Nutrient Dense ProduceNow that it is Summer time, it is time to start thinking about Summer fruits and vegetables.  There are many factors that determine the nutrient density of fruits and vegetables. These include whether or not it is organic, when it was picked, its color, ANDI Score, sugar content, soil quality, whether or not it is part of the cruciferous family, its oxalate content, and more. I will also be talking about how much you should consume and what types.

By making better choices with your produce, you can really increase the nutrients in your diet.  These are all the things you should take into consideration.

1.  Choose Organic Produce. You should buy organic fruits and vegetables as much as you can. Fruits and vegetables that are not organic are usually sprayed with pesticides, are often genetically modified, and often have less nutrient rich soil which produces less nutrient dense produce.

Some people cannot afford to buy everything organic. There are certain fruits and vegetables that typically do not attract as many pests and therefore do not have that many pesticides used on them. Produce with thick, heavy skins such as avocados and bananas typically do not have to be organic. Berries and lettuce are very porous and easily absorb pesticides that are difficult to wash off so these really have to be organic.

Here is the list of what does and doesn’t have to be organic.

Must be organic.

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • grapes
  • Lettuce
  • Corn

Does not have to be organic.

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet Potatoes

Produce Washes

If you are not going to be buying everything organic, you should use a produce wash to remove pesticides and also mold. Keep in mind though that some pesticides are put in the water and go directly into the plant and can’t be washed off, but using a produce wash will get rid of a lot of it. You can simply fill a large bowl with water and add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to it, place the produce in the wash for 10 minutes or so, and rinse under cold water, or I recommend buying this product if you don’t want to use apple cider vinegar.

2.  Choose Produce That was Picked within a Day or Two.  I recommend buying your produce at a Farmer’s Market. When you buy your produce at a Farmer’s Market, it is usually picked within days and therefore is much more nutrient dense. When you buy produce in the supermarket, it can be sitting around for weeks or longer. Also, when you shop at the Farmer’s Market, you can get to know the farmers who are growing your food which can give you a better idea of the quality.

I recommend talking to the vendors and farmers and asking the following questions.

  • Where was this produce grown and was everything here grown at the same place? You want to verify it was grown at a local farm. Some vendors import produce from other countries and states and are really just a gloried supermarket passing themselves off as a local farmer’s market vendor.
  • When was this produce picked? You want it to be within the last couple of days. The farm easily could be a couple of hours away and Farmer’s Markets typically start early so it might not be picked the same morning, although it could be.
  • Is it organic? If not, do you use pesticides or chemicals? Some smaller farms practice organic farming methods but don’t have the organic label as it isn’t always easy to get, and they are often less expensive.

Other good questions to ask are:

  • What are your farming practices?
  • How do you care for your soil?
  • What type of seeds do you use and where do you get them from?

By asking these questions, you can really get a good idea of how nutrient dense your produce is. Once you find vendors/farms you like, you can keep going back and then you don’t have to ask the same questions every week.

Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to be sure of its nutrient density.  You can grow it organically, and if you fortify the soil, you can be sure of the soil quality, and you can pick it and eat it immediately.

3.  Choose Some Cruciferous Vegetables.  These contain many cancer preventing properties so those are very important to have in your diet as well. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale. For a complete list of cruciferous vegetables, click here.

4.  Choose Produce in  a Wide Variety of Colors.  It is also important to include produce in a wide variety of colors in your diet. Red and orange fruits and vegetables usually contain high levels of vitamin C, green contain iron, blue, purple, and black colored fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants.  The ones that are pigmented all the way through like blueberries and carrots tend to be more nutrient dense than something like eggplant which is purple on the outside and white on the inside.

5.  Choose the Ones You Like.  It sounds simple, but one of the most important criteria in choosing which fruits and vegetables to eat is simply to eat the ones you like the most. While nutrient density is important, all produce has nutrients, and you are more likely to actually eat the ones you really like. You will see that apples, for example, score very low on the ANDI score listed below, but if you really, really like them, I recommend keeping them in your diet.

6.  Choose as Much Produce as You Can With a High ANDI Score. Another indicator of nutrient density is the ANDI score. ANDI stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. The scoring system rates foods on a scale of 1 to 1000 based on its nutrient content and includes factors such as vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, antioxidant capacities and phytochemicals.

ANDI Score

Vegetables and Leafy Greens

Mustard Greens                                1000
Turnip Greens                                   1000
Collard Greens                                  1000
Kale                                                     1000
Swiss Chard                                       1000
Watercress                                         1000
Bok Choy                                            865
Napa/Chinese Cabbage                   714
Spinach                                               707
Arugula                                               604
Lettuce, Green Leaf                          585
Chicory                                                516
Romaine Lettuce                               510
Radish                                                 502
Brussel Sprouts                                 490
Turnip                                                 473
Carrots                                                458
Acorn Squash                                    444
Broccoflower                                     444
Cabbage                                              434
Bell Pepper, Yellow or Orange       371
Kholrabi                                              352
Broccoli                                               340
Cauliflower                                         315
Rutabaga                                             296
Bell Peppers                                       265
Mushrooms                                        238
Asparagus                                           205
Tomatoes                                            186
Sweet Potato                                      181
Zucchini                                              164
Artichoke                                            145
Iceberg Lettuce                                  127

Fruits

Cranberries, Fresh                            207
Strawberries                                       182
Blackberries                                       171
Raspberries                                        133
Blueberries                                         132
Guava                                                  125
Grapefruit                                           125
Grapes                                                 119
Pomegranate                                      119
Cantalope                                            118
Plum                                                     106
Orange                                                 98
Tangerine                                            86
Apricots, Fresh                                   75
Watermelon                                        71
Peaches                                                65
Cherries                                               55
Pineapple                                            54
Apple                                                    53
Mango                                                  53

Herbs

Basil                                                      518
Cilantro                                                481
Spearmint                                            457
Tarragon                                              426
Oregano                                               426
Thyme                                                  422
Parsley                                                  381
Dill                                                         326
Chives                                                   319
Peppermint                                         293
Bay Leaves                                           271
Rosemary                                             84
Lemongrass                                         55

7.  Choose Mostly Fruits That are Lower in Sugar.  With fruit, you should choose a good variety with many of them being nutrient dense, but also the majority of them should be low in sugar.

