Friday, June 20, 2014

The most nutrient dense foods

I remember reading something about the diets of the Victorians. They ate a lot of odd foods, they ate a lot of food, and that their food was incredibly nutrient dense. And what the heck is purslane?

We hear about the lack of nutrients in our modern processed food but what should we be eating? What are the most nutrient dense foods? This question is relatively easily answered.

I downloaded a spreadsheet of the 2013 USDA dataset from the site of noted vegetarians James H. Thompson and William Harris... not that I'm vegetarian but I appreciate the data!

I reduced the dataset to a few a fields:

  • Calcium, Ca (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Iron, Fe (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Magnesium, Mg (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Phosphorus, P (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Potassium, K (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Zinc, Zn (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Copper, Cu (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Manganese, Mn (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Selenium, Se (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Thiamin (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Riboflavin (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Niacin (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Pantothenic acid (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Vitamin B-6 (mg) per 100 Cal
  • Folate, total (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Folic acid (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Vitamin B-12 (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Vitamin A, RAE (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Retinol (µg) per 100 Cal
  • Carotene, beta (µg) per 100 Cal
  • 328 - Vitamin D (D2 + D3) (µg)
  • 430 - Vitamin K (phylloquinone) (µg)
  • 429 - Dihydrophylloquinone (µg)
  • 428 - Menaquinone-4 (µg)


Most of these fields are normalized per 100 calories, giving me some sense of nutrient density. I then converted the value of each of these fields for each food to a score from 0 to 1. A value of 1 indicates that the food is the most dense for a particular nutrient. I then summed the individual scores to come up with a general nutrient density for each food.

So, what foods are nutrient dense? Or, more precisely, what foods have a nutrient score that are at least two standard deviations above the mean?


