Just How “Super” Are Your Favorite Superfoods?

spinach_smoothie_020_PhotoMikeGartenPhotographed By Mike Garten.
Even if you have just a casual interest in nutrition, you've probably noticed that many what-you-should-be-eating articles have a habit of contradicting one another. The majority of the claims out there should be taken with a side of skepticism, partly due to methodological issues with a significant portion of available studies. Then, there's the fact that much of the "miracle" food information we hear has been calculated by clever marketers invested in the (staggeringly profitable) health-food industry.
So, when weeding through the endless contradictory "facts," the best strategy is to look for large studies that a) have been published in peer-reviewed journals and b) prove something objective and quantifiable. This week brings a great example from the CDC that ranks the 41 most nutritious "superfoods" in order of nutrient density.
The study looked at 47 commonly hyped foods to see whether they qualify as "powerhouse fruits and vegetables" — a.k.a. whether they provide at least 10% of the total recommended daily value of 17 essential nutrients per 100 calories. These are the nutrients the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations deems vital for overall health and disease prevention, including: fiber; iron; protein; calcium; zinc; and vitamins A, C, D, and E. Each food was analyzed to calculate a nutrient density score, and 41 passed the "powerhouse" threshold with a score greater than 10. The six that didn't make the cut were garlic, onion, raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, and blueberries.
Of course, nutrient density is a limited measure — 100 calories is a pretty arbitrary value, and depending on the fruit or vegetable, may not be realistic in terms of actual consumption. (You're a lot less likely to eat 100 calories of lemon or parsley than 100 calories of sweet potato.) And, while the foods that didn't pass the "powerhouse" test might not be as nutrient-packed, they're still beneficial; garlic, for example, is great for your immune system, while blueberries are known to be full of antioxidants.
Still, for anyone who's looking to maximize their nutrient intake naturally, this list is a great place to start. Check out the "powerhouse" picks below to see how your favorites performed.
Watercress: 100.00
Chinese cabbage: 91.99
Chard: 89.27
Beet greens: 87.08
Spinach: 86.43
Chicory: 73.36
Leaf lettuce: 70.73
Parsley: 65.59
Romaine lettuce: 63.48
Collard greens: 62.49
Turnip greens: 62.12
Mustard greens: 61.39
Endive: 60.44
Chives: 54.80
Kale: 49.07
Dandelion greens: 46.34
Red pepper: 41.26
Arugula: 37.65
Broccoli: 34.89
Pumpkin: 33.82
Brussels sprouts: 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 varieties): 13.89
Orange: 12.91
Lime: 12.23
Grapefruit (pink and red): 11.64
Rutabaga: 11.58
Turnip: 11.43
Blackberry: 11.39
Leek: 10.69
Sweet potato: 10.51
Grapefruit (white): 10.47

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