One day it’s turmeric popcorn. The next, it’s camel milk. Whatever the “superfood,” there’s always a new snack or beverage that claims to protect you from disease or give you another health boost, like healthier skin or stronger bones.
And many of these products you’ve been walking past in the grocery store for years are far less expensive than today’s superfoods. That’s not to say all modern-day picks are hoaxes (we love heart-healthy kale and chia seeds!), but it’s time to reconsider some of the supermarket’s unsung heroes, including the following seven.
More super than: Australian yogurt
Today, you can find yogurt styles from Bulgarian to Icelandic in stores, with each globe-trotting ’gurt claiming to be the new dairy powerhouse. But exercise caution with Australian yogurt, which is better enjoyed as a dessert than a breakfast or snack. The most popular brand of this type is Noosa, which is filtered with honey, making it naturally sweet—and that’s before all the extra garnishes and flavorings are added. An 8 oz cup of Noosa’s apple flavor contains 290 calories, 11 grams fat, and 33 grams of sugar, To put that in perspective, a standard chocolate bar only has about 24 grams of sugar.
Meanwhile, there’s good ol’ cottage cheese, which is extremely high in protein, but low in calories and sugar.
“Cottage cheese is making a comeback because it is a good source of potassium, a phenomenal source of protein, and very affordable,” says Joan Salge Blake, R.D.N., a clinical associate professor at Boston University. “While everyone typically looks to yogurt, I think the tide is changing a little bit and cottage cheese is becoming a go-to food again.” (If you can’t stand the taste, here are 7 delicious ways to eat cottage cheese.)
While the packaging for Noosa is appealing, humble cottage cheese wins for best snack: One cup of the 2 percent kind has 194 calories, 5 grams fat, and 8 grams sugar.
More super than: Coconut oil
Health experts are scurrying to tell consumers that coconut oil isn’t a miracle for your health. In fact, the American Heart Association recently deemed it unhealthy due to high levels of saturated fat (it has more than lard!), which increases unhealthy LDL (bad) cholesterol. Granted, coconut oil does also raise healthy HDL (good) cholesterol too, but until we know more, you may want to have soybean oil on hand for cooking.
“Don’t assume that the old standby of soybean oil isn’t nutritious,” says Blake. Soybean oil is a fabulous source of unsaturated fat, she says. Plus, it’s very affordable.
Soybean oil only contains 15 percent saturated fats, compared to coconut oil’s 90 percent. It’s a good source of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, healthy fats that help raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Refined soybean oil also has a very high smoke point—approximately 450 to 495° Fahrenheit—making it a good option for cooking at high temperatures (surpassing an oil’s smoke point can damage healthy nutrients and release toxic chemicals).
More super than: Jackfruit
Jackfruit, a tropical fruit with a consistency similar to pork, is the latest superfood in the produce section—because of its texture, it’s touted as an alternative to meat. However, you can also make a vegan-friendly pumpkin patty that offers higher levels of certain vitamins for fewer calories than jackfruit. (Or, if you’re a carnivore, carry on and just grill the best damn beef burger you’ll ever eat.)
One cup of jackfruit has 157 calories, 31 grams sugar, and 3 percent of your daily vitamin A dose (it also has 37 percent of your daily dose of vitamin C, and 25 percent of vitamin B-6, if you’re targeting those vitamins in your diet). A cup of pumpkin, on the other hand, has only 30 calories, 3 grams sugar, and 197 percent of your daily dose of vitamin A, which helps keep your vision sharp and immune system strong. It is also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, all of which can prevent degenerative damage in the eyes.
“Many people won’t pass canned pumpkin in the supermarket until it’s Thanksgiving and they make pumpkin pie, but you can use it all year long,” says Taub-Dix. “Stuff pasta and make ravioli with it, or make pumpkin muffins.” You can also try making these protein-packed pumpkin black bean burgers.
More super than: Coconut butter
Walk into a natural food store, and you’ll see butter for just about every type of nut—pistachio, macadamia, even coconut! But you may be better off sticking to classic, all-natural peanut butter.
