Powerhouse Fruits and Veggies Pack a Nutritional Punch

Nutritional density used to mark powerhouse fruits and vegetables like watercress and spinach

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) We know we are supposed to eat our veggies and our greens, but with such variety available, which ones should we focus on? A new study aimed to identify "powerhouse" produce.

This new study analyzed the nutritional density of fruits and vegetables in an attempt to identify the most nutritionally powerful items.

The study identified a number of highly nutritionally dense, "powerhouse" fruits and vegetables, including watercress, chard and spinach.

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According to the author of this study, Jennifer Di Noia, PhD, an associate professor with the Department of Sociology at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, "Powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV), foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk, are described as green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus, and cruciferous items, but a clear definition of PFV is lacking."

In an attempt to better define these powerhouse items, Dr. Di Noia aimed to identify foods that had, on average, 10 percent or more of the daily value of 17 specific nutrients per every 100 calories of the food. The nutrients analyzed have been highlighted by a variety of health and governmental organizations, and include potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins A and C, among others.

Dr. Di Noia analyzed 47 raw foods, which were chosen based on the loose definition of "green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus and cruciferous" powerhouse fruits and vegetables. The 47 foods were also chosen based on their associations with reduced risk for health issues like heart disease and cancer, as seen in previous studies.

After analyzing the foods, Dr. Di Noia found that 41 met the study's definition of powerhouse food, which required a "nutrient density score" of at least 10. The average score of qualifying items was 32.23, but scores ranged from 10.47 to 122.68.

Dr. Di Noia noted that cruciferous foods (e.g., watercress, Chinese cabbage, collard green, kale and arugula) and green leafy items (e.g., chard, beet green, spinach, chicory and leaf lettuce) had the highest nutritional density scores. Items in the yellow/orange category (e.g., carrot, tomato, winter squash and sweet potato), the allium group (e.g., scallion and leek), and citrus and berries (e.g., lemon, grapefruit and blackberry) all fell into the lower half of the qualifying nutritional density scores.

The six foods studied that did not meet the powerhouse qualifications were raspberry, tangerine, cranberry, garlic, onion and blueberry.

Dr. Di Noia noted that these findings may be useful in providing more clear and specific messages to the public about powerhouse fruits and vegetables and the nutritional benefits they may provide.

It is important to note that this study analyzed only certain foods, and that further research is needed to continue to explore the concept of powerhouse foods.

This study was published online June 5 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Diseases. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
June 6, 2014
Last Updated:
June 8, 2014