Nutrient Dense Foods

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nutrient dense foods chartNutrient dense foods are fast becoming the new way of looking at how we eat and shop for groceries.

As more and more people realize that the most nutritious foods are whole foods found in the produce section and not what lines the shelves in the middle of the store, ways to determine what makes a food a powerhouse fruit and vegetable (PFV) are being developed so that there is a concrete system of understanding which foods are best.

Powerhouse fruits and vegetables are the ones most associated with reducing chronic disease risk.

In a study published in a 2014 issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, author Jennifer De Noia developed and verified a classification scheme that defined PFV as those foods that provide on average 10 percent or more of the daily value of 17 qualifying nutrients, which included protein, calcium, fiber, niacin, folate, riboflavin, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. Forty-seven foods were studied for the nutrient dense foods list, and of those 47, all but six passed the PFV criterion.

The foods that did not pass and make the list of healthy foods were raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onions, and blueberries. However, just because those six didn’t pass the criterion doesn’t mean we should avoid them, according to De Noia. These foods are nevertheless packed with nutrients and antioxidants and should be consumed as well. Eating from a wide range of fruits and vegetables is the best option for optimal health.

Best Nutrient Dense Foods

George Mateljan, biologist, nutritionist, and founder of The George Mateljan Foundation, a non-profit foundation that wants to help people become healthier, says in his book The World’s Healthiest Foods says that the healthiest foods to eat in the world are those that are the most nutrient-dense, which is different from empty calorie foods (calories from added sugar and solid fats), calorie dense foods (foods that are unnecessarily high in calories), and energy dense foods (foods that have a high calorie intake for every gram).

Mateljan says that nutrient-dense foods are also those that are the tastiest, most abundant, available and common foods on earth, which means there is little excuse for most of us to not be eating from the list. Examples of nutrient dense foods are below. Eat them fresh as often as possible so the nutrient values are retained 100%. Cooking releases some of the vitamins and nutrients, but not enough to be overly concerned. Do avoid boiling these foods, though, because that will destroy most of everything that’s good for you in them.

Nutrient Dense Fruits

The Food Guide Pyramid says we need to consume two to four servings of fruit per day. Try to switch it up so you aren’t eating from the same selection day in and day out. Also, fruit juice doesn’t really count as eating a serving of fruit; it’s better to eat the whole fruit so every part of it, particularly the fibrous matter and skin (which has an incredible amount of goodness in it), is put into your body.

Nutrient Dense Vegetables

As with the fruit, eating raw vegetables as much as possible is far more nutritious then eating them cooked, and avoid boiling vegetables as well because many nutrients and minerals will be lost. The Food Guide Pyramid suggests eating five servings of vegetables a day.

Below is a list of healthy foods to eat and their respective nutrient density values. These are the 41 powerhouse fruits and vegetables from the De Noia study.

Top 41 Powerhouse Nutrient Dense Foods

Food Nutrient Density
Watercress 100.00
Chinese cabbage 91.99
Chard 89.27
Beet green 87.08
Spinach 86.43
Chicory 73.36
Leaf lettuce 70.73
Parsley 65.59
Romaine lettuce 63.48
Collard green 62.49
Turnip green 62.12
Mustard green 61.39
Endive 60.44
Chive 54.80
Kale 49.07
Dandelion green 46.34
Red pepper 41.26
Arugula 37.65
Broccoli 34.89
Pumpkin 33.82
Brussels sprout 32.23
Scallion 27.35
Kohlrabi 25.92
Cauliflower 25.13
Cabbage 24.51
Carrot 22.60
Tomato 20.37
Lemon 18.72
Iceberg lettuce 18.28
Strawberry 17.59
Radish 16.91
Winter squash (all) 13.89
Orange 12.91
Lime 12.23
Blackberry 11.69
Grapefruit (pink and red) 11.64
Rutabaga 11.58
Turnip 11.43
Leek 10.69
Sweet potato 10.51
Grapefruit (white) 10.47

Other fruits that are nutrient-dense but not recognized on De Noia’s scheme are cantaloupe, apples, bananas, apricots, grapes, papaya, pears, plums, prunes, raspberries, and watermelon.

Nutrient-Dense Dairy Products

When choosing dairy products, opt for low-fat options (up to two percent) as opposed to whole-fat ones. Some of the best choices are:

  • Cheese
  • Cow’s milk
  • Eggs
  • Goat’s milk

There are so many wonderfully healthy choices in the above nutrient dense foods chart that an assortment can easily be added to meals, ready to be consumed throughout the day. Try eating as many nutrient-dense foods as possible per day and from as many sources, and switch it up every week to reap the benefits of eating whole foods packed with vitamins and minerals.

Sources for Today’s Article:
“Eating Well as You Get Older,” NIH Senior Health web site;, last accessed March 15, 2016.
Di Noia, J., “Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach,” Preventing Chronic Disease, 2014; doi:11:130390.
“The 41 Most Nutrient Dense Fruits and Vegetables,” Global News web site;, last accessed March 15, 2016.
“20 Healthy Foods that Give You Everything You Need,” Shape web site;, last accessed March 15, 2016.
“11 Most Nutrient Dense Foods on the Planet,” Authority Nutrition web site;, last accessed March 15, 2016.
“Top 10 Most Nutrient-rich Foods in the World,” Lifehack web site;, last accessed March 15, 2016.
“What Is Energy Density?,” British Nutrition Foundation web site;, last accessed March 16, 2016.
“Food Guide Pyramid – Graphic Resources,” United States Department of Agriculture web site;, last accessed March 16, 2016.