The 12 Most Nutrient Dense Foods in the World

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Not all food is made the same.

While some foods are incredibly high in nutrients, others are just empty calories and even harmful to our health.

This article takes a look at some of the most nutritious foods available.

And if you think that only means fruits and vegetables, then you’d be wrong.

Here are 12 of the most nutrient dense foods in the world.

1. Liver

Liver - Most Nutrient Dense Foods

Crammed full of nutrients, if a “superfood” truly exists, then we have to give that recognition to liver.

Whether it’s beef, pork or chicken liver, all are incredibly rich in protein in addition to vitamins and minerals.

Here are the nutritional values of beef liver per 100g (1):

  • Vitamin B12: 1176% RDA
  • Copper: 714% RDA
  • Vitamin A: 634% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 201% RDA
  • Niacin: 88% RDA
  • Pantothenic Acid: 71% RDA
  • Folate: 63% RDA
  • Selenium: 52% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 50% RDA
  • Iron: 36% RDA
  • Zinc: 35% RDA
  • Manganese: 18% RDA
  • Potassium: 10% RDA

As can be seen, liver is loaded with nutrition; it’s the most nutritious animal food in the world.

Liver also contains smaller amounts of magnesium, calcium, and vitamins C, E, and K.

How Often Should We Eat Liver?

Notably, liver contains vitamin A in such a high amount that we can actually experience hypervitaminosis A (toxicity) if we eat it too often (2).

Eating liver approximately once per week is enough, and it’s a great way to help ensure sufficient micronutrient intake.

Liver is also simple to make; just fry it in butter with some onions for a quick and easy meal.

Key Point: Liver is one of the most nutrient dense foods on earth. It’s high in protein and also extremely rich in vitamins and minerals.

2. Cacao

Cacao - most nutritious foods in the world

For those who might not know, cacao comes from the seeds of a fruit (3).

Discovered centuries ago in ancient Mexico, chocolate now enjoys popularity throughout the world.

A point often overlooked by many is that cacao—and chocolate—are incredibly healthy.

But not all chocolate is made the same; you should aim for at least 85% cacao by weight. Pure cacao powder is also beneficial.

Here are the nutrients we can find in cacao per 100g (4):

  • Manganese: 192% RDA
  • Copper: 189% RDA
  • Magnesium: 125% RDA
  • Iron: 77% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 73% RDA
  • Zinc: 45% RDA
  • Potassium: 44% RDA
  • Selenium: 20% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 14% RDA
  • Calcium: 13% RDA
  • Niacin: 11% RDA

The Benefits of Cacao

The nutrient density of cacao is certainly impressive; as you can see above, it contains almost every nutrient in the book.

However, that’s far from all.

Cacao also contains significant amounts of health-protective polyphenols that have extensive research-backed health benefits:

  • Cacao products exert anti-inflammatory properties and positively modulate inflammatory markers involved in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) (5).
  • Animal studies show that cacao polyphenols may prolong LDL-oxidation time, increase HDL, and decrease triglyceride levels (6).
  • Cacao has several beneficial mechanisms of action on the brain. These include playing a role in the inhibition of neuronal death and inducing positive mood (7).
Key Point: Real chocolate—without all the sugar—is one of the healthiest, most nutritious foods on the planet.

3. Eggs

Eggs - most nutrient dense foods in the world

Eggs are probably the most nutritionally complete food in the world.

In short, an egg is a real-food version of a multi-vitamin and contains a neverending list of nutrients.

So, let’s take a look – here are the nutrients in 1 single egg (8):

  • Selenium: 23% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 14% RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 11% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 10% RDA
  • Pantothenic Acid: 7% RDA
  • Folate: 6% RDA
  • Iron: 5% RDA
  • Vitamin A: 5% RDA
  • Vitamin B5: 5% RDA
  • Zinc: 4% RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 4% RDA
  • Vitamin D: 4% RDA
  • Calcium: 3% RDA
  • Copper: 3% RDA

While these numbers may appear small, remember that this is for just one egg — if you eat several then they add up.