  • ACEROLA JUICE,RAW
  • ACEROLA,(WEST INDIAN CHERRY),RAW
  • AMARANTH LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • AMARANTH LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • AMARANTH LEAVES,RAW
  • ARUGULA,RAW
  • ASPARAGUS,CKD,BLD,DRND
  • ASPARAGUS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • ASPARAGUS,CND,DRND SOL
  • ASPARAGUS,CND,NO SALT,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • ASPARAGUS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • ASPARAGUS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • ASPARAGUS,RAW
  • BABYFOOD,CARROTS,TODDLER
  • BABYFOOD,VEG,CARROTS,JR
  • BABYFOOD,VEG,CARROTS,STR
  • BABYFOOD,VEG,GARDEN VEG,STR
  • BABYFOOD,VEG,SPINACH,CRMD,STR
  • BALSAM-PEAR (BITTER GOURD),LEAFY TIPS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • BALSAM-PEAR (BITTER GOURD),LEAFY TIPS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • BALSAM-PEAR (BITTER GOURD),LEAFY TIPS,RAW
  • BAMBOO SHOOTS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • BASIL,FRESH
  • BEEF, VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS, LIVER, CKD, PAN-FRIED
  • BEEF,VAR MEATS & BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,BRSD
  • BEEF,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,KIDNEYS,RAW
  • BEEF,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,RAW
  • BEEF,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,SPLEEN,CKD,BRSD
  • BEEF,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,SPLEEN,RAW
  • BEET GREENS,RAW
  • BEET GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • BEET GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • BORAGE,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • BORAGE,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • BORAGE,RAW
  • BRAZILNUTS,DRIED,UNBLANCHED
  • BROCCOLI RAAB,CKD
  • BROCCOLI RAAB,RAW
  • BROCCOLI,CHINESE,COOKED
  • BROCCOLI,LEAVES,RAW
  • BUTTERBUR,(FUKI),RAW
  • BUTTERBUR,CANNED
  • BUTTERBUR,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • BUTTERBUR,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CABBAGE,CHINESE (PAK-CHOI),CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CABBAGE,CHINESE (PAK-CHOI),CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CABBAGE,CHINESE (PAK-CHOI),RAW
  • CARDOON,RAW
  • CARROT JUICE,CANNED
  • CARROTS,BABY,RAW
  • CARROTS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CARROTS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CARROTS,CND,NO SALT ,DRND SOL
  • CARROTS,CND,NO SALT,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • CARROTS,CND,REG PK,DRND SOL
  • CARROTS,CND,REG PK,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • CARROTS,FROZEN,UNPREPARED
  • CARROTS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CARROTS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CARROTS,RAW
  • CELTUCE,RAW
  • CEREALS RTE,GENERAL MILLS,TOTAL RAISIN BRAN
  • CEREALS RTE,GENERAL MILLS,TOTAL,CRANBERRY CRUNCH
  • CEREALS RTE,GENERAL MILLS,WHL GRAIN TOTAL
  • CEREALS RTE,KELLOGG,KELLOGG'S ALL-BRAN BRAN BUDS
  • CEREALS RTE,KELLOGG,KELLOGG'S ALL-BRAN COMPLETE WHEAT FLAKES
  • CEREALS RTE,KELLOGG,KELLOGG'S ALL-BRAN ORIGINAL
  • CEREALS RTE,KELLOGG,KELLOGG'S PRODUCT 19
  • CEREALS RTE,RALSTON ENR BRAN FLAKES
  • CEREALS RTE,SUN COUNTRY,KRETSCHMER TSTD WHEAT BRAN
  • CHARD,SWISS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CHARD,SWISS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CHARD,SWISS,RAW
  • CHERVIL,DRIED
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,BACK,MEAT ONLY,CKD,ROTISSERIE,ORI
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,DRUMSTK,MEAT & SKN,CKD,ROTISSERIE
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,DRUMSTK,MEAT ONLY,CKD,ROTISSERIE,
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,GIBLETS,RAW
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,WING,MEAT & SKN,CKD,ROTISSERIE,OR
  • CHICKEN,BROILERS OR FRYERS,WING,MEAT ONLY,CKD,ROTISSERIE,ORI
  • CHICKEN,CAPONS,GIBLETS,CKD,SIMMRD
  • CHICKEN,CAPONS,GIBLETS,RAW
  • CHICKEN,LIVER,ALL CLASSES,CKD,PAN-FRIED
  • CHICKEN,LIVER,ALL CLASSES,CKD,SIMMRD
  • CHICKEN,LIVER,ALL CLASSES,RAW
  • CHICKEN,ROASTING,GIBLETS,RAW
  • CHICORY GREENS,RAW
  • CHIVES,FREEZE-DRIED
  • CHIVES,RAW
  • CHRYSANTHEMUM LEAVES,RAW
  • CHRYSANTHEMUM,GARLAND,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CHRYSANTHEMUM,GARLAND,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CHRYSANTHEMUM,GARLAND,RAW
  • CLAM,MXD SP,CND,LIQ
