"Eat more vegetables" is one of the few healthy eating messages that have endured the test of time. Recommendations for the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and a number of other chronic health conditions all encourage people to "eat more vegetables".
Unfortunately, many people struggle to find ways to purchase healthy food as well as meet their other needs (like housing and transportation). When the grocery budget is tight, value for money is a big purchasing consideration. When it comes to vegetables, some deliver more nutritional "bang for your buck" than others.
Nutrient density is a measure of the amount of nutrients in a specific amount of food. A food that contains a lot of nutrients (like a sweet potato) is more nutrient dense than a food containing fewer nutrients (like potato chips).
A recent US study* reviewed past food surveys and compared the cost of commonly eaten vegetables to their nutrient density scores. The study found that the most frequently eaten vegetables (raw tomatoes, tomato sauces, potato chips, and fried potatoes) tended to be lower cost, but were not the most nutritious choices.
Here are the vegetables that offer the most nutrition per dollar:
Nutrient Rich & Low Cost Veggies (fresh, frozen or canned)
- Dark orange vegetables (like sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, and pumpkin)
- Tomato juice and soup (sodium reduced)
- Dark green vegetables (like romaine lettuce, kale, broccoli and green peas)
- White potatoes (baked or boiled)
Fresh vegetables tend to be most affordable at the height of their growing season. Frozen vegetables are often a good nutritional value, especially during the winter months. Canned vegetables (especially tomatoes and pumpkin), are good staples to keep in your pantry - look for "no salt added" or reduced sodium varieties.
The Bottom Line:
While some vegetables may be more nutrient dense than others, it’s important to know that vegetables in general are nutrient rich. It's more important to eat more vegetables than to fret over choosing a particular vegetable. Enjoying a variety of vegetables each day is your best bet.
*Source: New Metrics of Affordable Nutrition: Which Vegetables Provide Most Nutrients for Least Cost? Adam Drewnowski. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 1 September 2013 (volume 113 issue 9 Pages 1182-1187)
Health Canada: Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide