Superfood vs. Powerhouse Food: Why They’re Not the Same Thing

We’ve been hearing about superfoods and superfruits for awhile—by now we know to stock up on kale and goji berries. Though these “super” labels are used often, many of them can be gimmicky catchphrases that don’t have real scientific basis. Until now. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently developed a scientific classification scheme for vegetables and fruits that are jam-packed with nutrients and may reduce our risk of chronic disease. Here’s what you need to know about the proven heroes at your farmer’s market or grocery store.

What is a powerhouse food?

The CDC defines Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables as naturally “nutrient-dense,” meaning they provide anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of our daily requirements of 17 beneficial nutrients: potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K. These nutrients are essential for protection against chronic disease.

Which foods were tested?

For obvious reasons, the CDC tested foods that scientists had already linked to prevention of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The foods fell into five categories of fruits and vegetables: cruciferous, green leafy, yellow/orange, allium (onion family), citrus and berries.

Watercress in, blueberries out?

So which made the cut? Of the 47 fruits and vegetables tested, the cruciferous and leafy green veggies overwhelmingly came out on top. Surprisingly, raspberries, tangerines, cranberries, garlic, onion and blueberries did not make the list, even though they’re rich in helpful antioxidants (so keep eating them!).

Top 15 Powerhouse Fruits & Veggies

Watercress 100.00 (wow!)
Chinese cabbage 91.99
Chard 89.27
Beet greens 87.08
Spinach 86.43
Chicory 73.36
Leaf lettuce 70.73
Parsley 65.59
Romaine lettuce 63.48
Collard Greens 62.49
Turnip Greens 62.12
Mustard Greens 61.39
Endive 60.44
Chive 54.80
Kale 49.07

The next most powerful fruits and vegetables (with nutrient density ratings under 50) fall primarily into the yellow/orange category (red pepper, pumpkin, carrot, tomato and winter squash) and allium category (scallion, leek), followed by citrus (lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit) and berries (strawberry, blackberry).

The Powerhouse list is a good starting point for choosing the veggies and fruits that give us the most bang for our buck. The CDC tested these foods in their raw state, and salads can be a great way to incorporate them into our diet. But cruciferous and leafy green vegetables are also a good addition to soups or stews, or simply sautéed.

While the government’s My Plate guidelines say fruits and veggies should make up 50 percent of each meal, don’t forget about the important parts of a healthy diet—whole grains and lean proteins! Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about other ways to get all the nutrients you need in your diet.

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