  • COLLARDS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • COLLARDS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • COLLARDS,FRZ,CHOPD,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • COLLARDS,FRZ,CHOPD,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • COLLARDS,FRZ,CHOPD,UNPREP
  • COLLARDS,RAW
  • CORIANDER (CILANTRO) LEAVES,RAW
  • CORIANDER LEAF,DRIED
  • CORNSALAD,RAW
  • COWPEAS,LEAFY TIPS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • COWPEAS,LEAFY TIPS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • COWPEAS,LEAFY TIPS,RAW
  • CRESS,GARDEN,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • CRESS,GARDEN,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • CRESS,GARDEN,RAW
  • DANDELION GREENS,RAW
  • DANDELION GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • DANDELION GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • DILL WEED,DRIED
  • DILL WEED,FRSH
  • DOCK,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • DOCK,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • DOCK,RAW
  • DRUMSTICK LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/ SALT
  • DRUMSTICK LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/ SALT
  • DRUMSTICK LEAVES,RAW
  • DUCK,DOMESTICATED,LIVER,RAW
  • ENDIVE,RAW
  • EPAZOTE,RAW
  • FIDDLEHEAD FERNS,RAW
  • FISH OIL,COD LIVER
  • FISH,WHITEFISH,EGGS (ALASKA NATIVE)
  • FRANKFURTER,TURKEY
  • FRUIT-FLAVORED DRK,PDR,W/ HI VIT C W/ OTHER ADDED VIT,LO CAL
  • GOOSE,LIVER,RAW
  • GRAPE LEAVES,RAW
  • JUTE,POTHERB,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • JUTE,POTHERB,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • JUTE,POTHERB,RAW
  • KALE,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • KALE,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • KALE,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • KALE,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • KALE,RAW
  • KALE,SCOTCH,RAW
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,KIDNEYS,CKD,BRSD
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,KIDNEYS,RAW
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,BRSD
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,PAN-FRIED
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,RAW
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,SPLEEN,CKD,BRSD
  • LAMB,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,SPLEEN,RAW
  • LAMBS QUARTERS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • LAMBSQUARTERS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • LAMBSQUARTERS,RAW (NORTHERN PLAINS INDIANS)
  • LAMBSQUARTERS,STMD (NORTHERN PLAINS INDIANS)
  • LEAVENING AGENTS,BAKING PDR,DOUBLE-ACTING,NA AL SULFATE
  • LEAVENING AGENTS,BAKING PDR,DOUBLE-ACTING,STRAIGHT PO4
  • LEAVENING AGENTS,BAKING PDR,LOW-SODIUM
  • LEAVENING AGENTS,YEAST,BAKER'S,COMPRESSED
  • LETTUCE,BUTTERHEAD (INCL BOSTON&BIBB TYPES),RAW
  • LETTUCE,COS OR ROMAINE,RAW
  • LETTUCE,GRN LEAF,RAW
  • LETTUCE,RED LEAF,RAW
  • MALABAR SPINACH,COOKED
  • MARJORAM,DRIED
  • MUSHROOMS,BROWN,ITALIAN,OR CRIMINI,RAW
  • MUSHROOMS,MOREL,RAW
  • MUSHROOMS,PORTABELLA,EXPOSED TO UV LT,GRILLED
  • MUSHROOMS,PORTABELLA,EXPOSED TO UV LT,RAW
  • MUSHROOMS,PORTABELLA,GRILLED
  • MUSHROOMS,PORTABELLA,RAW
  • MUSHROOMS,WHITE,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/ SALT
  • MUSHROOMS,WHITE,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/ SALT
  • MUSHROOMS,WHITE,RAW
  • MUSTARD GREENS,RAW
  • MUSTARD GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • MUSTARD GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • MUSTARD GRNS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • MUSTARD GRNS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • MUSTARD GRNS,FRZ,UNPREP
  • MUSTARD SPINACH,(TENDERGREEN),CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • MUSTARD SPINACH,(TENDERGREEN),CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • MUSTARD SPINACH,(TENDERGREEN),RAW
  • NEW ZEALAND SPINACH,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • NEW ZEALAND SPINACH,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • NEW ZEALAND SPINACH,RAW
  • NOPALES,CKD,WO/SALT
  • NOPALES,RAW
  • ONIONS,YOUNG GRN,TOPS ONLY
  • OOPAH (TUNICATE),WHL ANIMAL (ALASKA NATIVE)
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,CANNED
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,FARMED,CKD,DRY HEAT
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,FARMED,RAW
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,WILD,CKD,DRY HEAT
