Nutrition Articles

Food All Stars

Ranking the Most Nutritious Foods

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Specialized diets are everywhere today:  low fat, heart healthy, high protein--the list goes on and on!  But with every one of these diets, one key issue is constant: it is necessary to meet your body’s nutrient needs. But, by going on a "star search," meeting your nutrient needs while on any eating plan is easy. 
 

Make Sure Your Menu Gets Good Reviews
Foods on the chart below are listed according to nutrient density.  Nutrient density is like getting the most for your money.  It is based on the general amount of key nutrients per calorie that each food provides.  The 4-star foods are the most nutrient dense. Also within each group, the foods are listed in order of the greatest to least nutrients per calorie. There is nothing wrong with 1-star and 2-star foods, but they generally provide fewer key nutrients when compared to the 3-star and 4-star foods.
 

Notice that there is also an "Extras" group.  These foods provide calories, but little or no nutrients.  Therefore, consume them in addition to—not in place of—the starred foods.  In a generally nutritious diet, which includes a wide variety of foods, there is room for “extras” in moderation.  But extras should not replace starred foods or be consumed in excess.  This can cause weight and health problems.
 

By focusing your eating primarily on foods with 3 stars and 4 stars, you'll be getting more nutrients for your calories. 

For a more healthful eating plan, just reach for the stars!


Group

Milk Products

Protein Foods

Fruits & Veggies

Grains

Key Nutrients

calcium
riboflavin
protein


iron
protein

niacin
thiamin
B-12
zinc
 

folic acid
vitamin A 
vitamin C

fiber

thiamin
iron
niacin
fiber

Daily Servings

2-3

2-3

5-9

6-11

****
4-Stars

  • nonfat milk
  • low fat cheese
  • buttermilk
  • low fat plain yogurt
  • 1% milk

 (meats with fat removed)

  • beef
  • veal
  • fish
  • pork
  • lamb
  • poultry
     
     
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • chard
  • broccoli
  • cantaloupe
  • tomatoes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • asparagus
  • kale
  • green peppers
  • winter squash
  • romaine lettuce
  • whole grain breads 
  • enriched breads
  • English muffins
  • bagels
  • breadsticks
  • fortified 
    cereals

***
3-Stars

  • 2% milk
  • cheese
  • whole milk
  • low fat yogurt with fruit
  • low fat chocolate milk

(meats without fat removed)

  • beef
  • fish
  • pork
  • lamb
  • poultry

     
  • tofu
  • dried
  • beans
  • peas
  • lentils
  • vegetable juice
  • zucchini
  • green beans
  • oranges
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • sweet potatoes
  • apricots
  • cucumbers
  • orange juice
  • carrots
  • grapefruit
  • celery
  • pasta
  • noodles
  • whole grain crackers
  • biscuits
  • brown rice
  • enriched rice

**
2-Stars

  • pudding
  • custard
  • frozen yogurt
  • ice milk
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • artichokes
  • strawberries
  • peas
  • corn
  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • beets
  • peaches
  • iceberg lettuce
  • sprouts
  • mushrooms
  • pears
  • avocadoes
  • pineapple juice
  • tortillas
  • pita bread
  • cornbread
  • granola
  • non-fortified cereals

*
1-Star

  • milkshake
  • cottage cheese
  • ice-cream
  • peanut butter
  • hot dogs
  • luncheon meats
  • sausage
  • apples
  • raisins
  • grapes
  • canned fruit
  • dried fruit
  • croissants
  • pancakes
  • waffles
  • graham crackers
  • stuffing

                   
Extras

alcoholic beverages, bacon, bouillon, butter, cakes, candy, coffee, cookies, condiments, cream, cream cheese, doughnuts, fruit flavored drinks, gelatin dessert, gravy, honey, jam, jelly, margarine, mayonnaise, non-dairy creamer, olives, onion rings, pickles, pies, popcorn, potato chips, pretzels, salad dressings, sauces, seasonings, sherbet, soft drinks, sour cream, sugar, tea, tortilla chips, vegetable oils
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • MORTICIAADDAMS
    This article is outdated and doesn't jive with the food pyramid any more nor the latest health related studies regarding food. Giving highly processed foods 4 stars while giving an apple one star makes no sense to me. - 8/18/2014 9:45:49 AM
  • What about chicken. I love bake chicken without the skin on it. - 11/7/2013 6:59:54 PM
  • Oh Oops! Someone left out some of the best in the fruits/vegies category. What about blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, cherries, all of which (as I recall) are higher in nutrients than strawberries? - 2/27/2013 7:07:23 PM
  • I believe this is a horrible chart! I was shocked when I read this article. I try not to be negative; however, it is so poor I have to speak out! - 1/28/2013 9:21:14 PM
  • the stars are the phyto nutrients not the carbs , protein and fat..... Stars like spinach, kale, broccoli cauliflower, brussel sprout, beets... onions. mushroom cantaloupe..squas
    h berries..... - 1/19/2013 1:18:47 PM
  • I agree. With all the focus on mono unsaturated fatty acids and fiber, this chart makes it appear like those do not matter. I get frustrated enough with all the conflicting information to have spark people present this like a be all and end all for how to choose healthy foods. - 7/3/2012 7:25:47 PM
  • Overall, very disappointing. Peanut butter, especially the fresh ground peanut kind, is way healthier than hot dogs, luncheon meets and sausage. This chart over simplifies foods and if you're not careful about reading labels, you can consume way too much sugar. Chocolate milk, bagels and bread sticks are rarely healthy. - 2/19/2012 1:06:00 PM
  • LACIEJAE
    The article is ok for what it tries to do, but I'm thinking MICROnutrients were not taken into account at all. Strawberries are packed with antioxidants.

