Eating for Health

Published on June 25th, 2014 | by Mary Gerush


Here’s a List of the Healthiest Vegetables and Fruits You Can Eat

Watercress - Healthiest Vegetables

Eat more watercress! It tops the list of healthiest vegetables and fruits in a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists believe eating “powerhouse” produce has the potential to reduce your risk of chronic diseases. Powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFVs) are loosely defined as “green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus, and cruciferous items,” but until recently, a defined method for identifying a specific produce item as “powerhouse” didn’t exist. Dr. Jennifer Di Noia did some research to address this gap, defining a formula to calculate a vegetable’s or fruit’s nutritional strength and using that number to create a list of 41 PFVs in order of their healthful benefits.

In general, green leafy and cruciferous vegetables landed in the top half of the list while foods classified as yellow/orange, allium, citrus, and berry were concentrated in the bottom half.

And the Top 10 Healthiest Vegetables Are…

  1. Watercress
  2. Chinese Cabbage
  3. Chard
  4. Beet Greens
  5. Spinach
  6. Chicory
  7. Leaf Lettuce
  8. Parsley
  9. Romain Lettuce
  10. Collard Greens

Sorry kale lovers: it ranked 15. Other results of interest to me (because these are some of my favorite PFVs): Arugula ranked 18th. And carrots, tomatoes, and lemons hit numbers 26, 27, and 28.

The good news? All of the foods that made the list are considered “powerhouse” — the healthiest vegetables and fruits you can eat. So take a look at the entire list from the published research and see where your favorites fall.

Table 2. Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables (N = 41), by Ranking of Nutrient Density Scores*, 2014
Item Nutrient Density Score
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 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

*Calculated as the mean of percent daily values (DVs) (based on a 2,000 kcal/d diet) for 17 nutrients (potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K) as provided by 100 g of food, expressed per 100 kcal of food. Scores above 100 were capped at 100 (indicating that the food provides, on average, 100% DV of the qualifying nutrients per 100 kcal).

Image Credit: Watercress via Shutterstock

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About the Author

Hi all! I'm Mary Gerush - a recovering corporate worker bee turned good-farm-real-food advocate and writer who wants to help people understand what they're eating. I tend a tiny urban farm in Dallas, TX, and hope to scale up one day soon. Omnivore through-and-through, there's not much I love to eat more than a butter-basted grass fed steak fresh from a searing hot cast iron skillet. Follow me on , , and !

13 Responses to Here’s a List of the Healthiest Vegetables and Fruits You Can Eat

  1. Kanna-Chan says:

    I eat dandelion greens

    • Mary Gerush says:

      Thanks for the comment. Do you buy them at the store or pick them in your yard? I’ll have to give them a try…

      • Kanna-Chan says:

        I don’t use chemicals in my yard so I just pick them. You can eat them at any size though the bigger they are, the more bitter they are. The small ones are okay to eat raw in salads but you want to cook the bigger ones. I always boil them, drain them,then scramble them with some eggs.

  2. jgirl33062 says:

    I would like to know which nutrients these veggies and fruits have. There’s a rating scale, but not much more info.

  3. Ann says:

    I would NEVER have guessed watercress. I’ve never bought any. Any suggestions or favorite recipes to incorporate it into the diet?

    • I really like a little watercress tossed in with salad greens. It’s also a nice way to add crunch to a sandwich instead of lettuce or sprouts.

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  5. Pingback: Tis the Season of Beets! Delious, Nutritious - Here's Many Ways to Eat Beets and Why - In the Garden

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  8. Thank you for this list and for including links to your sources. I especially appreciate being able to drill down for that information. I shared this on a Facebook page I manage called Cooking with Whole Grains & Whole Foods. Hope it brings you some visitors!

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