What it's good for: Mood boosting
This bright-green spring veggie is an excellent spring superfood that's loaded with vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, as well as minerals like calcium, copper, iron, folate, protein and fiber. Thanks to the B6 and folate, asparagus is also considered a mood booster, among a myriad of other benefits. And while it's known for making your urine smell thanks to asparagusic acid that's converted into sulfur-containing compounds, it also contains amino acid asparagine, which is a natural diuretic that keeps your urinary tract healthy.
What they're good for: Heart health, cancer prevention, liver function
A popular springtime vegetable -- at their peak from March to May -- artichokes may require more work to prepare than most, but they payoff in taste and nutrition is huge. And while the tender artichoke heart is often everyone's favorite part, the leaves actually contain many of the health benefits. Artichokes are a great source of dietary fiber, folate, and vitamins C and K, as well as numerous phytonutrients. Artichokes and artichoke leaf extract have proven to help reduce cholesterol levels, as well as help with digestive and liver health, and they contain cancer-fighting antioxidants.
What they're good for: Packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants
Forget about the Chia Pets of the '80s and '90s, chia seeds are now a popular superfood that contain beneficial antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium along other minerals and vitamins. And just 1 ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains around 4 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber. And while more studies need to be done to determine if chia seeds can help with weight loss and heart health, the small, nutrient-packed seeds are filling and have a mild, nutty flavor. They can be easily added to a variety of foods, including smoothies, muffins, and salads, and by soaking the seeds in water or milk, you can make a pudding.
What they're good for: Healthy bones, teeth and skin, immune booster
Also known as wild leeks, ramps are a member of the allium family -- which includes garlic and onions -- and have a short growing season from April to June. Most often found at farmers markets or growing wild, ramps contain high amounts of vitamin A for healthy teeth, skin and bones, as well as immune boosting antioxidant vitamin C, along with important minerals like selenium and chromium for brain function and metabolizing of fats, insulin, and cholesterol.
What it's good for: Improving digestive health and heart health
You've likely enjoyed miso soup before a sushi dinner, but chances are you haven't given much thought to miso's health benefits. A paste made from fermented soybeans, miso has been used in Japanese cooking for centuries and contains a multitude of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. Thanks to the fermentation process, miso also contains beneficial probiotics, which help improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients. And while miso can be high in sodium and should be consumed in limited quantities, it's thought to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to soup, miso can be used in dressings, dips and marinades.
What it's good for: Bone and heart health, lowering blood pressure, immunity
High in heart-healthy fiber and potassium, licorice-flavored fennel is a springtime favorite that's been used for centuries for its nutritional benefits and flavor. The bulb, stalk, leaves, and seeds are edible and are great for bone health thanks to high levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin K, and manganese. Fennel's potassium, magnesium, and dietary nitrates are thought to help lower blood pressure, while selenium boosts immunity and choline helps with sleep, muscle movement and memory, and helps reduce inflammation.
What it's good for: Boosting energy, libido and memory
Grown high in the Andes of central Peru, maca is a cruciferous vegetable (think broccoli and Brussels sprouts) that has been used for thousands of years, but only recently gained wide popularity as a superfood that's rich in antioxidants. While more comprehensive studies are needed, maca root powder -- which can be easily added to smoothies, yogurt and soups -- is thought to offer a number of health benefits such as enhanced energy, mood, and memory; increased libido for men; improved sexual health for women; and a boost to brain health.
What they're good for: Improving brain function and mood, reduced inflammation
While most people are aware of the benefits of fish like salmon, these oily little fish -- often packed together in a can -- offer a multitude of similar health benefits while being less expensive. Sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are connected to increased brain function, mood, circulation, and metabolism, while also helping to reduce inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer. Sardines also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and iron for immunity. Opt for wild-caught sardines and consider tossing them into salads or pasta.
What it's good for: Reducing inflammation, indigestion, and menstrual pain
While most of us think of ginger as adding a bit of zing to curries or soda, many people don't realize it's also a superfood that offers several health benefits, both in fresh and dried form. Ginger contains phytonutrients, antioxidant-like compounds that may reduce cell damage and prevent inflammation. Ginger is also known to help settle an upset stomach, relieve menstrual pain, and reduce morning sickness. Some studies have also suggested that ginger can help lower blood sugars and cholesterol, and increase brain function.
