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Prioritize your produce

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

I like most vegetables, in one form or another. But let’s face it, not everyone is a veggie lover.

While we all know that we should eat more, most Americans get far less than what is recommended. Many of us can’t imagine consuming more than 2-3 servings each day, much less the 13 servings that some experts propose.

Maybe the recommended number of servings is so high because the experts know that we do not always choose the vegetables that provide the best nutrition. I hate to pick on the potato, because it is a decent source of Vitamin C and potassium, but often it is the only vegetable that makes it into the American diet on a daily basis. And most of those potato servings are in the form of French fries, which negates anything good the potato might have had to begin with. 

What if you knew which vegetables were the most nutritious ones, so that you could focus on quality rather than quantity? I’m a fan of the Nutrition Action newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and I was very interested to learn that CSPI publishes a vegetable “ranking.” They have calculated a score for each vegetable, based on the level of six important nutrients, dietary fiber, and anti-oxidants it contains.

So, which ones made the top 12? They are, in order:

1. Kale

2. Spinach (cooked)

3. Collard greens

4. Turnip greens

5. Swiss chard

6. Spinach (raw)

7. Pumpkin (canned) 

8. Mustard greens

9. Sweet potato, with skin

10. Radicchio (raw)

11. Broccoli (raw)

12. Carrots

As you can see, the list leans heavily toward greens in general, with kale coming out on top. Dark, leafy greens get high scores because they’re rich in lutein and beta-carotene. They also supply vitamin K and some of just about everything else the CSPI considers important (calcium, fiber, folate, iron, and vitamin C). Bright orange vegetables fill out the list.  

When it comes to vegetables, more is better. I try to get a serving or two with every meal, including breakfast (veggie omelettes), and snack on raw vegetables. But if you are in the less is more camp, please try to include at least some dark, leafy greens and a carrot or two in your diet every day. 

For the complete list and more information about the importance of vegetable nutrition please refer to cspinet.org/nah/01_09/ratings.pdf.

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