Fruits, Vegetables, and Disease Risk

Watercress tops a list ranking produce according to nutrient density.

Jun 5, 2014
Tracy Vence

FLICKR, WENDELL SMITHCountless studies have associated eating certain fruits and vegetables with a reduced risk of developing chronic diseases. But which of these so-called superfoods are packing the most punch? In a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Preventing Chronic Disease report released today (June 5), William Patterson University sociologist Jennifer Di Noia ranked 47 fruits and vegetables according to nutrient density, defining 41 “powerhouse” foods—those that provide, on average, 10 percent or more of 17 key nutrients per 100 calories.

Topping the list is watercress, a leafy green that according to Di Noia’s calculations earned a nutrient density score of 100—per the 2005 formula of Nicole Darmon and colleagues, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Chinese cabbage and chard earned second and third places, with nutrient density scores of 91.99 and 89.27, respectively.

One limitation of this list, Di Noia noted, is that because she only examined fruits and vegetables that were previously associated with disease risk or had been highlighted in public health campaigns, some nutrient-dense foods may have been left out. Still, she wrote, “the included foods may aid in improving consumer understanding of PFV [powerhouse fruits and vegetables] and the beneficial nutrients they provide.”

Nutrition researcher Christopher Gardner and clinical psychologist Michael Stanton, both of Stanford University, discuss the “complexities [of] linking food and nutrition to health and disease” in an opinion article appearing in this month’s issue of The Scientist, which is devoted to food.