What they're good for: Eye health, immunity, nervous system health
Whether you're eating snow peas, English peas or sugar peas, these low-calorie springtime heroes are packed with important nutrients. Peas are cholesterol free and high in fiber and protein. They also contain lutein, an antioxidant nutrient that keeps the cells in your eyes healthy and helps protect against vision loss as you age. High in vitamin C, K, and multiple B-vitamins, peas are also great for boosting your immunity, while minerals like magnesium and phosphorus are great for your immune system, as well as blood, muscle, and bone health.
What they're good for: Boosting immunity and heart health
In recent years, acai berries have been a particularly trendy superfood, often added to smoothies or served in a bowl as a puree with healthy toppings. Grown in the rainforests of Central and South America, the small purple berries are regarded as having high levels of antioxidants -- possibly higher than blueberries and cranberries -- which can help reduce free radicals and reduce cell damage that can lead to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Other preliminary studies suggest they may also help boost brain function and improve cholesterol levels. The berries have a short shelf-life, so they are typically found in puree, powder, or liquid form -- just beware of high levels of added sugar.
What it's good for: Digestive health, bone health
This tart and tangy yogurt-like beverage has recently grown in popularity as a superfood that's nutrient-rich and contains more probiotics than yogurt. The fermented beverage is made by adding cultures of yeast and lactic acid to cow, sheep, or goat milk, which is then strained after 24 hours. Kefir contains protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients, along with 30 different beneficial bacteria and yeast strains that can aid in digestion, reduce flatulence, and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. It's also thought to lower the risk of osteoporosis, and it's often well-tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant as the fermentation removes much of the lactose.
What it's good for: Essential nutrients, reduces inflammation, heart health
If you've eaten sushi or miso soup lately, you've received a good dose of seaweed, but you may not have realized how good it is for you. There are thousands of varieties of seaweed -- most commonly nori (used for sushi), kombu (broth for miso), dulse and arame -- offering a myriad of nutrients, flavors, and textures. Rich in iodine, calcium, iron, and copper, seaweed also contains protein, fiber, vitamin K, and folic acid, while also being low in calories and fat. Seaweed is believed to help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, promote heart health, and fight disease and illness.
What it's good for: Digestive health, vegetarian protein, gluten-free alternative
In recent years, this South American grain has received growing praise as a superfood that packs plenty of protein (it's one of the few plants that contains a complete protein), fiber, and minerals. It's also gluten-free, so it's a great option for those with Celiac disease or who are gluten-intolerant. And while it's typically used like a grain, it's actually a seed from the same family as spinach and beets, and contains several B vitamins and vitamin E. Cooked quinoa is fluffy while still offering a bit of crunch with a nutty flavor, and it can be eaten as a cereal for breakfast, in salads for lunch or as a side at dinner.
DARK LEAFY GREENS
What they're good for: Heart health, bone health, cancer prevention
You were probably told as a kid to eat your greens, but if you didn't listen then -- you should now. Dark leafy greens -- which include kale, spinach, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and more -- offer a wide range of health benefits. Rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, dark greens also contain iron, potassium, calcium, fiber, and magnesium, as well as carotenoids-antioxidants, which protect cells and are thought to help block the early stages of cancer. They also provide a significant amount of folate, the B vitamin that can increase heart health, digestive disorders and birth defects. Vitamin K in dark greens can also help fight against inflammatory diseases and osteoporosis.
What they're good for: Heart health, cancer prevention, digestive health
Mushrooms have been used for centuries for their many nutritional and medicinal benefits, and there are thought to be anywhere from 300 to 2,000 edible varieties -- though only about 10 are grown commercially. Most varieties contain the important B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, as well as the powerful antioxidant selenium, which is thought to help prevent damage to cells and tissues, and boost the immune system. They can also provide dietary fiber, protein, and iron. White button mushrooms are one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D and are thought to help fight against prostate cancer, while maitake, crimini, reishi and other mushrooms are also thought to have cancer-fighting properties.