The 7 Best Fruits and Vegetables
June 09, 2013
The 7 Best Fruits and Vegetables
These days, fruits and vegetables are celebrated for so much more than the fact that they're good for us. While their nutritional values generally remain the same, depending on the time of the year and when they're in the peak of their season, our thoughts on how best to enjoy fruits and vegetables and what else they can bring to our tables are constantly evolving.

As avid cooks we look at ingredients as a means to an end, and that end can be anything from nutrition and energy to satisfaction, taste, and beauty. Because all of these things are so important to us when preparing a meal, we decided to judge fruits and vegetables not just by how good they are for us, but also by where they stand in the other categories that are important for a cook to consider. 

Take appearance, for example, because we as humans begin to eat with our eyes, not our mouths. Just because a vegetable tastes delicious doesn't mean it'll look appetizing. Or consider a plant's genetic makeup; is it tough and fibrous and will it require a large amount of time braising, or would it taste the best it possibly could picked fresh from the ground or off the vine? Last but not least is how something tastes, because at the end of the day, there's no greater factor for a cook to keep in mind. 

Award-winning food columnist and author of 50 Best Plants on the Planet, Cathy Thomas, didn't just think about why fruits and vegetables are good for us, but she explored how they could be. When looking at the 50 most nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables, Thomas doesn't just outline specific reasons why these plants are good for us in her book, but she gives us some great tips and recipes for how to enjoy them, too.

With the nutrition part already done for us, we chose 20 plants from her book - fruits and vegetables, familiar and unexpected - and asked her to rank them based on their nutritional density. Once their rankings were in place, we scored them based on their look, ease of cooking, and taste, and combined that with their nutritional score to give you the 20 most nutritious, most beautiful, most convenient, and most delicious fruits and vegetables on the planet.

Although she didn't help us rank the plants based on the other categories (she compared the task of ranking them based on their looks as having to rank her children), Thomas agreed with our methodology. We already know that these fruits and vegetables are good for us, so now we're judging them based on other factors that are important to cooks.

When you look at Thomas' list of the most nutritious fruits and vegetables, you'll see that all of thevegetables, except for beets, rank above fruit. Consider the beauty or flavor of a strawberry, though, and you'll see that it easily rises to the top. In the same vein, some of the most nutritious plants on the list, such as curly endive, don't exactly taste that great on their own, but thankfully for us Thomas has some suggestions on how best to enjoy them. These fruits and vegetables are the best of the best, and our carefully crafted competition helps you appreciate these nutritious foods for all they can be.

7. Peaches
"A tree-ripened peach, still warm from the sun, is a taste that is so purely delicious, few things can compete: a blend of buttery flesh, summery perfume and run-down-your-arm juice. In tests, the aroma of peaches has demonstrated analgesic effects, reducing pain, lifting depression, and offering a feeling of well-being," says Thomas.

We think that pretty much sums it up.

6. Snow Peas
Snow peas aren't just incredibly good for us; they're also beautiful, easy to prepare, and have a sweet, unimposingly delicious taste.

"Snow peas are high in fiber and vitamins, as well as many beneficial minerals. In spite of their sweetness, they can help manage blood sugar," Thomas says.

5. Curly Endive
This is one vegetable on our list that we consider "a fighter." Why? Because despite it being given the lowest score in terms of taste, it still hits it out of the park with looks, ease of preparation, and most importantly, nutrition.

"[Curly endive] is loaded with iron and calcium to keep bones strong, [and] the flavonoids found within it have been shown to reduce inflammation," says Thomas. She recommends cooking it with a little bit of bacon and some starchy legumes to help it out in the taste department.

4. Asparagus
As the most nutritious plant on this list, it's not hard to argue for asparagus' ranking in our pageant.
­"Each stately stalk is a powerhouse of nutrient density with a grassy, nutty-sweet flavor profile. Asparagus contains more dietary glutathione than any other vegetable or fruit. This phytochemical recycles vitamins C and E back to their active forms and research suggests that it helps reduce cataract development in the eyes," she tells us.

Roast it with shaved Parmesan cheese and garnish with purple lavender flowers, and you've got yourself a near perfect vegetable in our books.

3. Strawberries
This fruit had across-the-board perfect scores in terms of looks, taste, and cooking, but unfortunately its nutritional density kept it from stealing number one on our list. Strawberries are still not to be overlooked according to Thomas, though.

"One cup of strawberry slices has as much vitamin C as a cup of orange juice and about as much folate as 1 cup of green beans," she says.

2. Tomatoes
How can you hate a tomato? They're nutrient-rich, a great source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium and manganese, and man do they taste good. During the height of summer (the peak of their season), we could eat them like an apple, earning them the second place on our list.

1. Bok Choy
Here she is ladies and gentlemen, the most nutritious, best looking, tastiest, and convenient plant on our list. Bok choy is the ideal vegetable in our minds. Its tender stems are sweet and flavorful when braised, while its beautiful green leaves provide a peppery hint of spice. Thomas tells us that the folate found in bok choy helps protect our hearts and prevents neural tube defects. That, combined with top scores in everything else, earns it the number one spot on our list.

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