The Top 41 Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables by Nutrient Density. Kale is only #15



A study recently published in the Center for Disease Control’s Preventing Chronic Disease journal aimed to classify the fruits and vegetables that are super foods. The term coined for these foods was Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables (PFV).

The scientist behind the research, Jennifer Di Noia of William Paterson University of New Jersey, developed and validated a classification scheme based on the nutrient density per 100 calories of each food. No less than 17 nutrients were analyzed for each food: potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.

As you can see below, leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables dominate the list.

Powerhouse Fruits and Veggies

A few observations:

  1. Who would have thought that watercress would be the top scoring food?
  2. Only 7 of the 41 items listed are fruits
  3. Kale is rated much lower than expected
  4. Notably absent from the list are: raspberries, blueberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, and onion. That’s not to say they are not nutritious. Perhaps their omission is due to the omission of phytochemicals in this study.
  • Karrina Chiusa

    Thats so strange! gonna buy some watercress now!

  • Anna

    This doesn’t make sense to me at all. How is ROMAINE in the top ten? The only nutrient that has a decent amount of is vitamin A, and it’s still not a lot.

  • ivocado

    I’m very surprised iceberg lettuce made the list!

  • cheftink

    27 cups of watercress = 100 kcals ! This chart is very misleading! The top foods are all very low kcal foods and it would take an unrealistic amount to satisfy the 100 kcal serving!

    • Fooducate

      Good point!

    • Adrian

      Yes, this info is academic: quite useless and misleading without context.

    • stargecko

      The whole thing was weighted by how many nutrients are available in 100 grams (density), and if you read the study their major purpose was just to define a method of *analyzing* food nutrient density. There was no set way to analyze nutrient density, so with this other scientists can take their methods and do even better studies.

    • islandinthesunniest

      This is in terms of density though, which means the measure has been normalized per chosen relevant parameter, in this case by energy. They measured nutrients/kcal. They had to measure by 100 kcal because maybe it’s rather difficult to get a good sampling of the chosen nutrients at smaller amounts of the foods, and also they have to consider energy-equivalent volumes that work for all of the foods.

    • charles Bland

      Watercress is nutrient dense and low caloric value, you can eat as mich as you want, you obtain your micronutrients from the watercress, and your calories from carbs, fats and protiens.

  • tree

    I wonder why she charted them based on “per 100 calories??” Wouldn’t it make more sense if they were listed based on “a serving” ? Where can we read the actual study?

  • Sheila Kealey

    You can find the full publication here: and AICR’s well-written perspective on the research here:
    Of note, phytochemical data wasn’t included (which is why some fruit/veg didn’t make the list). A good take-home message is that leafy greens & cruciferous are important to include in your diet (but generally, a variety of fruits/vegetables is best for health)

  • H2O

    Thanks for the reminder to try to incoperate more of these in our diet, there’s a lot in the list I’ve never tried .

  • KWD

    This is a nice reference chart. Watercress apparently has supreme antioxidant density.

    This video covers findings from recent published studies on watercress and its effect on blunting oxidative damage:

  • Dave Evans

    Looks like anything green bubbles to the top. Maybe a Heineken Lite should be considered.

  • Mark O. Hammontree

    Thanks for putting this together. Good info.

  • sarah

    Love this list! Surprising that romaine is below kale, but it definitely gives me new veggies to try out!

    xoxo Sarah Grace, Fresh Fit N Healthy.

  • Carol H

    The per-100-calories thing is so that water content (the major component by weight of veggies and fruits) will not skew the results. That said, this is still a misleading and moderately useless list since it doesn’t consider all beneficial nutrients (probably because they relied on USDA nutrient database tables, which don’t show data for every nutrient), nor seasonality, etc. All these foods are good for you, but someone might interpret that only the top scorers are. Any food with natural sugar content will obviously have more calories, so those foods get dinged even if they are a great source of nutrients. Nutrient density studies of foods have been done for decades, so not much is new here; this is someone’s twist on it for the sake of getting something published. The criteria selected are what’s driving the list — if any fatty acids or magnesium were included, a completely different list would generate. And yes… no one eats 100 calories of plain (undressed) leafy greens in one sitting, but that’s how much would be required in order to obtain 100% DV of some of those nutrients. Five cups of chopped parsley, anyone?

  • Arjan den Hollander.

    Completely useless list to be disregarded immediately.

    Do the research again with a standard of weight.
    This gives at least an indication of how much a person can eat,i thus utilize.

  • Food lover

    What is meant by “nutrient”? This list does not have complete value because it is making overarching claims. Vegetables can’t really be ranked like this. People just need to know that if you eat all fruits and vegetables you will be healthy. It is that simple.

  • Billy Banegas

    I would think the best way to take advantage of this list would be by juicing. Some of these plants, like mustard greens, grow profusely all over the US. You could then add them in large quantities to your morning vegetable shake.

  • Dnalsi

    This chart compares 27 cups of watercress to
    13 cups iceberg lettuce
    5 cups of radish
    3 cups of kale
    1.6 cup of black berries
    1 cup grapefruit
    .5 cup of sweet potato

    Obviously the researcher had this info and chose NOT to add another column showing the context of just how much of each veggie it takes to make 100 calories.
    For 100 calories you also can eat
    3 oz of raw pink salmon
    1.5 oz of cooked lamb liver

    How about re-ranking these based on nutrient density per actual serving size?