We’ve been told all our lives that eating fruits and vegetables will help us ward off sickness and improve our overall health. But that doesn’t mean all fruits and vegetables are created equal. "Powerhouse foods" stand out against the competition, and a recent study looked at which foods are stronger than others at preventing chronic disease.

“National nutrition guidelines emphasize consumption of powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV), foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk; yet efforts to define PFV are lacking. This study developed and validated a classification scheme defining PFV as foods providing, on average, 10 percent or more daily value per 100 kcal of 17 qualifying nutrients,” according to the study.

Of the 47 foods tested, 41 fell under the powerhouse food criteria making them the most nutrient-dense. Foods that didn’t make the grade were raspberries, tangerine, cranberries, garlic, blueberries and onion. Foods that made the cut contain 17 essential nutrients in quantities that constitute 10 percent or more of a person’s ideal daily intake. These essential nutrients include potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K.

Here are the top ten powerhouse fruits and vegetables that made the cut along with their scoring:

1- Watercress – 100.00
2- Chinese cabbage – 91.99
3- Chard – 89.27
4- Beet greens – 87.08
5- Spinach – 86.43
6- Chicory – 73.73
7- Leaf lettuce – 70.73
8- Parsley – 65.59
9- Romaine lettuce – 63.48
10- Collard green – 62.49

As for the foods that didn’t make the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not good sources of nutrients. They just didn’t fall under the criteria of the study, and their health benefits may lie in the amount of phytochemicals they contain. Phytochemicals are found in plants and have been linked to the prevention of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Great recipes that include some of the top powerhouse foods:

Watercress can seem intimidating with its peppery and tangy flavor, but it can be incorporated into salads, soups and sandwiches. Some easy recipes include:

Watercress and Endive Salad
Egg Salad Sandwich with Watercress
Fragrant Fish Soup

Chinese cabbage includes Napa cabbage and bok choy and can be found in stir-fry and soups. Some easy recipes include:

Napa Cabbage and Pork Stir Fry

Shiitake Noodle Hot and Sour Soup
Quick Kimchi

You may have walked past chard in the produce department and not known it was even there. This leafy green vegetable is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking. Some easy recipes include:

Swiss Chard Scillian Style
Ribollita Soup
Linguine with Shrimp

To learn more about prevention:

Best Foods For Blood Sugar Control
5 Ingredient Substitutions For Healthier Cooking
Foods that fight inflammation