Which Foods are the Most Nutrient Dense?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Nutrient dense foods can pack a seriously powerful health punch. And we’re not just talking about vitamins and minerals. These “super foods” are also loaded with antioxidants and other phytochemicals that are essential for optimal health and longevity.

Nutrition experts all agree that colorful plant foods contain a huge assortment of protective compounds, many of which have yet to be named. Only by eating an assortment of nutrient-rich, natural foods can we access these protective compounds to help prevent the common age-related diseases that afflict Americans.

Our modern, low-nutrient diet has helped create an overweight population prone to developing diseases rooted in nutritional deficiencies, and, as a result, our medical costs have spiraled out of control. However, if we were to begin embracing diets full of nutrient dense foods, we might just find the elusive answer to the current health care crisis.

But how do you identify foods that are dense with the right nutrients? Let’s take a look at the latest food scoring system to see if it provides any answers.

The ANDI Helps Identify Nutrient Dense Foods

ANDI stands for the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It’s a numerical measurement of how nutrient dense a food source is, including its vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, and phytochemical composition. The index was developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman of Eat Right America.1

Dr. Fuhrman and Eat Right America promote the following nutritional habits:

  • Plant-based diets
  • Whole food-based diets (less processed flours, for example)
  • Healthy fat diets (unsaturated, more from plants and less from animals)
  • Nutrient dense diets (that’s where the ANDI comes in)
Eat Right America analyzes food sources for several different nutrients. Here’s a brief list of nutrients they look for when developing a food’s ANDI score:

  • Calcium & Magnesium
  • Carotenoids (beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein & zeaxanthin)
  • Lycopene
  • Soluble & Insoluble Fiber
  • B vitamins & Folate
  • Iron
  • Zinc & Selenium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E (including tocopherols and tocotrienols)
  • ORAC score (antioxidant power)
According to Eat Right America, calculating ANDI scores for whole foods such as produce, grains, and legumes is relatively easy to do. However, it’s much more complicated to get accurate scores for packaged or processed foods. Regardless, it’s probably fair to say that processed foods would score pretty low as nutrient dense foods.

A food source can be given an ANDI score anywhere from 1 to 1,000, with higher numbers indicating more nutrient dense foods. However, following a diet that’s based solely on ANDI food probably isn’t a great idea. Here’s why: The ANDI doesn’t take things like fat content into account. If you were to eat exclusively ANDI foods with scores of 800–1000, you definitely wouldn’t get enough of the good fats into your body.

Dr. Fuhrman has stated, “Keep in mind that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, if we only ate foods with a high nutrient density score our diet would be too low in fat. So we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores (but preferably the ones with the healthier fats) to include in our high nutrient diet.”1

Organic Veggies Top the ANDI List

The following table1 was developed by Eat Right America. The green column contains the most nutrient dense foods, the yellow column foods rank second and the pale orange column are the foods in last place.

If you’re looking to maximize each and every calorie, the path is quite simple: eat food that’s in the green column primarily.

Also worth noting: The ANDI table is a great resource for people practicing calorie restriction diets.

Most Nutrient Dense
Score
Mid Nutrient Dense
Score
Least Nutrient Dense
Score
Kale
Collards
Bok Choy
Spinach
Brussels Sprouts
Arugula
Cabbage
Romaine
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Green Pepper
Artichoke
Carrots
Asparagus
Strawberry
Pomegranate
Tomato
Blueberries
Iceberg
Orange
Lentils
1,000
1,000
824
739
672
559
481
389
376
295
258
244
240
234
212
193
164
130
110
109
104
Cantaloupe
Kidney Beans
Sweet Potato
Sunflower Seeds
Apple
Peach
Green Peas
Cherries
Flax Seed
Pineapple
Oatmeal
Mango
Cucumber
Pistachio Nuts
Soybeans
Corn
Salmon
Almonds
Shrimp
Tofu
Avocado
Skim Milk
100
100
83
78
76
73
70
68
65
65
64
53
51
50
48
48
44
39
38
37
37
36
Walnuts
Grapes
White Potato
Banana
Chicken
Eggs
Peanut Butter
Whole Wheat
Feta Cheese
Whole Milk
Ground Beef
White Pasta
White Bread
Apple Juice
Swiss Cheese
Low Fat Yogurt
Potato Chips
American Cheese
Vanilla Ice Cream
Olive Oil
French Fries
Cola
34
31
31
30
27
27
26
25
21
20
20
18
18
16
15
14
11
10
9
9
7
0.6

Please note: The exact formula used to calculate the ANDI score is protected by Eat Right America (patent pending). Additionally, information on whether the food source was cooked and how it was cooked was not available. Life Extension® does not indorse a particular group or food rating system. But it looks like the ANDI scoring system makes sense.

Where Does Your Diet Fall on the ANDI Scale?

Although we don’t suggest eating an ANDI diet exclusively, most of us could certainly benefit from including more nutrient dense foods in our diets. Here at Life Extension, we have long supported what we call a “rainbow approach” to diet — eating all of the colors of the rainbow every day.



What do you think of the ANDI? Are the scores for the various foods surprising, or are they what you would have predicted? Please share your thoughts!

  1. http://www.eatrightamerica.com/andi-superfoods

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11 comments:

Gregory Anne Cox said...

This is bizarre, iceberg lettuce is more nutrient dense than walnuts, eggs, chicken or peanut butter just to name a few? I grew up hearing the iceberg lettuce has almost no nutrition. Even taking in to account the low fat issue, this seems a bit specious. I am a skeptic by nature but will certainly support good science. Somehow this feels like bias promoting Fuhrman's type of diet protocol.

Life Extension said...

Gregory Anne Cox, thanks for reading our post. Please understand that we do not promote any specific diet plan. We were asked by our members to describe the ANDI chart and that's exactly what we did. Read our disclaimer written under the table. Thanks again.

Justin R. Douglas said...

This is right on time. We had a health fare at the school I am a teacher at this week and there was a lady there with a table talking about this information. She actually showed me how to read the nutrition facts on boxes better. Thanks for posting this reinforcement.

Life Extension said...

Hey Justin. Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading our blog posts. We're glad we could help.

Anonymous said...

back to the comment on iceberg lettuce....it lists as more nutrient rich than sweet potatoes (which are said to be a super food) what is this based on? have also always heard iceberg lettuce didn't have much going for it other than near-zero calories.

Life Extension said...

You need to contact Eat Right America. We only reported their results. The exact formula they use is proprietary. Thanks for reading the post!

Anonymous said...

Walnuts and sweet potatoes are full of calories. A normal serving of lettuce has almost no calories. I think by the time you pile up enough lettuce to match the calories of a serving of walnuts or sweet potatoes, you're going to end up with more total nutrition.

Perdrop said...

I agree with last anonymous...it is based on nutrient density based from total calories it contributes. Being that iceberg has a high amount of water the calorie intake will be very low. This is why most of the highest nutrient dense foods are very light weight.

Marie-Soleil Noreau, ND said...

I agree with Annonymous and Gregory Anne Cox. This doesn't make any sense. I am a naturopath in Canada and honestly I would never use this chart...

Anonymous said...

if you look at the criteria that the ANDI list is based on, caloric density isnt on it, by the looks of things its minerals and phyto nutrients

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Right! The ANDI list is based on micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.

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