CDC Confirms The World’s Healthiest Fruit Is Not What You Expect

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You know the drill: Eat your fruits and vegetables! But produce sections are plentiful, and farmers’ markets are plentiful, so which should you focus on if you want to get the most out of it, nutrition-speak?

We were surprised to find out that one of the best the green for you is watercressAccording to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides a nutrient density score based on the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables. Watercress, a spicy green vegetable that grows in fresh water and is a common ingredient in stir-fries, scored a perfect score of 100. Vegetables, overall, dominate the top list, which also features leafy greens like spinach (86) and kale (49). as do other food staples like red bell peppers (41) and broccoli (34).

But when it comes to fruit, the healthiest is… tomatoes. Yes, botanically speaking, tomatoes are considered fruit. They score 20 on the CDC scale, just below carrots and just above lemons.

Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants, which you can think of as having a superhero-like function in your body, helping to ward off Free radicals known cause oxidative stress and may play a role in the development of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

What Makes Tomatoes So Nutritious?

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The CDC’s powerhouse fruit and vegetable categorization (PFV) is based on the number of 17 nutrients that qualify in a 100-calorie serving of each fruit and vegetable, explains dietitian Sherri Berger, RDN, of Strong Plant Dietitian.

Since vegetables are naturally lower in calories than fruit, you’d need to eat significantly more of them than fruit for the 100-calorie equivalent, he says. Since a larger volume will pack more nutrients, it will make vegetables stand out in the PFV grading system.

Tomatoes, explains Berger, are a low-calorie fruit that have a nutritional profile similar to vegetables. According to the US Department of Agriculture nutrition database, 60 grams of plum tomatoes contain only 12 calories and less than three grams of carbohydrates. It’s also rich in the important nutrient lycopene, says Berger, which gives tomatoes their red color.

So bring salsa and rich tomato sauce!

“Eating tomatoes and tomato-based products can help protect your body from cancer and heart disease,” says Berger.

He also points to a 2021 umbrella study in the journal Food Chemistry who found consumption of tomatoes and lycopene helps prevent coronary artery disease, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, and cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to your brain such as a stroke or brain aneurysm.

Tomatoes are also rich in vitamins A and C, which fight inflammation in the body, explains dietitian Sara Riehm, RD with Orlando Health.

“Vitamin C is also important for forming blood vessels, muscles, and parts of our bones,” said Riehm. “Vitamin A is needed for eye health and growth and development.”

How Can You Get the Most Nutritional Benefits of Tomatoes?

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Here’s a general rule: “For most flavorful tomatoes, it’s best to buy them locally and stock them on your counter,” says Berger. “Locally grown tomatoes are allowed to ripen naturally and are not subjected to the ethylene gas treatment that encourages artificial ripening.”

Also, choose tomatoes that are really ripe, as their lycopene content increases with age, says dietitian Kate Ingram, RDN, owner Vitality Dietitian.

Cooking tomatoes it can also increase lycopene, so consider adding tomatoes to cooked dishes like stews or making your own tomato sauce,” she says.

You can increase lycopene absorption by pairing tomatoes with a healthy fat, such as olive oil, suggests Ingram.

What other fruits are considered the healthiest?

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Besides tomatoes, here are five more fruits that make the cut the most nutrient-dense, according to the CDC index.


Lemons are especially high in vitamin C, says Riehm.

“Unlike most animals, humans cannot produce vitamin C on their own in the body,” he says. “This means we depend on the Vitamin C that we consume as food or drink.”

Vitamin C may lower the risk of developing certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and cataracts, explains Riehm.

Lemon juice can be used in cooking to add extra flavor, prevent apples and avocados from browning, or flavor your water, he says.

But don’t overdo it: Due to the acidity of both the meat and the lemon juice, Riehm doesn’t recommend consuming large amounts of whole lemons or pure lemon juice. Acid can erode the enamel on our teeth and cause an upset stomach.


Like lemons, oranges are rich in vitamin C. Oranges also contain small amounts of vitamin B6, which is needed for brain health, as well as potassium, which supports kidney, heart, and nerve function, and calcium, which you need for strong, healthy bones, explains Riehm .

To get the most nutritional benefits from oranges, skip the OJ and eat the whole fruit. It is digested more slowly thanks to the fiber it contains, he explains.


In addition to vitamin C, strawberries also contain anthocyanins, the phytochemicals that give fruit its color and act as antioxidants.

“The antioxidant properties of strawberries have been shown to play an important role in brain health,” says Riehm. “They protect the brain’s ability to think and process information. They can also delay or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

If you can, buy organic strawberries, and add them to your cereal or yogurt. Otherwise, non-organic strawberries are known to retain some of the pesticides used to protect them during the growing process.


Like all citrus fruits, limes are an excellent source of vitamin C, says Riehm. The two main varieties of lime, Tahitian and Key, can be used in many ways—cooking, baking, as a garnish, you name it.

To get the most juice from your limes, roll them over on a flat, sturdy surface before squeezing them. As with lemons, I do not recommend consuming large amounts of raw limes or pure lime juice due to the fruit’s high acid content.


Grapefruit is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate, says Riehm, which are important for healthy cell growth.

To get all the fruit’s benefits, she recommends eating raw grapefruits as the fiber and flesh are removed from the juice.

“Grapefruits contain soluble fiber which has been shown to help regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, and digestive health,” she says.

One important thing to note: While grapefruit is nutritious, be sure to talk to your doctor before including it in your diet. Grapefruit and its juice can interact with several types of medications, says Riehm.

Should You Prioritize Certain Fruits?

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, dietitians generally recommend that you eat a wide variety to get the vitamins and minerals you need. Yes, some may have more nutrients, but that shouldn’t limit you.

“Each product color group has different nutrients, so eating rainbows is very important,” says Riehm.

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Contributing Author

Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter (Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera) to become a freelance writer. Before he struck out on his own, he covered almost everything—from higher education to crime. Now she writes on food, cocktail, travel and lifestyle topics Men’s Journal, Beautiful house, Forbes, The simplest, Shondaland, Vitality rateHearst newspaper, TripSavvy and much more. In his free time, he coaches basketball, hits the pool, and loves hanging out with the rugged but adorable Boston Terrier who never got the memo that this breed was nicknamed “the American gentleman.”

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