    Did foods get a deduction in starts for sugar? Or is a large amount of a macronutrient not enough to score more than 1 star? That's the only way I can see apples and cottage cheese at the bottom; as others have pointed out, apples have a lot of fiber and cottage cheese is packed with protein.

    Where does greek yogurt go? What about all the berries I eat that are not strawberries? - 1/12/2012 12:18:49 PM
  • Hmmm... I think this chart is a bit confusing. I understand that having something like "breadsticks" in the 4 star category is simply based on the fact that it has more thiamine, niacin and other key nutrients in it than other grains listed below it, but I find it hard to believe that chowing down on breadsticks versus having a decent portion of brown rice is going to be better for me in the long run.

    Also, ditto other posters' opinions on blueberries and raspberries - they are nutrient powerhouses, and it's a shame they didn't make the list.

    And I'm sorry, but I'm not giving up my morning cups of tea, even if they are on the "extras" list. - 1/12/2012 11:09:31 AM
  • you have got to be kidding me... protein, lean protein, is key to feeling full. 15-20% of the calories from your protein is used up digesting the said protein! so 2-3 servings is not enough. You need at least 3 servings of LEAN protein. No bacon here! Also, finding cottage cheese not in the 4* foods is a shock! it's packed full of calcium, protein, ect! the pressed cottage is super versatile and won't leave your whole wheat pasta lasagna all watered down! Gee! - 11/7/2011 10:49:14 AM
  • Corn is a 2 star food? Corn has very little nutritional value and can be difficult on the digestive system. Also, iceburg lettuce? Seriously? I would suggest using this guide loosly. There are a lot of inconsistancies on here. - 10/23/2011 12:52:28 PM
  • I am surprised that blueberries and raspberries didn't make the list and green bell peppers are rated higher than strawberries. I look for the antioxidant values of foods as much as the nutrients in them - and will stick to what I am eating. - 8/20/2011 10:00:44 AM
  • are you kidding me? milkshakes and ice cream have the same nutritional value as cottage cheese? I don't think so! There are far too many inaccuracies in this article for it to remain on this site, it needs to be removed! - 6/21/2011 10:47:55 PM
  • Please, please, don't think fruit/veg juice is good for you. It's high in fructose, which is the highly addictive part of the sugar molecule. Always eat whole fruit, and get hold of a chart that shows you which fruits/veg are higher in fructose, eg apples, bananas.Cut right back on all the sugary foods you eat, and you will automatically lose weight, as your appetite control will return, after the sugar cravings have passed. Do the research for yourself. There was a good article in the NY times within the last couple of weeks. Read it. Google fructose & see where it takes you. The research will open your eyes. I lost 6.6 kilos in 4 months. But I then had to 'tweak' my food intake to limit the simple carbs, after putting on 4 kilos, I'm now 7.2 kilos lost, and I'm not exercising, well, have just started to exercise again. This site hasn't yet 'got with the programme' regarding fructose as yet. Otherwise these articles wouldn't be recommending 2-3 tablespoons of sugar per day as ok. (maybe it was teaspoons,not sure) Still way too much. Also, don't forget that a lot of the fruit /veg we eat are 70% or more made up of water. Plus if you include milk, and teas in your daily intake, it's been proven we don't need 8 glasses of water per day. Just don't drink any kind of soft drinks. How big is the glass anyhow? the glasses I use are 12oz glasses, so 8 glasses is waaaay too much. I manage 1 and a half - 2 litres per day. I think that's great. Don't wait for (or rely on) other people to do the research for you, do it yourself, you'll be horrified. I started with a book called Sweet Poison, just googled it after hearing the author interviewd on radio. Good luck with it all, I'm now losing weight slowly, and have started exercising again, life is good again. Spreading the Love Sylv from Oz - 4/30/2011 4:45:01 PM
  • Please, please, don't think fruit/veg juice is good for you. It's high in fructose, which is the highly addictive part of the sugar molecule. Always eat whole fruit, and get hold of a chart that shows you which fruits/veg are higher in fructose, eg apples, bananas.Cut right back on all the sugary foods you eat, and you will automatically lose weight, as your appetite control will return, after the sugar cravings have passed. Do the research for yourself. There was a good article in the NY times within the last couple of weeks. Read it. Google fructose & see where it takes you. The research will open your eyes. I lost 6.6 kilos in 4 months. But I then had to 'tweak' my food intake to limit the simple carbs, after putting on 4 kilos, I'm now 7.2 kilos lost, and I'm not exercising, well, have just started to exercise again. This site hasn't yet 'got with the programme' regarding fructose as yet. Otherwise these articles wouldn't be recommending 2-3 tablespoons of sugar per day as ok. (maybe it was teaspoons,not sure) Still way too much. Also, don't forget that a lot of the fruit /veg we eat are 70% or more made up of water. Plus if you include milk, and teas in your daily intake, it's been proven we don't need 8 glasses of water per day. Just don't drink any kind of soft drinks. How big is the glass anyhow? the glasses I use are 12oz glasses, so 8 glasses is waaaay too much. I manage 1 and a half - 2 litres per day. I think that's great. Don't wait for (or rely on) other people to do the research for you, do it yourself, you'll be horrified. I started with a book called Sweet Poison, just googled it after hearing the author interviewd on radio. Good luck with it all, I'm now losing weight slowly, and have started exercising again, life is good again. Spreading the Love Sylv from Oz - 4/30/2011 4:44:55 PM

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