(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)
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.
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 :)).