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What Are THE MOST Nutritious Foods?

By JESS BARRON

According to a Consumer Reports survey, 90 percent of Americans polled said they believed that they consumed a diet that was at least "somewhat" healthy.

But are we really eating healthy?

Unfortunately, it doesn't sound that way. Another report published in 2011 (based on data from national food-consumption surveys), found that 90 percent of Americans are NOT getting the essential nutrients we need to stay healthy. According to this report, the 11 nutrients we are falling short on include: potassium, fiber, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, zinc, folate, magnesium and iron.

So, what is it that we’re doing wrong?

Americans' shortages in these key nutrients are attributed to the fact that we aren’t eating enough of the foods that supply these vitamins and minerals.

Family Preparing Salad In Garden

If I asked you what the most nutritious foods were, what would you guess?

The answer is probably easier than you think. Remember back to when your mom told you to "Eat your vegetables"? Well, she was right.

Vegetables and fruits are the most nutrient-dense foods you can find (followed by legumes/beans, nuts and seeds, and then whole grains).

If your mom was always prodding you to “eat your spinach and Brussels sprouts,” she was really on to something!

THE MOST nutrient-dense foods are all green vegetables:
* Bok choy
* Watercress
* Kale
* Collard greens
* Mustard greens
* Swiss chard
* Spinach
* Arugula
* Romaine lettuce
* Brussels sprouts
* Broccoli

Spinach and watercress salad

These foods rank at the very top when using the Aggregate Nutrient Density (ANDI) score that ranks the whole foods rated by highest nutrients per calorie as described by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his books “Eat For Health” and “Eat Right America Nutritarian Handbook.” (Dr. Fuhrman defines a “nutritarian” as “a person who bases food choices on maximizing the micronutrients per calorie.”) Whole Foods grocery stores adopted the ANDI system.

ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, beneficial phytochemicals (angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, isothiocyanates, and aromatase inhibitors) and antioxidant capacities.

Did your mom try to get you to eat kale, watercress or arugula when you were little? Mine did not, and I’m pretty sure those greens were not on many people’s radar in the 1970s or 1980s. Today, you’re likely to find kale and arugula as tasty salad options at most restaurants.Asparagus is a very nutritious food

Next on the scale of nutrient density, green leafy vegetables are followed by non-green vegetables:
* Carrots
* Cauliflower
* Bell peppers
* Asparagus
* Mushrooms
* Tomatoes
* Sweet potatoes

Fruits that are high on the nutrient-density list are:
* Strawberries,
* Blackberries
* Plums,
* Raspberries
* Blueberries
* Grapes
* Pomegranates
* Cantaloupe
* Papaya
* Oranges

Strawberries are a very nutritious fruit

OK, so what should we do to fix our nutrition and health issues?

We have to start eating foods with a bigger nutritional bang, rather than processed junk. For example, you could eat about 20 corn chips for 176 calories, 8 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbs, 3 grams of protein, 1 percent of vitamin A, 0 percent of vitamin C, 6 percent of calcium and 5 percent of iron.

Or, you can choose to eat 3 cups of raw kale for 100 calories, 1 gram of fat, 20 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein (more than double the protein in the 20 chips!) plus 618 percent of vitamin A, 402 percent of vitamin C, 27 percent of calcium and 19 percent of iron. Now it makes sense why your friends are snacking on kale chips, right?

As Michael Pollan wrote in “In Defense of Food” in 2009: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It makes sense when you look at ANDI scores because eggs, low-fat dairy and meats such as chicken and lean beef rank lower in nutrient density than plant-derived onions, sunflower seeds, kidney beans and oatmeal.

White bread and corn chips rank lower than eggs, meats, and low-fat dairy products in nutrient density.

If you’re one of those people who reaches for corn chips, crackers or vanilla ice cream at night, be aware that these foods rank very, very low on the list of nutrient-rich foods. They are just a small step above soda, which is at the bottom of the list.

I asked our STRONGER trainer Nicky Holender to share his recommended nutrient-dense foods. Listen to what he had to say:

Readers – Do you think you agree with the ANDI ratings for food? Do you think that you eat a healthy diet right now? Do you know whether you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrition? If not, how will you try to change things up? What’s your favorite nutritious food and how do you enjoy eating it?

–Jess

Jess Barron is Editor-in-Chief of LIVESTRONG.COM. Read some of her other health and fitness articles here. A longtime foodie and fan of Farmer’s Market food, Jess particularly loves heirloom tomatoes, fresh figs with burrata cheese, and anything with pumpkin or peanut butter in it! Her love for food fuels her desire to exercise daily. Some of her favorite workout routines include running, yoga, P90X, INSANITY, and mixed martial arts. Jess’s writing can also be found at Poprocks.com. She has appeared on MSNBC’s “The Most,” ABC News Now, and XM satellite radio and her writing has appeared on Wired.com and Yahoo!

Follow Jess on Twitter @jessdandy. Also, you can add her on Google+ and follow her on Pinterest.

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