Besides this, eggs provide the most bio-available protein of all food and they’re high in healthy fats.

Further Benefits of Eggs

  • Eggs also contain a range of antioxidant compounds, with two of the most important being lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants help protect our eyesight as we age, and reduce the risks of macular degeneration (9, 10, 11).
  • The nutrient choline is present in eggs. It’s crucial to our health, but many people have a deficiency in recent times. Choline helps protect against many adverse conditions such as diabetes and DNA damage (12, 13).

Ideally, look for pasture-raised eggs as they contain a better nutritional profile.

However, if affordability is an issue, then any egg is better than none.

Key Point: Eggs are rich in minerals, high in vitamins, and full of beneficial compounds. They’re one of the most nutrient dense foods money can buy.

4. Avocado

Avocado - most nutritious foods in the world.

Despite most people calling avocados a vegetable, they are a fruit—and they’re the most nutritionally dense fruit around.

Avocados play a prominent role in Mexican food, and they’re delicious and so adaptable.

For one thing, you can use them to make guacamole, a tasty side dish that’s full of nutrients.

Here is the nutritional profile per standard avocado (14):

  • Vitamin K: 53% RDA
  • Folate: 41% RDA
  • Vitamin C: 33% RDA
  • Vitamin B5: 28% RDA
  • Potassium: 28% RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 26% RDA
  • Vitamin E: 21% RDA
  • Copper: 19% RDA
  • Niacin: 17% RDA
  • Magnesium: 15% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 15% RDA
  • Manganese: 14% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 10% RDA

As we can see, avocados are full of micronutrients, so it’s not surprising that they have a number of health benefits.

Why Avocados Are So Healthy

  • Aside from the nutrient density, avocados also provide ample amounts of healthy fats, most significantly oleic acid (15).
  • Avocados are a significant source of fibrous carbohydrate – and contain greater amounts of fiber than most grains (16).
  • Another interesting point is that they have cardiovascular benefits. In a controlled trial, a group of people eating one avocado per day experienced a decrease in the majority of cardiovascular risk factors (17).
Key Point: Avocados are the most nutrient dense fruit going, and they’re delicious. Compared to an apple, an avocado per day better keeps the doctor away.

5. Wild Alaskan Salmon

Wild Alaskan Salmon - most nutrient dense foods

The nutritional value of salmon is certainly impressive, containing approximately 25g protein and 2.5g omega-3 per 100g.

Regarding the micronutrient profile, salmon looks like this on a 100g basis (18):

  • Selenium: 67% RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 51% RDA
  • Niacin: 50% RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 47% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 29% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 26% RDA
  • Pantothenic Acid: 19% RDA
  • Thiamin: 18% RDA
  • Potassium: 18% RDA
  • Copper: 16% RDA
  • Magnesium: 9% RDA

It’s clearly one of the most nutritious fish. However, not all salmon is made the same.

Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

  • Firstly, farmed salmon from the Atlantic has a number of safety concerns relating to the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides. Additionally, animal studies even link regular consumption to an increase in conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes (19, 20, 21).
  • On the other hand, farmed salmon also positively benefits heart health by increasing HDL levels and reducing triglycerides (22).

Salmon has substantial health benefits, but pollutants from fish farms are a potential problem.

The best of both worlds? Wild Alaskan salmon.

As this fish comes from the clean waters of Alaska, it offers all the benefits without the drawbacks.

You can also find some great salmon recipes here.

Key Point: Salmon is one of the most nutrient dense foods from the sea, but ideally opt for wild-caught if you can.

6. Oysters

Oysters - most nutrient-rich foods in the world

Shellfish as a whole are one of the best examples of nutrient dense foods, but oysters are truly impressive.

Oysters offer a significant amount of protein at 30g per 100g, and they contain the following vitamins and minerals (23):

  • Zinc: 605% RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 324% RDA
  • Copper: 223% RDA
  • Selenium: 91% RDA
  • Vitamin D: 80% RDA
  • Iron: 37% RDA
  • Manganese: 18% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 14% RDA
  • Magnesium: 12% RDA

Despite the impressive nutrient profile, not many people eat oysters these days.