Low to Medium Sugar Fruits.

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Rhubarb
  • All berries
  • Apples, particularly green
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Figs
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit

Some of the fruits that are highest in sugar are as follows and should be consumed in moderation are listed below.

High Sugar Fruits

  • Bananas
  • Mango
  • Watermelon
  • Pineapple
  • Grapes
  • Dates
  • Most dried fruit

8.  Choose Produce Low in Oxalates if  You are Sensitive. Oxalates are naturally occurring substances that form sharp crystals and are found in certain plants and other foods. The majority of people do not have a problem with them.  However, some people are sensitive to oxalates and there are many seemingly healthy types of produce that are very high in them such as spinach, beets, sweet potatoes, most berries, and citrus fruits. Oxalates can cause kidney stones, chronic pain, fatigue, muscle weakness, as well as many other health problems. To learn more about oxalates and the foods that contain them, click here. People who are sensitive to oxalates need to avoid these foods. If you think oxalates could be a problem for you, you can try avoiding them to see if your symptoms improve, or make an appointment with a Holistic Doctor or Functional Nutrition Practitioner such as myself or another Alternative Health Professional.

How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Do You Need to Eat?

With fruits and vegetables, you really want to consume a variety. Different fruits and vegetables, particularly different colored ones, contain different nutrients. Don’t start consuming only leafy greens just because those are highest on the ANDI scale.  Cruciferous vegetables do not score high on the ANDI scale but are critical as they contain many anti-cancer properties.

Different people have different requirements, but a good general guideline that I recommend is consuming one and a half  cups of produce, mostly vegetables, with each meal.  I do not recommend having more than two servings of fruit per day as a lot of them are high in sugar.  I recommend that one quarter of your produce should be leafy greens, one quarter should be cruciferous vegetables, one quarter should be darkly pigmented produce where the color goes all the way through the produce, and one quarter should be the ones you really, really like.

Another way to determine your produce needs by using Metabolic Typing. Metabolic typing is a nutritional system based on each person’s unique biochemistry. Your dietary plan is based on which part of your nervous system is more dominant, parasympathetic or sympathetic, how your body oxidizes nutrients, and whether you are a protein type, carb type or a mixed type, and more. This can give you a better idea of the amount of produce and the exact types that are right for you personally. There is a fee to take this test but it is very low.  You can check it out here. Another test that is a little more general, but still good, is this one and it is free.

Sources

Article:  Whole Foods ANDI Guide
Article:  Why Your Should be Eating Foods with High ANDI Scores
Article:  Colors of Vegetables and Their Nutrients
Article:  Cruciferous Vegetables
Article:  Low Oxalates
Nutrition Certificate:  Functional Diagnostic Nutrition
Nutrition Certificate:  Nutritional Therapy Association (In Progress)
Health Educator/Massage Therapy Certificate:  National Holistic Institute

What did you learn about nutrition and health from reading this article?

Are there any types of produce you would like to include in your diet that you don’t normally  eat?

What other types of posts would you like to see here?

Related posts:

14 Thoughts on “8 Steps to Selecting the Most Nutrient Dense Produce

  1. This is great! I love that you shared some of the most highly pesticide contaminated produce. So important! I love the questions that you shared to. So important to ask questions about your food and where it’s coming from and how it’s being grown.

    • Thanks Emily. I just think it is important for people to know that even if they can’t afford to get everything organic, there are still way better and healthier choices they can make.

  2. Wow! This article is SO informative! I’ll be referring to this page in the future <3 It's important to know more about the foods we eat even if we do buy them at farmer's markets. Thanks for sharing!

    • It definitely is good to ask a lot of questions at the Farmer’s Market. There are so many great farms with excellent choices and some vendors that are not so great, and not what they appear to be.

  3. It’s so true about the freshness. When I make sauerkraut it is night and day between fresh from the farmers market or store-bought. The juices come right out without pounding when it’s picked fresh and when it’s bought from the store I have to pound and pound. Even when both are organic!

  4. I’m thinking of attempting a paleo version of the Food Stamp Challenge. I’ll be for sure be referring back to this post to ensure I make good choices even when limited by budget.

    • That is a great idea, the Paleo Food Stamp Challenge. There are so many good, nutrient dense produce choices that are not expensive. Please let me know how it goes. If it works out for you, maybe I will try it.

  5. What did you learn about nutrition and health from reading this article?

    I appreciate the list of low-sugar fruits, as I am cooking for my mother-in-law who is doing a ketogenic diet as part of her cancer therapy.

    Are there any types of produce you would like to include in your diet that you don’t normally eat?

    We eat a really wide variety of fruits and veggies. And living in Southern California a lot is available organically and locally.

    What other types of posts would you like to see here?

    Anything about low-card diets for healing? 🙂

    Great post! Thanks!!!

    • Hi Daja, It really is amazing how much the sugar content in fruit varies. I am glad you found it helpful. I am in Northern California and it is incredible how many choices and abundance we have when it comes to produce in this state. I hope your mother in law gets better soon. We have a family friend that was able to beat cancer using a ketogenic diet and other alternative therapies.

  6. Nice to see you back! great post too:)

  7. Such a comprehensive and informative post! Thank you for sharing.

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