“Peanuts are an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which a lot of Americans are falling short of,” says Blake. “They also have niacin, which, along with vitamin E, can help reduce cognitive decline as you age.”
The trick is to avoid those that include added sugars or list “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oils,” which means your peanut butter contains trans fat, even if it’s not on the label (current guidelines allow manufacturers to say there are “0 grams” if there are fewer than 0.5 grams per serving). We like Smucker’s Natural Chunky Peanut Butter (Buy now: $3-4, target.com; walmart.com).
Coconut butter, on the other hand, isn’t your best choice. While two tablespoons of natural peanut butter has 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, and 8 grams protein, coconut butter contains 220 calories, 20 grams of fat, 19 grams of saturated fat, and 2 grams protein.
More super than: Aloe water
Aloe helps soothe a sunburn, so manufacturers were quick to bottle it up and call it miracle water—even though there hasn’t been consistent research to prove claims that it boosts energy and helps with weight loss or stomach woes. And because aloe naturally has a bitter taste, some manufacturers add high amounts of sugar for taste: One bottle can contain around 30 grams of sugar, which is twice the amount of a brownie. (If you really want to lose weight, check out the Metashred Diet from Men’s Health—it helps you prep your meals so you can burn fat while maintaining hard muscle.)
Grape juice, however, is an inexpensive, healthy way to sweeten water while snagging some pretty impressive health benefits. Research shows antioxidant-rich red and purple grape juices may provide similar perks as red wine, such as a lower risk of blood clots, prevention of blood vessel damage, and healthy blood pressure.
“It is also a good source of vitamin C,” says Blake. “If you add a little grape juice to sparkling water as a beverage or sweet treat, it can help you increase your water consumption.” Adding 3 tablespoons of grape juice to your sparkling water only adds 28 calories and 7 grams of sugar.
More super than: Noni juice
Though it’s been labeled a “wonder food” filled with antioxidants, noni juice—made from a small evergreen tree on the Polynesian islands—has no human studies to back up its claims as a cure to heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or psoriasis. (Plus, those with kidney disease should avoid the juice due to its high potassium levels.) Cranberries, on the other hand, are loaded with antioxidants and have plenty of studies to back up their health benefits.
“Cranberries are quite healthy for you, but they often get typecast as a Thanksgiving food,” says Taub-Dix. “They can be eaten all year, particularly if you opt for dried cranberries. They have proanthocyanidins, or PACs, which help to maintain a healthy urinary tract, and their antioxidants could help decrease inflammation that leads to chronic disease.”
A review published in the journal Antioxidants found that cranberries had inhibitory effects against some cancers, including those of the prostate, bladder, colon, stomach, and lymphoma. They may also protect dental health by stopping bacteria from attaching to your teeth, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Related: 5 Fast Cranberry Recipes
More super than: Agave nectar
Alternative sweeteners sell themselves as superfood sugar substitutes—what sounds more natural than “nectar,” right? However, agave nectar contains more calories per tablespoon than table sugar, and high amounts of fructose, which in excess can harm liver function and promote obesity.
Sweetening your yogurt, ice cream, or smoothie with natural applesauce, however, provides you with a sweet taste and a good dose of fiber and vitamins. Half a cup of unsweetened applesauce has only 51 calories and 11 grams sugar, and is a source of skin-repairing vitamin C and immune-boosting vitamin B-6.
“If you mix applesauce with Greek yogurt, it becomes very homogeneous and sweet,” says Taub-Dix. “And because it comes in small containers that are already half a cup, you don’t have to worry about excessive portion sizes.”
To boost the fiber and flavor of your applesauce, you can also make your own at home and leave the apple skins on. Simply core and chop apples, place in a pot with cinnamon sticks, and add a quarter inch of water. Cook, covered, on medium heat until you notice bubbles in the apples. Stir on low heat until apples are soft (you can use a hand masher, if desired, to make the sauce smoother). Remove the cinnamon sticks, then dig in!