A nutrient density standard for vegetables and fruits: nutrients per calorie and nutrients per unit cost

J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Dec;105(12):1881-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.09.005.


Objectives: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommended that consumers give priority to nutrient-dense foods, those that contain substantial amounts of key nutrients in relation to the dietary energy they provide. This study developed a scoring system to estimate the nutritional adequacy of vegetables and fruits, on a per weight, per calorie, and per unit cost basis.

Data: We used a French national food composition database for 637 foods, including 129 vegetables and fruits. Mean national retail prices were obtained for each food.

Methods: The nutrient adequacy score was defined as the mean of percent daily values for 16 nutrients, based on 100 g of food. The nutrient density score and the nutrient-to-price ratio were the mean of percent daily values for 16 nutrients, expressed per 100 kcal and per 1 euro of food, respectively. Relationships between energy density of vegetables and fruits, nutrient adequacy score, nutrient density score, and nutrient-to-price ratio were tested using linear regression.

Results: Energy density and nutrient density score were negatively correlated, confirming the widely accepted notion that energy-dense foods tend to be nutrient-poor. As expected, fruits and vegetables had the highest nutrient density score because they were nutrient-rich in relation to their low energy content. They also had a relatively high nutrient-to-price ratio, showing that they provided nutrients at a reasonable cost when compared with other foods.

Conclusions: Foods ranked differently when nutritional adequacy was calculated per weight (nutrient adequacy score), per calorie (nutrient density score), or per unit cost (nutrient-to-price ratio). The present results showed that although fruits and vegetables are an expensive source of dietary energy, they provide key nutrients at a reasonable cost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Availability
  • Dietary Fiber / analysis
  • Dietary Proteins / analysis
  • Energy Intake*
  • Food Analysis
  • Food* / classification
  • Food* / economics
  • Food* / standards
  • Food, Organic / classification
  • Food, Organic / economics
  • Food, Organic / standards
  • France
  • Fruit* / chemistry
  • Fruit* / economics
  • Humans
  • Minerals / analysis
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritive Value
  • Taste
  • United States
  • Vegetables* / chemistry
  • Vegetables* / economics
  • Vitamins / analysis


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins