With the overload of info on nutrition and health, figuring out which foods to incorporate into your diet can be confusing. Luckily, Dr. Jennifer Di Noia has created a classification system that makes it easy to determine which fruits and vegetables will give you the most nutrient-rich bang for your proverbial buck.
Dr. Di Noia received her Ph.D. in Social Welfare from Columbia University in 2000 and her research focuses on the factors that influence the dietary habits of different populations. In her study, “Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach”, Dr. Di Noia points out that the nutrient densities of different foods have not been clearly defined for the general public and creates a straight-forward framework for classifying the nutritional value of different fruits and vegetables in order to help individuals identify which foods provide the most concentrated nutritional value. I am asked all the time which vegetables have the most nutrients, or which fruits should I be giving to my kids, so this study is awesome for everyone from moms to someone just looking to clean up their diet a bit.
Dr. Di Noia studied 47 different fruits and vegetables including leafy greens, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, citrus, and cruciferous vegetables and then ranked each item on a 0-100 scale based on its concentration of nutrients that protect against chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and some cancers. Foods with a score of 100 were shown to provide 100% of the daily value of the 17 nutrients that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine deems to be most important to public health: potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.
While it’s not surprising that green vegetables were found to be the most nutrient dense of all of the foods in the study, the greens that made it to the top of the list are somewhat unexpected. Despite the recent craze over kale, it ranked a 49.07 placing it at number 15 on the list below mustard greens, turnip greens, and collard greens. Romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, and spinach came in at numbers 9, 7, and 5, respectively, while chard, Chinese cabbage, and watercress topped the list with watercress in first place for the highest nutrient density of all of the foods studied!
Dr. Di Noia points out that further study is necessary to refine the classification system. She also noted that the study was limited only to particular food groups that are commonly available and did not include some of the more exotic nutrient-rich foods such as reishi mushrooms, acai berries, and chia seeds that have been deemed superfoods due to their extensive lists of health benefits. Hopefully, as researchers continue to clarify the nutritional benefits of specific powerhouse fruits and vegetables, it will become easier for absolutely everyone to achieve optimal health by incorporating nourishing whole foods into their diets every day!