Many fruits and vegetables can help prevent chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers. Scientists call these kinds of fruits and vegetables “powerhouse fruits and vegetables,” or PFV’s.
Dietary researcher Jennifer Di Noia, Ph.D., of William Paterson University decided to quantify the nutritional benefits of some of the most popular fruits and vegetables. Of the 47 foods she tested, only 41 were good enough for her to deem them “powerhouse” foods. Her findings were then published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a peer-reviewed journal managed by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
PFV’s have previously been described as green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus, and cruciferous items, so Di Noia decided to look at the densities of key nutrients in these kinds of fruits and vegetables.
The point system she devised is a nutrients-to-calories ratio. Using guidelines provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine, she looked at nutrients considered important to public health, including potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. Basically, the higher ranking the food, the more nutrients-per-calories it provides.
A few key foods notably not included in the study were raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onions, and blueberries. Though most people would expect to see these somewhere on the list, Di Noia explains that they didn’t make the cut because they were not rich enough sources of the nutrients she was looking at. These popular foods get their health benefits from phytochemicals, which she was not measuring for this study.
The goal of this study is to provide a guide for consumers to make sure they are focusing on the most nutrient rich foods possible when shopping. Here is a complete list of the powerhouse fruits and vegetables in the study with their corresponding scores:
Chinese cabbage: 91.99
Beet green: 87.08
Leaf lettuce: 70.73
Romaine lettuce: 63.48
Collard green: 62.49
Turnip green: 62.12
Mustard green: 61.39
Dandelion green: 46.34
Red pepper: 41.26
Brussels sprout: 32.23
Iceberg lettuce: 18.28
Winter squash (all varieties): 13.89
Grapefruit (pink and red): 11.64
Sweet potato: 10.51
Grapefruit (white): 10.47