Vegetables and I haven’t always gotten along. I couldn’t eat broccoli without drowning it in Cheese Whiz until I was at least 18. And Kale? Forget it. I was lucky to eat one serving of vegetables a day. Luckily, I grew up, my tastes changed, and I can actually look forward to some broccoli and bell pepper stir fried in ghee with eggs for breakfast. However, I understand that even when you have the motivation to eat healthy, it can be hard to look forward to eating vegetables. So if you want to eat as healthy as possible, with the lowest volume of vegetables, it makes sense to choose the most nutritious vegetables so that you can get the most nutrients out of every (forced) bite.
Top 10 Most Nutritious Vegetables
- Dark, leafy greens (these are actually the top 9)
- Brussel Sprouts
- Bell Peppers
What Does ‘Most Nutritious’ Mean?
You may read that list of most nutritious vegetables and be wondering, how do you determine how nutritious a vegetable is compared to other vegetables? Because each vegetable has a different combination of nutrients, it is possible to rank them in several different ways. You could rank based on vitamin content, or antioxidant content, or even mineral content. However, the most accepted and general way to compare the ‘nutritiousness’ of any food is to calculate its nutrient density. Nutrient density is calculated as the nutrients per calorie of a food, where 34 micronutrients are considered. This is sometimes called the ANDI or Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.
The ANDI is a scaled score, where foods are ranked from 1-1000, with the top 4 leafy greens scoring 1000, and Cola scoring a 1. (View all foods on the ANDI scale here)
The nutrients considered in the ANDI score are as follows: fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin K, phytosterols, glucosinolates, angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, aromatase inhibitors, resistant starch, resveratrol plus ORAC score. ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a measure of the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of a food.
Related: Top 5 Health Hacks for Busy People
Dark, Leafy Greens Reign Supreme
In the interest of those who dislike greens and salads like me, I grouped the top 9 most nutritious vegetables into one bullet point. However, the nutritional value of these foods cannot be overstated. In the world of vegetables, they reign supreme; the next vegetable on the list, brussel sprouts, gets a score less than half of the top 4 leafy greens!
Lets take a look at the leafy green scores:
- Kale – 1000
- Collard Greens – 1000
- Mustard Greens – 1000
- Watercress – 1000
- Swiss Chard – 895
- Bok Choy – 865
- Spinach – 707
- Arugula – 604
- Romaine – 510
- Brussel Sprouts – 490
Turns out they don’t call kale a superfood for no reason. Not only does it get a perfect score on the ANDI scale, it’s actually pretty edible as leafy greens go (I know those of you who live near me in the south prefer collard greens, and more power to you, but I could never get used to the taste). I once tried watercress, and found out very quickly that it tastes like pepper (which obviously ruined my green strawberry smoothie).
If you are, in fact, a salad person, rejoice! Each bite of a salad with a mix of these greens is as packed with nutrients as a bite of food could possibly be (assuming half of that bite isn’t Ranch dressing…).
Greens are Supreme but They Can’t Reign Alone
While dark, leafy green vegetables have the highest nutrient density, they don’t contain all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. So while everything else may look much less nutritious based on their ANDI scores, remember that each vegetable contains its own unique set of nutrients, and each one has important components to contribute to your overall health.
First, lets take a look at the remaining scores:
- Carrots – 458
- Cabbage – 434
- Broccoli – 340
- Cauliflower – 315
- Bell Peppers – 265
- Asparagus – 205
- Tomatoes – 186
- Zucchini – 164
I know that after the amazing scores of the greens, these look pretty sad. The reason for this is that each of these vegetables specializes in only a few nutrients, which lowers its overall score when 34 nutrients are considered. For example, bell peppers are super high in vitamin C , carrots are high in beta-carotene, and tomatoes have tons of lycopene (protects your skin from the sun from the inside out).
The best way to stay healthy is to eat a variety of vegetables to get the full array of nutrients your body needs.
As a rule of thumb, keep your diet as colorful as possible. If you can only get down 3 servings of vegetables a day, make sure each one is a different color, and try to make one of them a leafy green if possible. I personally like to add kale or spinach to my morning smoothie, because with enough fruit I can hardly taste it!
Do you have a favorite vegetable recipe, or a fantastic idea for making vegetables easier to eat? Let me know in the comments! I’m sure everyone could use more tips on how to make it easier to enjoy these nutrient-dense foods.