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Top 10 powerhouse fruits and vegetables

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We've heard about powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFVs) for a decade now. These foods come from the plant world and are strongly linked to reduced chronic disease risk. They include leafy greens, yellow/orange varieties of produce, and cruciferous items. However, the top 10 all come from one category – leafy greens. Until a recent study there was no clear definition of what constituted a powerhouse fruit or vegetable based on nutrients and phytochemicals, but now that's changed.

This study looked at a cross section of foods identified as PFVs using a three-step process. First, they created a list of PFVs based on scientific literature and consumer guidelines. They also looked at berry fruits and allium vegetables based on their association with reduced risks for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, and some cancers. The second step was to calculate a nutrient density score for each food. In the third step, based on what they learned in the first two steps, nutrient dense foods which were identified as those with scores ≥10 were classified as PFV.

While we can all wade through the data of this study, for those who like distilled information, this list offers the top 10 powerhouse fruits and vegetables defined by the percentage of recommended daily value of 17 nutrients as identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine. They include potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zine, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. Of the 47 foods researched in this study, all but 6 satisfied the powerhouse criterion. But you won't believe those that didn't make the cut! Raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onions, and blueberries all fell from the powerhouse category based on these new findings. It's not that any of these foods are unhealthy. For instance blueberries are rich in phytochemicals and are thought to have disease preventative properties. However, because there wasn't good information on recommended intake they weren't factored into the study.

Watercress
Watercress Yumi Kimur on Flickr

Watercress

Watercress comes in number one with a perfect score of 100 on the study's nutrient density scale. This PFV is a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium and Manganese.

Chinese cabbage
Chinese cabbage Alice Henneman on Flickr

Chinese cabbage

Chinese cabbage ranks second on this list of PFVs. It scored 91.99% on the nutrient density scale. Nutritionally it provides a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese. Plus it is a good source of dietary fiber, protein and more.

Chard
Chard Alex on Flickr

Chard

Chard is also called Swiss chard or rainbow chard when it exhibits vibrantly colored stalks. This relative to the beet scored 89.27%. It's a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Beet greens
Beet greens John Roberts on Flickr

Beet greens

Beet greens are a versatile PFV. Add them to soup, salad, smoothies, or stir fly with fish sauce, ginger and garlic. It earned an 87.8% on the scale and is a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Spinach
Spinach Darya Pino on Flickr

Spinach

Spinach has large, vibrant dark green leaves that are eaten raw or cooked. It scored an 86.43% on the nutrient density scale and is a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E,, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Chicory
Chicory Lemmikkipuu on Wikipedia Public Domain

Chicory

Chicory root and greens are edible, but the greens are where you find the PFV nutrients. It weight in with a 73.36%. Chicory greens are a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Leaf lettuce
Leaf lettuce Jamain on commons.wikimedia

Leaf lettuce

Leaf lettuce comes in several varieties and is a type of leafy green that grows in loose clusters of leaves rather than a tight head. Leaf lettuce earns a 70.73% in the study and is a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.

Parsley
Parsley Pbrundel on commons.wikimedia

Parsley

Parsley comes in two varieties: curly and flat leaf. It's used as a popular garnish and offers flavor to soups, casseroles and more. This PFV scored a 65.59%. It's a a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce Photographer Unknown commons.wikimedia

Romaine lettuce

Romaine lettuce offers a variety of texture along with good nutrition. It earned a 63.48% in the study and is a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Folate, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.

Collard greens
Collard greens Evan-Amos commons.wikimedia

Collard greens

Collard greens takes the number 10 slot with a rating of 62.49%. These greens are a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium and Manganese.

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