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Food All Stars

Ranking the Most Nutritious Foods

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian

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!


Milk Products

Protein Foods

Fruits & Veggies


Key Nutrients




folic acid
vitamin A 
vitamin C



Daily Servings






  • 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 


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


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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