Which has more nutritional value? Cauliflower or basil? Perch or chia seeds? Almonds or kale? Researchers in South Korea used data-driven analysis to quantify the “nutritional fitness” of about 1,000 raw foods (including frozen and dried foods). Can you guess which one comes out on top?

The answer is almonds! They have a nutritional fitness score of 97, just above cherimoya fruit at 96. Farther down in third and fourth place are ocean perch (89) and flatfish (88). Also included in the top 10 are chia seeds (85), swiss chard (78), and pork fat (73). BBC Future used the data to create a list of the 100 most nutritious foods, from almonds to sweet potatoes.

The researchers evaluated nutrients in the foods under study in terms of their fulfillment of daily nutritional needs, when combined with other foods (Uncovering the nutritional landscape of food). They divided foods, first, into animal-derived and plant-derived, and then further categorized animal-derived foods as fat-rich or protein-rich, and plant-derived as fat-rich, carbohydrate-rich, or low-calorie. Almonds belong in the fat-rich category of plant-derived foods. The authors of the study also visualized a “food-food network,” which shows the similarities among the nutritional compositions of the various foods.

Lists are hugely popular, especially on the internet. Still, beyond entertaining us, what is the value of this kind of categorization? The researchers suggest such applications of nutritional fitness as the creation of policy for international food aid or the possibility of customized nutrition, especially for people with specific dietary needs. Nutritional fitness calculations can also be used to analyze the effect of farming methods on the nutritional composition of a food.

submitted by Mara Eksteins