So, if you’re not sure on what to do with them and need some inspiration, here are some ideas.

Oyster Recipes

  • Five Fresh Oyster Recipes: a range of tastes with five differing flavors, ranging from gin and tonic to spicy chilli.
Key Point: Oysters are one of the most nutritious foods in the world. And there are so many creative recipes out there.

7. Steak

Steak - most nutrient dense foods in the world

Some people might be surprised when they see steak on a list of the most nutritious foods.

After all, we’re told to avoid red meat and concentrate on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, chicken, and fish.

Despite steak being none of these, it’s arguably much higher in nutrient density.

In particular, steak provides an ample supply of protein, healthy fats, and a range of nutrients.

For grass-fed steak, there are also higher amounts of omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid, which both have cardioprotective properties (24, 25).

Nutrient Profile

Here is the nutrient profile for one 200g piece of steak (26):

  • Niacin: 72% RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 70% RDA
  • Selenium: 64% RDA
  • Zinc: 52% RDA
  • Vitamin B12: 45% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 45% RDA
  • Iron: 22% RDA
  • Potassium: 21% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 16% RDA
  • Vitamin B5: 15% RDA
  • Magnesium: 12% RDA

This goes a long way to demonstrate that while some vegetables are great, they’re far from the only sources of vitamins and minerals.

Key Point: Despite fear mongering in the media, steak is actually one of the most nutrient dense foods we have. It’s delicious too.

8. Seaweed

Seaweed - nutrient dense foods

It’s time for the first vegetable on the list, and that vegetable lives in the sea.

Seaweed is one of the most nutritious vegetables around, but it’s criminally ignored by the masses.

In the first place, the nutrient profile of seaweed is reasonable (27):

  • Vitamin K: 82% RDA
  • Folate: 45% RDA
  • Magnesium: 30% RDA
  • Calcium: 17% RDA
  • Iron: 16% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 9% RDA
  • Zinc: 8% RDA

Not quite as impressive as the other foods, but seaweed has some unique properties that no other food can match.

Health Benefits of Seaweed

  • Firstly, seaweed is the single biggest dietary source of iodine. This compound is a hugely important mineral that many people are deficient in, and it can make or break health.
  • Secondly, seaweed contains some phytonutrients such as fucoidan that no other foods have. These antioxidants have positive effects on everything from cancer and insulin secretion to cardiovascular health (28, 29, 30, 31).
Key Point: Seaweed is another excellent example of a high nutrient-density food — and it can play a huge role in a health-protective diet.

9. Spinach

Spinach - one of the most nutritious foods

Moving back to land, spinach is another of the most nutrient dense vegetables.

It’s jam-packed with vitamins and minerals per 100g, as you can see below (32):

  • Vitamin K: 604% RDA
  • Vitamin A: 188% RDA
  • Folate: 49% RDA
  • Vitamin C: 47% RDA
  • Manganese: 45% RDA
  • Potassium: 16% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 11% RDA
  • Calcium: 10% RDA
  • Vitamin E: 10% RDA
  • Vitamin B6: 10% RDA

And just to point out: you get all these nutrients for only 23 calories of food.

In contrast, with grains like brown rice and whole grain bread, it takes over 350 calories to get a similar amount of nutrients (33).

Health-Protective Properties

Spinach also has some solid research behind it showing that it can help protect against a variety of chronic conditions.

  • A randomized, controlled trial indicates that spinach decreases arterial stiffness and reduces blood pressure in healthy adults. Thus, it may be a useful food for CVD prevention (34).
  • In animal studies, dietary spinach increases plasma antioxidant activity and reduces oxidative stress and DNA damage (35).
  • Spinach contains bio-active compounds believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties (36).
Key Point: Spinach is one of the most nutrient dense foods; it’s extremely rich in vitamins and minerals, and various studies show it plays a role in disease prevention.

10. Sardines

Sardines - most nutritious foods in the world

Back at sea once more, sardines are another nutrient dense fish.

