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The Most Nutrient Dense Foods Per Calorie

Written by Daisy Whitbread, MScN
The Most Nutrient Dense Foods Per Calorie

Leading a healthy lifestyle involves eating foods high in nutrients while avoiding empty, or suboptimal, calories. In order to identify the most nutrient dense foods, we must look for foods highest in essential nutrients while being lowest in calories.

To create this ranking we added all the daily values for the following nutrients:

Vitamins: Vitamins A, B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6, B9, B12, C, D, E, and K.

Minerals: Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, and Zinc

Macronutrients: Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, Carbohydrates, and Fiber.

All these nutrients added together created a new nutrient density metric that we call "Total Daily Value" or "Total DV". Some methodologies might suggest subtracting saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium as these are generally seen as "bad" nutrients. However, since some people now favor consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol, they were left in. Sodium was also included since processed foods will not be in the list, so only natural sodium will be counted, and sodium levels found naturally in foods are typically low enough to be healthy.

Below are 15 of the most nutrient dense foods, these include fresh herbs like parsley, and dark leafy greens like swiss chard, kale, and spinach. Also on the list are shellfish (oysters), organ meats (liver), mushrooms, peppers, green onions, broccoli, and carrots. For even more high nutrient foods see the extended list of less common foods rich in nutrients.


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1 Parsley
Parsley
Total DV in 100g1 cup chopped (60g)1 tbsp (4g)
2634%DV (36 calories)1580.4%DV (21.6 calories)100.1%DV (1.4 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Parsley
2 Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard
Total DV in 100g1 cup (36g)1 leaf (48g)
1337%DV (19 calories)481.3%DV (6.8 calories)641.8%DV (9.1 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Swiss Chard
3 Kale
Kale leaves
Total DV in 100g1 cup, chopped (130g)
1457%DV (28 calories)1894.1%DV (36.4 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Kale
4 Watercress
Watercress
Total DV in 100g1 cup, chopped (34g)10 sprigs (25g)
534%DV (11 calories)181.6%DV (3.7 calories)133.5%DV (2.8 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Watercress
5 Spinach
A Bowl of Spinach
Total DV in 100g1 cup (180g)
1077%DV (23 calories)1938.6%DV (41.4 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Spinach
6 Mustard Greens
Mustard Greens
Total DV in 100g1 cup, chopped (140g)
1105%DV (26 calories)1547%DV (36.4 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Mustard Greens
7 Lettuce
A head of lettuce
Total DV in 100g1 cup shredded (36g)1 head (360g)
394%DV (15 calories)141.8%DV (5.4 calories)1418.4%DV (54 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Green Leaf Lettuce
8 Oysters
Oysters
Total DV in 100g1 cup, undrained (248g)3 oz (85g)
1383%DV (68 calories)3429.8%DV (168.6 calories)1175.6%DV (57.8 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Canned Eastern Oysters
9 Liver
Slices of Liver Cheese
Total DV in 100g1 slice (81g)
3490%DV (175 calories)2826.9%DV (141.8 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Pan Fried Beef Liver
10 Mushrooms (Exposed to UV Light)
Crimini mushrooms
Total DV in 100g1 cup sliced (72g)1 piece whole (20g)
407%DV (22 calories)293%DV (15.8 calories)81.4%DV (4.4 calories)
Mushrooms exposed to light will have much higher levels of vitamin D. Nutrition Facts for Raw Crimini Mushrooms (Exposed To Sunlight Or UV)
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11 Sweet (Bell) Peppers
Bell Peppers
Total DV in 100g1 pepper, large (3-3/4" long, 3" dia) (186g)10 strips (52g)
367%DV (27 calories)682.6%DV (50.2 calories)190.8%DV (14 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Sweet Yellow Peppers
12 Arugula
Arugula
Total DV in 100g1/2 cup (10g)1 leaf (2g)
336%DV (25 calories)33.6%DV (2.5 calories)6.7%DV (0.5 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Arugula
13 Spring Onions
Green Onions
Total DV in 100g1 cup, chopped (100g)1 medium (4-1/8" long) (15g)
406%DV (32 calories)406%DV (32 calories)60.9%DV (4.8 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Sping Onions
14 Broccoli
Broccoli Stalk
Total DV in 100g1/2 cup, chopped (78g)1 stalk, medium (7-1/2" - 8" long) (180g)
443%DV (35 calories)345.5%DV (27.3 calories)797.4%DV (63 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Broccoli (Cooked)
15 Carrots
Carrots
Total DV in 100g1/2 cup slices (78g)1 carrot (46g)
439%DV (35 calories)342.4%DV (27.3 calories)201.9%DV (16.1 calories)
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Carrots
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More Nutrient Rich Foods

Acerola (West Indian Cherry)2850%DV (32 calories) per 100 gram serving2793%DV (31.4 calories) per 1 cup (98 grams)136.8%DV (1.5 calories) per 1 fruit without refuse (5 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Acerola Cherries
Amaranth Leaves (Raw)1734%DV (23 calories) per 100 gram serving485.5%DV (6.4 calories) per 1 cup (28 grams)242.8%DV (3.2 calories) per 1 leaf (14 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Amaranth Leaves
Radicchio426%DV (23 calories) per 100 gram serving170.4%DV (9.2 calories) per 1 cup, shredded (40 grams)34.1%DV (1.8 calories) per 1 leaf (8 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Radicchio
Dandelion Greens (Raw)1419%DV (45 calories) per 100 gram serving780.5%DV (24.8 calories) per 1 cup, chopped (55 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Dandelion Green
Chicory Greens (Raw)694%DV (23 calories) per 100 gram serving201.3%DV (6.7 calories) per 1 cup, chopped (29 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Chicory Greens
Endive (Raw)473%DV (17 calories) per 100 gram serving118.3%DV (4.3 calories) per 1/2 cup, chopped (25 grams)2426.5%DV (87.2 calories) per 1 head (513 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Endive
Collards (Raw)875%DV (32 calories) per 100 gram serving315%DV (11.5 calories) per 1 cup, chopped (36 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Collards
Walrus Liver (Raw) (Alaska Native)1848%DV (125 calories) per 100 gram servingGet the full nutrient profile for Raw Walrus Liver (Alaska Native)
Sweet Potato Leaves (Raw)601%DV (42 calories) per 100 gram serving210.4%DV (14.7 calories) per 1 cup, chopped (35 grams)96.2%DV (6.7 calories) per 1 leaf (12-1/4" long) (16 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Raw Sweet Potato Leaves
Chinese Broccoli (Cooked)299%DV (22 calories) per 100 gram serving263.1%DV (19.4 calories) per 1 cup (88 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Cooked Chinese Broccoli
Jute Potherb (Cooked)493%DV (37 calories) per 100 gram serving428.9%DV (32.2 calories) per 1 cup (87 grams)Get the full nutrient profile for Cooked Jute Potherb

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    View more food groups with the nutrient ranking tool, or see ratios with the nutrient ratio tool.

    Data Sources and References

    1. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28.
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