A Dietitian Predicts The 15 Most Popular Superfoods of 2021
By Nicole Morgan RDN, LD, CLT
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Every year there are new and trendy superfoods to discover. This year, 2021, is no different. I predict we will see a greater awareness of foods that may support immune health. As we continue to face a pandemic in 2021, perhaps we will see a refocus on boosting health and nutrition from home. We will look to online resources to find the healthiest foods and unique ingredients to support being our healthiest selves in 2021.
15 Best Superfoods of 2021
Here are the foods that I predict will continue to grow in popularity this year.
Elderberry is an old standby that you commonly find in syrup form with claims to support immunity on the label. For this reason, many reach for elderberry syrup during cold and flu season. However, what is unique about this year is that more people will likely begin trying to make their own elderberry syrup from home and seek out dried elderberries for a homemade recipe. We are doing much from home this year, and many will get creative in the kitchen when it comes to immune health.
Another popular at-home recipe ingredient for cold and flu season often includes marshmallow root. Marshmallow root is better known as a throat soothing ingredient. It has been researched in human studies and has shown promise for soothing a dry cough. Marshmallow root can be purchased in its whole, dried form and used to make tea or syrup.
Various types of mushrooms are currently being researched for their potential to stimulate immune health. Some varieties such as shiitake, morel, and oyster mushrooms contain a small amount of vitamin D naturally, which is rare to find in food. You can find these mushrooms in tea form, liquid tincture or capsule form, or a dried powder form. In addition, mushrooms can be included as part of a balanced diet. One cautionary note is that mushrooms may contain higher levels of heavy metals, especially in concentrated forms.
Many are familiar with ginger for its soothing flavor and zesty boost to recipes. You can find ginger root in other forms such as dried in tea form, in a supplemental capsule form, and a ginger candy form. However, it is the ginger juice that shows the most promise for immune support. Ginger juice can be extremely hard to find in a 100% juice form, so you may have to make your own or purchase it online for this option.
Echinacea (similar to the daisy plant) is most commonly found in tea form, and in some supplements labeled for immune support. This is another superfood that has been popular over the last decade for immunity. In 2021, we will see echinacea become more popular in a wider variety of forms: in cough drops, in the whole dried form, in honey, in personal care products, and more!
Hemp seeds may make a comeback this year as we continue to search for alternative plant protein options. Shelled hemp seeds (hemp hearts) contain about 10 grams of protein in a 3-tablespoon serving. This is a nice source of protein on top of a salad or as a snack with some fresh fruit. Alternatively, you may add the seeds into a smoothie for a protein source, a healthy fat source, and a nutrient boost! Lastly, hemp seeds contain about 3 mg of zinc per ounce which makes them an excellent source of zinc for immune support.
Lentils are legumes that are a source of protein and an excellent source of fiber. They are highly sought after especially for those eating a plant-based diet. They can be purchased canned, in a soup, dried to make into a recipe, as a chip, or popularly, as pasta. Lentil pasta is becoming more of a popular food for 2021 as it contains fewer carbohydrates compared to traditional wheat pasta and more nutrients such as more protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
Every year we see a new sweetener become popular. I predict the tropical fruit, lucuma, will be the trendy natural, lower sugar sweetener option. These days you can find lucuma in a dried powder form that you can use in place of sugar. However, it is only about 13% as sweet as table sugar (lucuma powder contains about 2 grams of sugar per tablespoon). So, if you are using lucuma in baking, you may need to adjust your recipe accordingly. Another fun way to use lucuma powder is to sprinkle it on top of plain yogurt, oatmeal, or blend it in a smoothie for a mild hint of sweetness.
Last year, the Mediterranean Diet was once again ranked as one of the top diets for optimal health. This brought back attention to olive oil as part of a healthy, balanced diet. In 2021, we continue to look for these healthy fat sources as we begin to move away from saturated fats that were also trendy in 2020 due to the keto diet. Olive oil is a superfood for its high level of monounsaturated fats.
You may ask, canned salmon, really?! Yes, most canned salmon is sourced from the more sustainable wild salmon and contains a few more vitamins and minerals since you are getting trace amounts of the salmon bone in the food. This may not sound appealing, but the convenience and taste are undeniable. The best way to prepare canned salmon is to make salmon “patties” or “cakes” with a little avocado oil, mayonnaise, lemon, and seasonings. You can lightly cook them on the stovetop, and enjoy a meal packed with healthy fats, plenty of vitamins and minerals, and protein.
Cod liver oil has been a superfood for about 200 years now for its natural sources of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. Traditional fish oils do not contain the added benefit of the fat-soluble vitamins found in cod liver oil. As the world turns to look for more natural sources of vitamin D and other immune-supportive nutrients, we may see a rise in the popularity of cod liver oil. In 2021, we have some amazing options for cod liver oil that come in flavored capsule forms and much more appealing fruity liquid flavors. This is not your 1800s cod liver oil! These are flavor-improved and quality-improved oils of 2021.
In 2021, we may see the term peptide used more often to describe collagen peptides. A peptide is a group of amino acids used to make a protein molecule. Peptides sound like they have healing powers and may become more of a fad superfood in 2021. However, we must remember that peptides simply make up protein molecules. Most commonly, peptides are sold as collagen peptide powders.
Some research indicates that collagen may support increased collagen in the skin dermis appealing to those seeking anti-aging products. Additional research has shown increased collagen intake resulting in improvements in body composition and muscle strength. These collagen protein powders make a nice protein addition to smoothies, beverages, and recipes.
Cassava, also known as yucca, is a root vegetable that is often dried and made into a powder form to use as a “flour” or in gluten-free packaged food products. Since cassava can provide a more gummy texture in baking, it often works nicely for the gluten-free market. Cassava is also highly desirable for various diet trends since it is a root vegetable and not a grain. You commonly see cassava chips, gluten-free cassava wraps, and cassava flour for use in recipes.
Cassava happens to be a good source of some B vitamins (folate and thiamine) as well as an excellent source of vitamin C. This makes cassava a superfood carbohydrate option as it naturally contains a few more vitamins and minerals compared to refined or processed grain options.
Herbs and spices are becoming increasingly popular in 2021, and we are beginning to learn about the health benefits the herbs provide beyond a flavor addition to recipes. Oregano has been used for centuries for various medicinal uses. In fact, research reveals that oregano may have antimicrobial properties. While oregano does contain antioxidants, we need more research to determine if it may provide heart health benefits, offer anti-inflammatory support, or even support blood glucose levels.
Acai has been popular for a few years now. However, I do not see this popular superfood going anywhere for 2021. The acai berry has one of the highest Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scores at approximately three times that of blueberries. The ORAC is a way to measure antioxidant activity. Acai is known for its multiple antioxidant properties that may support a healthy inflammatory response, support healthy aging, offer cardiovascular support, and scavenge free radicals.
You can find acai in powder form to easily add to recipes and smoothies, or in supplemental capsule or liquid form. Occasionally, you can find acai in the frozen foods section of your local grocery store as well. Using the frozen berries or juice is how “acai bowls” are made at cafes.
Exercise Caution with Trendy Superfoods
When using a superfood in supplement form, please remember that these may be concentrated and altered forms of the natural food. Please speak with your doctor before beginning a new supplement or diet regimen. More research is likely needed on these various superfoods to determine how effective they are in supporting our health. However, many of these superfoods mentioned can be consumed as part of a balanced diet in the whole food form. Always remember that the whole food form within a balanced diet is a safer and healthier way to achieve optimal health. Lastly, perhaps this list of superfood trends will help spark some new and creative food ideas for you in your kitchen.
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