They are full of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and calcium from the small bones they contain.

Here are the vitamins and minerals they contain per 100g (37):

  • Vitamin B12: 149% RDA
  • Selenium: 75% RDA
  • Vitamin D: 68% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 49% RDA
  • Calcium: 28% RDA
  • Niacin: 26% RDA
  • Iron: 16% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 13% RDA
  • Potassium: 11% RDA
  • Magnesium: 10% RDA
  • Vitamin E: 10% RDA

It’s worth remembering that an imbalanced ratio of omega 3 to 6 increases risk for virtually every chronic disease in the book (38).

This makes it especially important to eat some fatty fish each week; the vast majority of people are consuming far too much omega-6.

Key Point: Sardines are one of the most nutrient dense foods from the sea, and they’re especially high in calcium, selenium, and vitamin D.

11. Mushrooms

Mushrooms - most nutrient dense foods in the world

There are all kinds of different mushrooms in the world.

As well as tasting delicious, they all have a plethora of benefits too.

One of the kings of the mushroom world is the shiitake mushroom.

Here are the nutrients it provides per 100g (39):

  • Copper: 45% RDA
  • Vitamin B5: 36% RDA
  • Selenium: 35% RDA
  • Manganese: 10% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 10% RDA
  • Zinc: 9% RDA

Shiitake mushrooms also contain smaller amounts of minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and others.

Furthermore, research is growing by the day on the medicinal properties of mushrooms. Specifically, they contain a range of bioactive compounds that we are only just discovering.

Mushroom’s Medicinal Power

First of all, people tend to exaggerate “magical properties” of food.

As a result, we should take claims about mushrooms having miraculous effects with a pinch of salt.

However, there is some promising research behind them.

In particular, mushrooms contain compounds shown to be anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and fighters of oxidative stress (40, 41, 42, 43).

Key Point: Mushrooms are one of the tastiest and most nutrient dense foods. They also improve the taste of almost any dish that uses them.

12. Almonds

Almonds - most nutrient dense foods

Personally, I love nuts, but almonds aren’t my favorite — that designation goes to macadamia.

However, looking at the nutrient profile and the various compounds they contain, almonds are the king of nuts.

Full of healthy fats, they also contain the following vitamins and minerals per 100g (44):

  • Vitamin E: 131% RDA
  • Manganese: 114% RDA
  • Magnesium: 67% RDA
  • Riboflavin: 60% RDA
  • Copper: 50% RDA
  • Phosphorus: 48% RDA
  • Calcium: 26% RDA
  • Zinc: 21% RDA
  • Iron: 21% RDA
  • Potassium: 20% RDA
  • Niacin: 17% RDA
  • Thiamin: 14% RDA
  • Folate: 12% RDA

Just a handful (1 ounce/28g) in a day is a great way to get a wide range of micronutrients.

Further Benefits of Almonds

  • Almonds contain various antioxidants such as resveratrol, quercetin, and catechin. These compounds are linked to reduced risk of several chronic diseases and they have protective effects on the heart (45).
  • Low levels of HDL is a huge risk factor for cardiovascular disease, yet even low-dose almonds (10g) substantially raise HDL levels (46).
Key Point: Rich in micronutrients and antioxidants, almonds are one of the most nutritious foods in the world.

The Most Nutrient Dense Foods

Generally speaking, the most nutrient dense foods come from animals and the sea.

Perhaps this is why so many people enjoy success with diets like paleo and the ketogenic style of eating?

By the same token, some plant foods such as leafy greens, nuts, and sea vegetables can also be reasonably nutritious.

Given this, we should ask why dietary guidelines emphasize grains and high-sugar fruits so much.

If dietary guidance also focused on nutrient density, maybe we’d all be a little healthier.

 

6 COMMENTS

    • Seaweed is the best source by far – tens of times higher than other foods.

      But food from the sea also generally contains some iodine. For example cod, shrimp, and other shellfish.

      Eggs also contain a little bit (approx 8% the suggested daily value per egg).

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