Highest food nutrient density scores
Chinese cabbage 91.99
Beet green 87.08
Leaf lettuce 70.73
Romaine lettuce 63.48
Collard green 62.49
Turnip green 62.12
Mustard green 61.39
Dandelion green 46.34
Red pepper 41.26
Brussels sprout 32.23
Iceberg lettuce 18.28
Winter squash (all varieties) 13.89
Grapefruit (pink and red) 11.64
Sweet potato 10.51
Grapefruit (white) 10.47
Food fads are everywhere. From trendy diets to the latest popular food, people are constantly looking for the healthiest options to include in their diets.
Kale, cauliflower, quinoa, coconut oil, tea and green juices are some “superfoods” with entire blogs devoted to their value as sustenance. But nutritionists argue although these foods are popular, they are not necessarily healthier or more nutrient rich than traditional fruits and veggies.
“People think that these foods they see praised on websites and in magazines have so much more nutritional value, but it’s really about the variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet,” said Karen Zinka, registered dietitian with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Bariatric and Metabolic Institute. “Different fruits and vegetables have different compositions of vitamins and minerals.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study measuring the nutrient density of 47 fruits and vegetables to determine which ones are “powerhouse” foods. Many trendy and popular health foods only made the middle of the list.
“Items in cruciferous (watercress, Chinese cabbage, collard green, kale and arugula) and green leafy (chard, beet green, spinach, chicory and leaf lettuce) groups were concentrated in the top half of the distribution of scores whereas items belonging to yellow/orange (carrot, tomato, winter squash and sweet potato), allium (scallion and leek), citrus (lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit), and berry (strawberry and blackberry) groups were concentrated in the bottom half,” Dr. Jennifer Di Nora wrote in the results of her study.
Watercress, chard and spinach all ranked higher than kale and cauliflower in the study. Zinka credits the rise of kale and other trendy foods to blogs and other professionals such as personal trainers and independent nutrition consultants.
“Kale wasn’t that popular before, but in my opinion, it’s not any better than spinach,” Zinka said. “I think in the grocery store, people tended to overlook things before that they see in magazines now.”
Zinka did note, however, replacing unhealthy foods such as potato chips with healthier options such as vegetable chips has become popular with the rise of “superfoods” and is beneficial.
“People are substituting things like kale chips for potato chips, which is good because they are getting more vitamins and minerals from the kale than from the potato,” she said. “I love nonstarchy vegetables. I tell my clients that they are almost free foods because you can basically eat as much as you want.”
Nonstarchy foods such as broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower are low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. Zinka encourages people to eat plenty of these vegetables but mentions kale is not necessarily better than broccoli. In fact, the CDC study mentions 41 out of 47 foods studied fit the “powerhouse” or “superfood” criteria, including kale and broccoli.
“Of 47 foods studied, all but 6 (raspberry, tangerine, cranberry, garlic, onion and blueberry) satisfied the powerhouse criterion,” Di Nora wrote.
Zinka mentioned green juices are a good way to get vitamins and minerals from all nutrient-rich foods but people should not rely solely on liquids for their nutrition.
“People shouldn’t drink their calories,” Zinka said. “Don’t overdo anything. Drinking just juices for five days can be detrimental to your body.”
The dietitian also warned against fad diets and diets designed for certain allergies or health issues. She mentioned going gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, Paleo or partaking in other diet plans can be dangerous if people don’t know where to get the nutrition they are eliminating.
“No one should really be going gluten-free unless they are diagnosed with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance,” Zinka said. “The whole idea of staying away from something or eliminating something from a diet is bad because you need nutrition from every food group.”
Zinka emphasized everything is necessary in moderation and some diets paint some foods in a bad light, especially in blogs or on websites.
“There’s really nothing wrong with dairy or beans,” Zinka said of the Paleo diet. “But the diets that include whole foods or eating things that are less processed have some merit.”
She said people should look for common denominators in diets, such as eating simpler foods, balancing food groups or avoiding processed foods. She also emphasized researching the diet in question and looking at the author of certain articles.
“You may be reading an article on nutrition on a bodybuilding website, but the author has a degree in English,” she said. “They probably don’t have as much experience in nutrition as a doctor or dietitian.”
Zinka also said fad, trendy or unbalanced diets put users at risk for weight gain if they deviate from the plan or eat foods not designated in the diet plan.
“Most of these diets are very strict,” she said. “People are really excited in the beginning, but it’s hard to stick to a strict diet, so they stop and gain weight back.”