“Nutrient profiling” isn’t really a new thing. Alternative health researchers as well as naturopath doctors have been doing it for decades. Simply said, it’s the process of identifying which foods, vitamins, minerals, etc, pack the biggest nutritional punch.
Recently, the CDC – Centers for Disease Control – got into nutrient profiling as well. They’ve identified certain foods that they claim are most “strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk”. You might be surprised to learn what they are – you may already be eating many of them everyday!
These 5 Simple Powerhouse Nutrients Really Tune Up Your Health
“Summertime and the eating is easy”. Like many people you’re probably eating a lot more cool salads right now. But, did you know that recently the CDC found that several salad greens-foods really pack a major nutritional punch? These common salad staples were found to contain 17 significant vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, in quantities found to offer the best protection to your health. They include:
1. Vitamins: B vitamins thiamine, folate, riboflavin, niacin; vitamins C, D, E, K3.
2. Minerals: Potassium, zinc, iron and calcium.
3. Other nutrients: Protein, fiber.
Here are the top 5 “powerhouse” greens rated by CDC:
1. Watercress: Scored a whopping 100% on the CDC’s nutrient density scale.
2. Chinese cabbage: An Asian dish favorite, scored second at 91.9.
3. Chard: Commonly known as Swiss chard, came in third at 89.27.
4. Beet greens: Great raw in salads and as cooked vegetable dishes, scored 87.08.
5. Spinach: A favorite in summer salads, this green “power food” came in fifth at 86.43.
In order to qualify for the top, powerhouse contenders had to include a minimum of 10% of your daily intake of the vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber listed above. In a list of 47 fruits and vegetables selected, 41 of them were selected. Here’s how some commonly believed “healthy foods” weighed in:
Kale, recently touted as a highly nutritious green, only came in at the #15 spot on the list at 49.07. Broccoli, in the news frequently in the last few years for its numerous cancer-fighting benefits, only made the #19 slot at 34.89! Tomatoes, also found to contain a potent cancer-fighter, lycopene, only came in at #27, at 20.07.
We’ve been told for the last few years that berries and citrus fruits were great health protectors because of their high antioxidant, Vitamin C content. Yet, surprisingly many of them didn’t chalk up very impressive nutrient profile scores. For example, strawberries, lemons, limes, blackberries, grapefruits, oranges all came in near the bottom of the CDC’s list!
Even nutritionists’ favorites, sweet potatoes, for their high beta-carotene and fiber value, came in at #40! In fact, 6 other commonly touted “health foods” didn’t even meet the CDC’s powerhouse criterion at all. These included foods like: raspberry, tangerine, cranberry, garlic, onion, and blueberry.
So, does that mean that low placement on the powerhouse nutrients list mean these foods don’t have as much nutritive value as once thought? No, not really. The foods profiled on the CDC’s list are still thought to be good sources of the vitamins they’re known for. For example, citrus fruits – Vitamin C; kale – iron; sweet potatoes – beta-carotene, as well as other beneficial phytonutrients. But, they’re just not as nutrient densely “rounded” as the fruits and vegetables nearer the top of the list that contain a larger array of nutrients.
The CDC explained their nutrient profile initiative as trying to give consumers a clearer picture when recommending what food groups you should include for your best health. Rather than advising general groups like “leafy greens”, yellow-orange vegetables, citrus, etc., specific health ratings of foods were hoped to give a better idea of which had better nutrition value.
Here are the first 20 common fruits and vegetables from the CDC’s list:
How Many “Powerhouse Nutrient” Foods Do You Need Each Day?
For centuries, ancient physicians have advised, “food is medicine”. But recent evidence-based studies out of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have proven that as well. In their research they found that nutrition, obtained directly from your foods, is the best strategy to achieve optimal health.
To that end, you should choose a variety of food sources a day – the bulk being from the fruits and vegetables groups. These provide the best amount of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber to stay healthy. USDA researchers recommend that at each of your 3 main meals, to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Then add protein to 2/3 of the other half of your plate. This can be from either vegetable (legumes, nuts) or animal (beef, poultry, fish) sources – to keep muscles strong. Calculate your protein needs based on your ideal body weight. If you weigh 160, protein intake should be at least half your body weight at 80 grams.
For the remaining 1/3 of your plate, you can add grains if you like. There is some controversy, though, among nutritional researchers whether whole grains are beneficial to your health or not. Some see grains as good sources of fiber which you need about 20-25 grams a day. But, if you’re eating the correct amount of fruits and vegetables every day, fiber intake shouldn’t be an issue. I would recommend limiting grains to 2 high fiber servings a day.
To get the most nutrition from your foods, try to eat as many of them as possible raw. For fruits, this is easy. But, many vegetables need cooking before eating. Steaming them lightly, cooking them quickly in a microwave dish with a little water, or even stir frying them in coconut oil or grapeseed oil, will preserve most of their nutrients. Boiling, however, destroys much of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in vegetables.
While supplements are great to boost certain nutrients in your diet, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, the bulk of your nutrition should come from the foods you eat. You might want to check out the CDC’s list of powerhouse nutrient foods to help you choose which ones give you the most nutrients for your dollar. Just because they’re lower on the nutrient scale, doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite fruits and vegetables. Just be sure to include a few of the higher nutrient foods daily as well.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Powerhouse Nutrients, http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0390.htm
Importance of Food as a Key Provider of Vitamins and Minerals, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217170859.htm