July 23, 2024
The top fruit on the list include tomatoes, lemons, strawberries, oranges and blackberries.

We know that vegetables are often the healthiest food on the plate – when they do make it onto the plate.

Loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, veggies are known for their health-promoting and disease-prevention properties. New research has ranked vegetables and fruit by their nutrient density or the amount of nutrients obtained per serving. While this information can help us optimize our nutrition, the findings of the study are a bit surprising.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded only one vegetable with a perfect 100% score and it wasn’t cauliflower, broccoli or even kale. A lesser-known green vegetable, watercress, took the title as “top superfood”. Watercress is a leafy green vegetable in the Brassicaceae, or cabbage, family that grows in freshwater. It has a strong peppery and even bitter flavor. Watercress is higher in vitamin A and potassium than other lettuces and has more vitamin C than oranges.

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While watercress can be eaten raw or cooked, how one chooses to prepare it may depend on the type of watercress. Watercress sprouts or microgreens have a milder flavor and texture, making them perfect for eating raw in salads and sandwiches. Mature watercress leaves have a more intense flavor and fibrous texture making them ideal for cooking in soups and stir-fried dishes or blending into a pesto, smoothies or sauces.

The downside to watercress is that it’s not very common. The other vegetables taking the top five spots in the healthiest vegetable list include Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens and spinach, which are more easily found in supermarkets, restaurants and farmer’s markets. Other vegetables ranked high on the list include parsley, romaine lettuce, mustard greens and endive. Not surprisingly, leafy greens like leaf lettuce, arugula and kale all scored higher than iceberg lettuce.

The nutrient density list doesn’t stop with vegetables as fruit were included too, but all scored lower than most veggies. The top fruit on the list include tomatoes, lemons, strawberries, oranges and blackberries.

Here are seven tips to add the most nutrient-dense vegetables and fruit into your meal plan:

Swap out iceberg salads for spinach, romaine, arugula and leaf lettuces.
Add cooked and raw tomatoes to omelets, stews, sauces, salads, and pastas.
Incorporate less familiar leafy green vegetables by adding them to staple vegetable dishes. For example, add sautéed chard, Chinese cabbage or beet greens to a broccoli or green bean dish.
Include raw endive on a crudité plate with other veggies and dips.
Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to homemade salad dressing, soups, smoothies and tea.
Try to incorporate one of the top five vegetables into your menu each week.
Don’t shy away from frozen vegetables and fruit, which typically contain comparable nutrient levels as fresh produce.

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].