Dietitian’s Mailbag #9: Superfood Showdown

This week, we have another super question, submitted by EAT Clubber Steven P. He writes:

“Sometimes I hear my co-workers talk about which fruits and vegetables are the healthiest. Is it true that some are healthier than others?”

As a dietitian, I am routinely brought in as the “referee” for debates about food and nutrition. And this particular discussion of "which is healthier" tops the list. Here's a sample conversation that may or may not have happened recently:

- Kale is so healthy.

- Not as healthy as spinach, though.

- No way! Kale is definitely healthier.

- But did you see that "Dangers of Kale" episode on Dr. Oz?

- No, but GP swears by spinach.

- Who's GP?

- Gwyneth Paltrow.

- Seriously?

- Hey, you said Dr. Oz.

- Let's just ask Shira. She's a dietitian. She'll know the answer.

- Hey, Shira...

Let me tell you what I told them, and lay this debate to rest.

Are certain fruits and vegetables healthier than others?

When it comes to fruits and veggies, I’m like a proud parent. I can’t pick favorites because they are all special in different ways, with their own unique strengths.

Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C, which has an important role in immune function and helps the body to absorb iron, for example, while carrots excel when it comes to beta-carotene content, which contributes to preserving healthy eyes, skin, and bones. Both are important nutrients with very different roles in the body. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Come to think of it, maybe this is where the saying originates!

But what about superfoods? They must be superior.

Now, you've probably heard people tossing around the term ‘superfoods,’ and while there actually isn’t a scientific definition of this term, the scientific community does sometimes use a similar term -- ‘powerhouse fruits and vegetables.’ Powerhouse fruits and vegetables are those most strongly linked to reduced risk of chronic disease. A 2014 study by Dr. Jennifer Di Noia sought to rank powerhouse fruits and vegetables based on how dense they are in nutrients and phytochemicals.

The study found these top ten powerhouse fruits & veggies:

  1. Watercress
  2. Chinese cabbage
  3. Chard
  4. Beet greens
  5. Spinach
  6. Chicory
  7. Leaf lettuce
  8. Parsley
  9. Romaine lettuce
  10. Collard greens

And for those of you who are wondering, out of the 47 fruits and vegetables studied, kale came in at a respectable #15. So, if you really want to win a debate quickly, refer to this list. Otherwise, you can always just bring me into the conversation.

In the meantime, get some powerhouse foods of your own on next week's menu: Chicken & Kale Salad (featuring both kale and spinach), and the Strawberry Quinoa Salad.

Shira healthy pick face stamp
Shira Katz, M.S., R.D. is the former EAT Club Staff Dietitian
You can follow Shira on Twitter @SunnySideHealth