When faced with the triumvirate of fresh fruit most commonly found in kitchens, cafeterias and even some convenience stores — apples, oranges and bananas — which is nutritionally superior?
It turns out the orange has an edge.
“If you consider the concentration of a wide array of nutrients relative to calories, the orange is the most nutritious, followed by the apple, followed by bananas,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
Oranges win based on the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, a measure developed by Katz and colleagues that considers more than 30 nutrients and nutrition factors, giving points for the good (protein, calcium, vitamins) and subtracting points for the bad (sugar, sodium, cholesterol). The quality of the macronutrients, such as glycemic load, is also a factor.
The NuVal system rates foods from 1 to 100, with 100 being the most nutritious. Oranges have a perfect score of 100, earning more credit than apples (96) and bananas (91) because of its high concentrations of vitamin C, fiber, calcium, folate, bioflavonoids and carotenoids. (To compare, skinless chicken breast has a NuVal score of 39 and Cheetos come in at 4.)
Oranges aren’t the best choice for everyone all the time, said Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Apples and bananas can be superior when you’re really hungry or have high blood pressure.
And, as with most things in life, variety is key. Nutritionists advise at least two cups of whole fruit — any fruit — every day.