We’re taught to fill up on vegetables from a young age with the parental catchcry of “eat your greens!” But with so many options how do we know if the vegetables we choose are the best ones for us?

We’ve found a study published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention which examined around 50 “powerhouse” vegetables and rated them on their nutrient density and how well those nutrients are absorbed by the body. It was based on a scoring system out of 100.

The research describes a “powerhouse” vegetable as one that reduces “chronic disease risk” and contains important nutrients such as:

  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Thiamin
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.

We’ll list the top five vegetables identified by the study, so you know what to look for next time you’re at the shops.

You’ll notice they’re all of the leafy green variety. Damn, our parents were right! Let’s not tell them.


1. Watercress

This peppery leafy green was the only vegetable to get a perfect nutrient density score of 100. It’s found in salads or in sandwiches but can also be used in soups and pastas.

According to The Guardian’s Joanna Blythman, watercress has “particularly high levels of bone-building and strengthening vitamin K and vitamin A, which is important for eye health”.

“Watercress also contains significant levels of glucosinolate compounds and many studies now suggest that these have anti-cancer effects,” she said.

2. Chinese cabbage

Also known as wombok, chinese cabbage is one of the most popular vegetables in Asia.

Industry body AUSVEG says it contains significant quantities of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.

“Womboks also contain glucosinolates. This group of sulphur compounds are widely believed to reduce the risks for certain cancers. They may also limit some factors that lead to cardiovascular disease,” AUSVEG said on its website.

To prepare chinese cabbage, shred and use it raw in salads, stews and soups or add it to stir-fries.

3. Silverbeet

According to government-backed website Better Health, silverbeet is fat-free, highly nutritious and a good source of:

  • Fibre
  • Vitamins A, B6, C and K
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin
  • Folate.

These nutrients help to regulate blood pressure, the bowel and nerve and brain function.

The crisp leaf is readily available in grocery stores and is also easy to grow. It can be eaten raw or cooked, as a side fried with garlic, or be added to any meal that calls for vegetables.

4. Beet green

It’s time to get rid of canned beetroot and start buying fresh beets. Not just because fresh beetroot tastes amazing roasted, but because you can also eat the stalks and leaves. These are called beet greens.

It may be difficult to find a bunch of beets with leaves intact. You might have to source these nutrient-packed greens from a farmers market or your local fruit and vegetable store.

One cup will give your body loads of vitamin K, A and C. You can add them to salads or just saute them in a little oil.

5. Spinach

The legendary powers bestowed on spinach by Popeye might be slightly inflated, but it’s health game is still strong.

According to the BBC spinach “has always been regarded as a plant with remarkable abilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood”.

It’s also rich in:

  • Iron
  • Vitamin K, A, C and B2
  • Folic acid
  • Magnesium.

Perhaps carrying a can of it around isn’t such a bad idea afterall.