If you plan to improve your physical and mental health in 2024, incorporating superfoods into a balanced diet may be advantageous. Superfoods such as berries, salmon and dark chocolate can boost brain health and protect the heart.

Let’s take a look at nine superfoods worth adding to your diet in 2024.

What is a superfood?

Superfoods are grains, fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods packed with essential minerals and vitamins. Every superfood offers its own benefits, but most are associated with immune health, heart health, reduced inflammation, cancer prevention and improved mental health.

“Superfoods help promote health by increasing your immune function and decreasing your chance of disease prevention or progression,” registered dietitian Beth Czerwony told the Cleveland Clinic.

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1. Berries can ease depression

When consumed frequently, berries boast a wide range of benefits for physical and mental health, such as improving heart health and relieving anxiety, as reported by the Deseret News. Some of the most popular berries include raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and huckleberries.

“On average, people who eat more berries seem to live a little bit longer,” Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post. Rimm suggested eating a cup of berries every day to reap their health benefits.

Berries can help consumers maintain a healthy heart. A 2013 study found that frequently consuming strawberries and blueberries is strongly correlated with lower risk of heart attack. Researchers reported that women who consumed berries several times per week experienced a 34% lower risk of heart attack compared to women who ate berries once a month or less.

Research shows eating blueberries can help ease feelings of depression. As part of a 2020 study, adolescents consumed wild blueberry supplements every day for a month. These adolescents self-reported lower symptoms of depression. Researchers credit these results with the high flavonoid content in blueberries.

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2. Nuts are heart-healthy

Although nuts can be high in calories, they offer a great deal of benefits for maintaining a healthy heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, regularly consuming nuts can reduce inflammation, improve artery health, decrease risk of high blood pressure, decrease unhealthy cholesterol levels and lower risk of blood clots.

Frequently consuming nuts can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. This may be due to their ability to lower “bad” cholesterol as well as decrease inflammation, several studies (2010, 2013, 2015) show.

Some of the most common nuts include almonds, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, pecans and Macadamia nuts.

“You might think of nuts as unhealthy because of their fat content, but that’s not the whole picture. Nuts are a nutrient-rich food providing us with fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that could help reduce our risk of heart and circulatory diseases,” reports the British Heart Foundation.

“They contain protein, B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals, including iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper.”

3. Cruciferous vegetables have anti-cancer properties

Cruciferous vegetables are known for being nutrient-dense and containing anti-cancer properties. They are also high in fiber and vitamin C.

These vegetables are colorful, flavorful and diverse. Some of the most popular cruciferous vegetables include arugula, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, radish, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale.

“One particular group of vegetables known as cruciferous contains a potent phytochemical called sulforaphane,” reports the Mayo Clinic. “Research surrounding this phytochemical has shown it to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which aids in the prevention and treatment of several types of cancer.”

Several studies suggest cruciferous vegetables may help fight cancer, per the National Cancer Institute. Studies in animals have found several ways the properties in cruciferous vegetables fight cancer, such as:

  • Protecting cells from DNA damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Antiviral and antibacterial.
  • Helping inactivate carcinogens.
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4. Olive oil is anti-inflammatory

Extra-virgin olive oil can reduce inflammation and lower risk of heart disease, research shows. A 2022 report from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that individuals who consumed a half-tablespoon of olive oil every day experienced lower rates of premature death from heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease and other causes.

Research suggests extra-virgin olive oil may fight inflammation as effectively as ibuprofen, a popular anti-inflammation drug. According to the study, oleocanthal — an antioxidant in olive oil — worked similarly to ibuprofen. The oleocanthal levels in 3.4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil has an equivalent effect to 10% of an adult ibuprofen dose, the study suggests.

Extra-virgin olive oil has stronger anti-inflammatory properties than refined olive oil, according to research.

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5. Salmon is good for the brain

Frequently consuming fatty, oily fish like salmon can boost mental health, improve sleep and lower risk of heart disease, as reported by the Deseret News. Salmon is an excellent source of protein, selenium, phosphorus, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week, particularly due to the high omega-3 fatty acid content, which is good for cardiovascular health.

“Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids — a type of fat that makes your blood less likely to form clots that may cause heart attacks,” reports the Mayo Clinic. “Omega-3s may also protect against irregular heartbeats that may cause sudden cardiac death, and they help decrease triglyceride levels, decrease the growth of artery-clogging plaques and slightly lower blood pressure.”

The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon are used by the body to build nerve and brain cells, research shows. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that shows consuming fish at least once per week is associated with lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for mental health. A six-month study found that men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week reported lower symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to men who ate chicken, pork and beef.

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6. Dark, leafy greens may improve bone health

Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium and B vitamins, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dark, leafy greens are also an excellent source of folate, a vitamin essential to healthy cell growth.

“The dark greens supply a significant amount of folate, a B vitamin that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also necessary for DNA duplication and repair which protects against the development of cancer,” reports the USDA.

Collard greens, kale and other dark, leafy greens are a rich source of vitamin K. Research shows vitamin K may improve bone health. A study with 72,320 women ages 38-63 found that the women with low daily vitamin K intakes experienced a significantly increased risk of hip fractures.

7. Dark chocolate may improve brain function

Eating dark chocolate for your health may sound counterintuitive, but it is actually rich with nutrients and can benefit brain function and heart health, as reported by the Deseret News.

“Dark chocolate is packed full of important minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and phosphorus. In your body, these minerals are used to support factors such as immunity (zinc), can help keep your bones and teeth healthy (phosphorus), and contribute to better sleep quality (magnesium),” reports Cleveland Clinic.

Young adult participants in a 2020 study experienced improved cognitive function and neuroplasticity when eating dark chocolate daily.

“Short and middle-term effects of daily cocoa intake may provide young adults with a better cognitive performance in verbal learning, memory, and attention favoring academic achievement,” reports the study.

Dark chocolate is also associated with positive effects on mood and mental health. A study from the University College in London found that those who frequently ate dark chocolate were significantly less likely to report feeling depressive symptoms. The same impact was not found for milk chocolate, per the American Psychiatric Association.

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8. Legumes keep blood sugar in check

Beans, lentils and peas are all part of the legume family. Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, protein and iron, according to Harvard Health.

“Legumes are among the highest-fiber sources of carbohydrates, giving them a lower glycemic index than other carb sources and helping with blood sugar control,” Laura Poe, a registered dietitian who is in private practice in Viroqua, Wisconsin, told Everyday Health. “They can help us feel fuller for longer and avoid snacking between meals.”

Legumes can help lower blood sugar levels. A 2018 study looked at the impact eating legumes had on more than 3,000 individuals with baseline Type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that those with the highest intake of lentils had significantly lower rates of diabetes.

9. Avocados can help reduce inflammation

Avocados are a nutrient-dense fruit that may help reduce inflammation and lower risk of chronic diseases, reports Healthline.

“In addition to being an excellent source of heart-healthy fats, avocados are loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that help with cholesterol, bone density, skincare, eye health, and more,” reports RealSimple.

The fatty acids in avocados may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease if eaten frequently, reports the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Fruit fiber, which is found in avocado, may lower risk of several chronic diseases such as stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and some gastrointestinal diseases, according to a 2018 study.

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