Top 10 Frugal Fruits: Which Fruits Offer the Most Nutritional Value Per Dollar?

(Update: Doh! The original version of this post contained a basic mathematical error. I have corrected the rankings.)

When I wrote about What are the Cheapest Vegetables Per Pound?, reader Brady kindly pointed out the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) as a measure of relative nutritional value. Which got me to thinking, which vegetable or fruits provide the most nutrients per dollar? I decided to start with fruits first.

The ranking calculation is detailed below, but here are the top 15 fruits ranked by nutritional units per dollar:

Top 10 Frugal Fruits (Nutrients per Dollar)

  1. Oranges
  2. Plums
  3. Watermelon
  4. Bananas
  5. Apples
  6. Kiwi
  7. Strawberries
  8. Grapefruit
  9. Tangerines
  10. Mangoes

Ranking Calculation

A. Nutrients per Calorie is measured by ANDI. Specifically, ANDI measures micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and many other phytochemicals) per Calorie and is scaled between 0 to 1,000. The values can be found online at creator Dr. Fuhrman’s site and others like Whole Foods. ANDI primarily only covers whole raw fruits, so I didn’t include canned or frozen fruit as I wasn’t sure how that would affect the nutritional densities.

B. Calories per cup of fruit was obtained from the USDA National Nutrient Database. A rather neat tool covering hundreds of different types of food, and relatively easy to use.

C. Cost ($) per edible cup was found via the aforementioned USDA research paper called How Much Do Fruits and Vegetables Cost? [pdf]. The USDA got these numbers from a 2008 nationwide survey of over 60,000 households taken over a 1-year period.

Now, in order to get the units correct, you have to divide multiple A by B to get nutrients per cup and then divide that result by C. Final result: nutrients per dollar.

Commentary

After the recalculations, oranges are the top frugal fruit.

I was surprised that watermelon was such a good nutritional value, given that I think of it as a summertime treat consisting mostly of sugar water (which it is). Some quick research reveals that it is also high in Vitamin C (antioxidant), Vitamin A (beta carotene), Vitamin B1 (thiamine), lycopene (antioxidant), potassium, and magnesium. As a kid, we’d always buy cheap watermelons off the side of the road from someone in a pickup truck. The hardest part was having to wait while the watermelon got cold in the fridge overnight. Gotta buy some watermelon this summer!

Outside of the top 5-7 fruits, the values are so close such that small variations in price would change the rankings. Prices may vary due to geography, seasonal availability, or simply a good sale. Apples are considered year-round fruits, strawberries are spring/summer, plums are summer, and oranges are winter/spring. Farmer’s markets are often a good place for seasonal fruit at a good price.

I didn’t list them here, but the fruits with the lowest nutritional bang for the buck include raspberries, cherries, and grapes. Of course, eating any fresh fruit at all is better than having a glazed doughnut or a Frozen Coke like I did yesterday (ANDI value of 1 :)).

Comments

  1. Jonathan, this is useful, but it would be even more useful if you incorporated the dirty dozen/clean fifteen (or just the full list) into the ranking. Here:

    http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

    For example, apples, which are #2 in your nutrients-per-dollar ranking are #1 as the worst offender on the dirty dozen list. So you should spend the extra money to buy your apples organic and save that money by buying (for example) your sweet corn non-organic (sweet corn is the best on the list).

    But since organic apples are more expensive than non-organic apples, this is going to push apples down in the nutritients-per-dollar ranking.

    What we really need is a nutrients-per-dollar list which includes the organic version of something if it’s high on the list and the non-organic version of something if it’s low on the list.

  2. Interesting piece. We always buy watermelon and apples when on sale. However, I disagree with your last point: *nothing* is better than a glazed doughnut! :) By the way, thanks for the shout out! Excuse me while I bask in my 15 nanoseconds of fame.

  3. Margaret says:

    Really surprised to see watermelon at the top of the list. I always thought it was just a fruit one ate in the heat of the southern summers to cool down. I learn something new every day. Thanks for the very informative article.

  4. Like Margaret above I’m very surprised to find watermelons at the top – and by a long way. My wife always gets watermelons in the summer and I never really liked them much, too many pips and they always seem to me to be more water than solid fruit. I prefer regular melons. OK, you’ve convinced me, I’m a new watermelon fan :-)

  5. Shouldn’t you multiply A by B?

  6. Why is banana not on there? It’s a popular fruit.

  7. Yeah I think Amit is right. You should multiply A x B.

    A = nutrients / calorie
    B = calories / cup

    A * B = nutrients / calorie * calorie / cup = nutrients / cup

  8. *facepalm*

  9. Doh!!! Thanks Amit and Jim for the correction. My high school chemistry teacher would be ashamed of me. I did a recalculation from the numbers and have updated the rankings. The rankings actually didn’t change all that much, as most fruits have similar calories per cup. Exceptions are bananas, kiwi, and tangerines which have over 100 calories per cup. Also, watermelon only has 46 calories per cup, which makes sense due to the high water content.

    Watermelon is now #3, and oranges are the new #1. Bananas are #4, which makes more sense.

    The bottom 3 fruits are raspberries, cherries, and grapes.

  10. Apples, bananas and oranges make sense. They are often reasonably priced and have substantial content.

    Watermelon seems suprising since it seems like 90% water. I think the thing with watermelon is that its often very cheap per pound. So while it seems less substantial you’re getting 2-3 times as much food per cost so it comes out better overall.

  11. any stats on vegetables?

  12. my wife and I have always enjoyed eating all types of oranges and apples but we always thought the apples were by far the most nutritious. I think we will have to eat more oranges and less apples in the future.

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