These Are the Top Six Most Nutrient Dense Vegetables Per Ounce


chard is healthier than kale

Rainbow chard, shown here, is more nutritionally dense than kale according to one recent study.


In today’s era of corporate monoculture crops and chemical-intensive farming, it’s becoming increasingly harder for most people to get adequate nutrition from food alone. 

As noted in a 2004 study of 43 different fruits and vegetables comparing produce from both 1950 and 1999, “reliable declines” in important vitamins and minerals are being observed across the board in our food. The biggest losses in nutrients include protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C according to the study’s lead author Dr. Donald Davis of the University of Texas-Austin. This drop in nutritional value across the board highlights the importance of eating more nutritionally dense foods to fill in the gaps.

Perhaps more worrisome would be declines in nutrients we could not study because they were not reported in 1950—magnesium, zinc, vitamin B-6, vitamin E and dietary fiber, not to mention phytochemicals,” Dr. Davis said. 

I hope our paper will encourage additional studies in which old and new crop varieties are studied side-by-side and measured by modern methods.” 

beet greens

Beet greens are one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables in the world. Photo via Karen in the Kitchen/Wordpress

As we produce more, we’re being forced to eat more food in order to satisfy our nutritional requirements. The trend in farming has been to produce more food at all costs, but nutrition and soil health are suffering. 

During those 50 years, there have been intensive efforts to breed new varieties that have greater yield, or resistance to pests, or adaptability to different climates. But the dominant effort is for higher yields. Emerging evidence suggests that when you select for yield, crops grow bigger and faster, but they don’t necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate.”

The declines in nutrients ranged from 6 percent for protein to 38 percent for riboflavin according to the team’s research. This pronounced lack of vitamins and minerals per crop may be part of the reason why so many people are capable of eating so much without feeling full.

One way to maximize our nutritional dollar is to buy more nutrient-dense food. We can also get extra nutrition from eating parts of vegetables that most people don’t eat, such as beet greens and mustard greens, both of which made the list of the top 41 “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables released by the CDC.  

According to the study released in 2014, titled ‘Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach,’ the following are the most nutrient dense vegetables in the world to add to your diet. 


CDC Study: These Are the Most Nutrient Dense Fruits and Vegetables

The study in question was released by Dr. Jennifer Di Noia and published in the CDC’s peer-reviewed Preventing Chronic Disease journal, ranking produce on a scale of 1-100 to find out which foods were the most nutritious.

Kale for example, widely seen as arguably the most nutritious vegetable per ounce at the grocery store, checked in at a respectable nutrient density score of 49.07.  

The highest ranking fruit was the red bell pepper (although it is seen in culinary terms as a vegetable), coming in with a score of 41.26; next up among fruits were tomatoes and lemons with scores of 20.37 and 18.72, respectively.

Overall dark leafy greens were the most nutritious per ounce, with surprising foods such as turnip greens and beet greens ranking high on the list. 


The following vegetables scored the highest, ranking as the top six most nutrient dense types of produce according to the study, making them excellent for filling nutritional gaps in your diet:

1. Watercress- A great source of magnesium, folate, pantothenic acid and many different vitamins and minerals, watercress comes in at #1 with a perfect score of 100

2. Chinese Cabbage- Most people know this veggie as bok choy but few actually buy it. That’s a big mistake!

Bok choy scored a 91.99 on the nutrient density scale and is rich in silica for great hair, skin and nails as well as Vitamins A, B and K.

3. Chard- Also known as Swiss chard, this cousin of collard greens came in at 89.27. It’s a great change-of-pace to kale and spinach flavor-wise and an excellent source of Vitamins A, K, and the important mineral magnesium.

It’s so easy to pass up in the grocery store and so hard to find that we don’t see it passing kale or spinach in terms of its reputation for being a top health food any time soon.

4. Beet Green- Think you should throw these away? Think again!

They scored a whopping 87.27 in the study. Add these to your diet for added Vitamin A, K and lutein/zeaxanthin (for vision health).

5. Spinach- Long thought to have less nutrients than kale, spinach actually scored far better with a total of 86.43.

It’s a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), manganese, folate and more.

6. Chicory- Resembling the dandelion green, this unheralded veggie can be added to salads. It checked in with a nutrient density score of 73.36. It has a nice profile of Vitamins A, C, and E among others.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pass up a chance to add it to your shopping cart if you get the chance…your body will thank you!

Thanks for reading! The full study can be read by clicking here.

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Categories: AltHealthWORKS, Organic Farming, and Organic Food.
About Nick Meyer

Nick Meyer is a journalist who's been published in the Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News and several other outlets. He founded AltHealthWORKS in 2012 to showcase extraordinary stories of healing and the power of organic living, stories the mainstream media always seemed to miss. Check out Nick's Amazon best-seller 'Dirt Cheap Organic: 101 Tips For Going Organic on a Budget' by clicking here, as well as its sequel Dirt Cheap Weight Loss.