September is Local Food Month! Most of us know that locally grown vegetables are good for our health. But which vegetables are most nutritious? Ranking highest on a list are local favorites, with watercress as number one, and Chinese cabbage (won bok) coming in second, followed by chard, beet greens and spinach in the top five. These were the results of a recent study that defines and ranked “powerhouse” foods based on their nutrient density.1 To see the full list click here. The study was published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease. These “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced chronic disease risk and are often locally grown here in Hawaii!
The study scored foods based on their nutrient density, specifically looking at their content of protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. These 17 nutrients are important to public health per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Institute of Medicine. Other factors such as lower-calorie foods and bioavailability (how much of the food eaten is actually absorbed by the body) were also taken into account.
Phytochemicals, non-essential nutrients known to fight and prevent disease including cancer and inflammation, were not measured because “uniform data on food phytochemicals and intake recommendations are lacking.” This is why many phytochemical-rich fruits, although very nutritious, did not make the list. However, it is still important to eat them.
So include more “powerhouse” vegetables and fruits to your healthy diet, especially if they are locally grown as they will be fresher and often more affordable! As always, you should not make any drastic dietary changes without first consulting a doctor or dietitian.
- Di Noia J. Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130390. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130390