Spinach and strawberries score at the top of a new measure of food nutrition unveiled by The Organic Center.

A 44-page report details The Organic Center’s Nutritional Quality Index, said Chuck Benbrook, co-author of the paper called “Identifying Smart Food Choices on the Path to Healthier Diets” and chief scientist with the Organic Center, Enterprise, Ore.

“We really feel that we have a system that is providing a much more complete and objective overall assessment of the nutritional content of vegetables and fruits,” Benbrook said. “The big difference between our nutrient profile and the others is that we strive to take into account all the important nutrients that science knows about it.”

The nutrition index is designed to help consumers watching their weight to get the most “bang for the calorie,” according to the report. Each food is given a score based on the content of 27 nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, protein, fatty acids, and fiber.

“Individual nutrients are weighted according to their abundance or shortage in American diets, placing greater emphasis on those nutrients typically falling short in contemporary American diets,” the authors said.

He said that vegetables were strong performers in The Organic Center’s nutrition index. Vegetables as a group have a nutrition index score of 0.24 per 100 calories, compared with an average nutrition index score for fruits of 0.10 per 100 calories. By comparison, refined grains had a nutrition index score of just 0.036 per 100 calories, meats and seafood had a score of 0.091 per 100 calories, with sweets and added fats at a paltry average of 0.016 per 100 calories.

The center’s organic index is scaled so that a hypothetical daily diet that supplies exactly the recommended amounts of all 27 nutrients Nutrition Quality Index of one, the report said.

“Just by making smarter food choices, particularly fresh whole fruits and vegetables, consumers can dramatically improve the nutritional quality of their diet per calorie consumed.”

Benbrook said the methodology makes no distinction between organic and conventional produce in the nutrition values it assigns. “They don’t reflect anything to do with organic,” Benbrook said.

However, the report said there is an emerging body of scientific research shows significant nutritional benefits relating to organic production for some nutrients, particularly for phytochemicals, including lutein, lycopene, and measures of antioxidant capacity.

Benbrook said the group also has developed and soon will release a separate Dietary Risk Index that does take into account conventional versus organic consumption in terms of risk of pesticide residues. In addition, a pending report will also examine limited data on variations in nutrient content between organic and conventional produce.