to Try

Photo: (cc) Alpha/Flickr

Liver is packed with Vitamin B folate.

Beef Liver

While it may not sound appetizing, beef liver deserves to be high on the list of superfoods for its mega health benefits. Liver is packed with the B vitamin folate, a nutrient tasked with helping to build DNA and RNA and healthy nerve functioning. It also helps lower your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Prep tip: Be sure to buy your liver from a local grass-fed beef farmer. Grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It’s also lower in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats. If beef liver isn’t your thing, turn to lentils for plant-based folate.

Read More: 6 Superfoods That Aren’t on Your Radar

Photo: (cc) Beck/Flickr

Black Strap molassass is super iron-rich


Okay, not straight sugar, but rather blackstrap molasses, a syrupy by-product of the process that turns sugar cane into refined white table sugar. The mineral-dense natural sweetener is rich in iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and copper. For vegans especially, it’s a go-to, sweet source of plant-based calcium. When Virginia Tech University researchers compared natural sweeteners, they found that blackstrap molasses boasted the highest antioxidant levels. Look for organic, unsulphured versions for the purest blackstrap molasses.

Prep tip: Drizzle 2 teaspoons onto your morning oatmeal for 13 percent of your daily recommended iron intake, and 12 percent of your daily calcium. (Once you open the bottle, store it in the fridge so it stays fresher longer.)

Read More: The Sweetener You Must Always Avoid

Photo: (cc) AWA/Flickr



Oysters are high in zinc.

It’s true, oysters really do serve as an aphrodisiac. The reason? They contain more zinc per serving than any other food. Zinc is a key mineral for sexual health in men, and also a critical nutrient for mood stabilization.

Prep tip: To help preserve wild populations, choose domestic farmed oysters. You can refrigerate live oysters on a cookie sheet, flat-side up, covered with a damp towel, for about a week, but you should cook them as soon as possible. You can also buy them frozen or smoked.

Read More: The 13 Best Food Combos on the Planet

Photo: Mitch Mandel



fresh, homemade, lacto-fermented sauerkraut is better than you could possibly imagine.

Cabbage is teeming with cancer-fighting compounds, but turn it into sauerkraut, and you’ve got an even greater raw-food wonder. Sauerkraut the way your great-grandmother likely made it—fermented in a crock—is a probiotic powerhouse than can help promote digestive health, something that’s especially important during cold and flu season. After all, your gut is the base of your immune system. 

Prep tip: Canned sauerkraut is pasteurized, meaning healthy bacteria is killed off. Plus, the can likely contains the toxic compound BPA, something you want to avoid because it’s been linked to heart attacks and obesity, among other ills. Instead, learn to make your own fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut!

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Photo: (cc) Marshall Astor/Flickr