Which superfoods are the healthiest?
You'd be surprised: After examining a group of fruits and vegetables recommended as part of a healthy diet per national guidelines, researchers at William Paterson University developed a list
of 41 superfoods, determined by “nutrient density” based on overall nutritional value of 17 essential nutrients (potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, and others) per 100 calories, not just a single vitamin or mineral. Which were the shockers?
This slightly bitter green with a peppery taste earned the No. 1 slot on the list, ahead of nutrient-rich veggies like Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, collard greens, kale, and arugula. (Iceberg lettuce, considered nutritionally light by many, hovered right around the middle of the list.) Watercress is loaded with vitamin A, which studies have shown may help prevent some types of cancer. It’s also high in vitamin C, key to a healthy immune system, as well as vitamin K and calcium, which support strong bones. Watercress even has a bit of protein! Plus, it’s super low-cal—one cup has just 5 calories.
Start using this herb—ranked eighth on the list—as more than a garnish. It’s loaded with vitamins A, C, K, and also provides a good amount of iron, calcium, protein, and potassium, which helps control blood pressure. Two cups chopped is only 35 calories, too. Turn a big bunch into parsley pesto, then toss with pasta or brush on lean chicken or fish.
Endive, the 13th most nutritious veggie in the study, is a member of the chicory family (think radicchio, escarole, frisée). It has a crisp texture that’s slightly sweet and nutty, with only one calorie per leaf. Endive contains loads of B vitamins, which help your body use or make energy from food. It also has high levels of vitamins C and K, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and folate. Dip the sturdy leaves in hummus or guac instead of chips or crackers.
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If you need an immune boost, reach for a sweet red pepper, number 17 on the list and among the top fruits, which also include pumpkin, tomato, and lemon. (Surprisingly low on the list were strawberries, oranges, and grapefruits, often hailed for their high vitamin C content.) Red peppers are high in vitamins C and A, both critical to a healthy immune system.
One cup of fresh pumpkin, ranked 20th, is just 50 calories and filled with vitamins A, C, B, and E, potassium, and even some filling fiber. Pumpkins start popping up at markets at the end of summer, or early fall. Roast them—and don’t throw out the seeds! Packed with protein, you can toast them too and toss on a dish for crunch.