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,WILD,CKD,MOIST HEAT
  • OYSTER,EASTERN,WILD,RAW
  • OYSTER,PACIFIC,CKD,MOIST HEAT
  • OYSTER,PACIFIC,RAW
  • PAPRIKA
  • PARSLEY,DRIED
  • PARSLEY,FREEZE-DRIED
  • PARSLEY,FRSH
  • PEPPERONI,PORK,BEEF
  • PEPPERS,HOT CHILI,RED,CND,EXCLUDING SEEDS,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • PEPPERS,SWT,RED,FREEZE-DRIED
  • POKEBERRY SHOOTS,(POKE),CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • POKEBERRY SHOOTS,(POKE),CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • POKEBERRY SHOOTS,(POKE),RAW
  • PORK,FRSH,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,KIDNEYS,RAW
  • PORK,FRSH,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,BRSD
  • PORK,FRSH,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,RAW
  • PORK,FRSH,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,SPLEEN,RAW
  • POULTRY SEASONING
  • PUMPKIN FLOWERS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • PUMPKIN LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/ SALT
  • PUMPKIN LEAVES,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • PUMPKIN LEAVES,RAW
  • PUMPKIN,CANNED,WITH SALT
  • PUMPKIN,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • PUMPKIN,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • PUMPKIN,CND,WO/SALT
  • PUMPKIN,FLOWERS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • PUMPKIN,RAW
  • PURSLANE,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • PURSLANE,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • PURSLANE,RAW
  • RICE BRAN,CRUDE
  • SAGE,GROUND
  • SALAMI,CKD,BF&PORK
  • SAUCE,FISH,READY-TO-SERVE
  • SAUCE,RTS,PEPPER,TABASCO
  • SEA LION,STELLER,KIDNEY (ALASKA NATIVE)
  • SEA LION,STELLER,LIVER (ALASKA NATIVE)
  • SEAWEED,AGAR,RAW
  • SEAWEED,CANADIAN CULTIVATED EMI-TSUNOMATA,DRY
  • SEAWEED,CANADIAN CULTIVATED EMI-TSUNOMATA,REHYDRATED
  • SEAWEED,IRISHMOSS,RAW
  • SEAWEED,KELP,RAW
  • SEAWEED,LAVER,RAW
  • SHORTENING,VEG,HOUSEHOLD,COMP
  • SPEARMINT,DRIED
  • SPEARMINT,FRESH
  • SPICES,BASIL,DRIED
  • SPICES,OREGANO,DRIED
  • SPICES,THYME,DRIED
  • SPINACH,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • SPINACH,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/ SALT
  • SPINACH,CND,NO SALT,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • SPINACH,CND,REG PK,DRND SOL
  • SPINACH,CND,REG PK,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • SPINACH,FRZ,CHOPD OR LEAF,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • SPINACH,FRZ,CHOPD OR LEAF,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • SPINACH,FRZ,CHOPD OR LEAF,UNPREP
  • SPINACH,RAW
  • SQUASH,SMMR,ZUCCHINI,INCL SKN,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • SQUASH,SMMR,ZUCCHINI,INCL SKN,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • SQUASH,WNTR,BUTTERNUT,CKD,BKD,W/SALT
  • SQUASH,WNTR,BUTTERNUT,CKD,BKD,WO/SALT
  • SQUASH,WNTR,BUTTERNUT,RAW
  • SQUASH,ZUCCHINI,BABY,RAW
  • STINGING NETTLES,BLANCHED (NORTHERN PLAINS INDIANS)
  • SWAMP CABBAGE,(SKUNK CABBAGE),RAW
  • SWAMP CABBAGE,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • SWAMP CABBAGE,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • SWEET POTATO LEAVES,RAW
  • TARO LEAVES,CKD,STMD,WO/SALT
  • TARO LEAVES,RAW
  • TARO SHOOTS,RAW
  • TARO,LEAVES,CKD,STMD,W/SALT
  • THYME,FRSH
  • TURKEY,LIVER,ALL CLASSES,CKD,SIMMRD
  • TURKEY,LIVER,ALL CLASSES,RAW
  • TURKEY,WHL,GIBLETS,CKD,SIMMRD
  • TURKEY,WHL,GIBLETS,RAW
  • TURNIP GREENS,RAW
  • TURNIP GRNS&TURNIPS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS&TURNIPS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,CND,NO SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,CND,SOL&LIQUIDS
  • TURNIP GRNS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,W/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,FRZ,CKD,BLD,DRND,WO/SALT
  • TURNIP GRNS,FRZ,UNPREP
  • VEAL,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,BRSD
  • VEAL,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,CKD,PAN-FRIED
  • VEAL,VAR MEATS&BY-PRODUCTS,LIVER,RAW
  • VEGETABLES,MXD (CORN,LIMA BNS,PEAS,GRN BNS,CRRT) CND,NO SALT
  • VEGETABLES,MXD,CND,DRND SOL
  • VINESPINACH,(BASELLA),RAW
  • WATERCRESS,RAW
  • Whale, beluga, meat, raw (Alaska Native)
  • WHEAT BRAN,CRUDE
  • WORTHINGTON FOODS,MORNINGSTAR FARMS,SPICY BLACK BEAN BURGER
  • YEAST EXTRACT SPREAD


NOTE: Energy drinks also do surprisingly well because many are fortified and low-calorie but I've omitted them from the list since I wanted to focus on real foods.

Sure enough, purslane makes the list.