Monday, December 29, 2008

Nutrient Density for the New Year

Have you ever heard the term "Nutrient Density?" Dr. Joel Furhman defines nutrient density in his "Eat for Health" book in this way: "What makes a food healthy is how many nutrients is delivers to your body. In other words, for optimal health we must eat foods that are rich in nutrients, in particular, foods that deliver the maximum nutrients in each calorie."

Often people equate health food or healthy eating with eating foods that have some nutritional value. Or they just call the food healthy if it isn't a dessert or processed snack. Others determine if the food is healthy or not by how many calories, fat grams or carbohydrates it has. With all the diet crazes over the past few decades, that might seem like the rational thing to do. But when you hear how Dr. Fuhrman determines the nutritional value of food, nothing else seems to seems to make much sense.

Dr. Furhman has a formula he uses to determine nutrient density. It's lists the most nutritious foods by how many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (which are called micronutrients) are in a food divided by the number of calories. The more nutrient dense foods you eat, the better your health will be. The formula looks like some simple Einstein equation. It's H=N/C, which means your future Health = Nutrients divided by Calories in each bite you take.

When we choose food by this nutrient density equation in mind, it changes the focus from all our usual patterns of thinking, such as:

"What do I feel like eating?"
"What sounds good?"
"What's in the fridge, pantry, on the menu?"
"What am I in the habit of eating and don't possibly think I could ever live without?"
"What am I celebrating and what foods traditionally go along with that celebration?"
"What am I craving right this very second?"

Instead we stock our fridge and pantry with foods that are naturally packed with nutrients and learn to eat and enjoy those foods just like we have with the other foods for so many years. Old habits are hard to break -- they are EXTREMELY hard to break -- it's not a trite phrase I just write to fill up space. It's hard and many don't succeed especially when it comes to food. However, the other phrase that you must replace an old habit with a new one is true too. I'll add that if you think more about the new habit than the one you are leaving behind, you will not feel like a matryr and whine that you can't eat like you used to. You'll be so thrilled and fulfilled with the new foods you are eating that you won't even care about those other foods. You might romanticize at times about how yummy something was (all the good memories of the times attached), but truthfully, your body won't have enough room to eat those foods once you build your diet around nutrient dense foods, so you'll be just fine without them.

If you think you can get these micronutrients from supplements and continue eating the nutrient-sparse foods, you're fooling yourself. Just look around at all the other people doing this with diabetes, heart problems, and a host of other modern diseases. My dad spend Christmas morning in the hospital this year after having a stent put in his heart on Christmas eve. He was telling me the day before that the doctor told him not to fear this procedure -- it was such a common procedure that it was routine -- they did it all the time. I told my dad that could either give him comfort that it's not a risky procedure or it could sound awfully scaryto know that so much of our population is having to have stents put in their heart valves to stay alive. Supplements will not cut it. Nutritional excellence is what we need for excellent health.

We can find the most nutrients per calorie from unrefined plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. What percentage of these foods do you think the average American consumes? Less than 7 per cent! With Dr. Fuhrman's Eat for Health (or former book Eat to Live) approach, you'll be eating at least 90% of these nutrient dense foods.

You'll need to get Dr. Fuhrman's books to see his list of the high nutrients foods, but basically the very highest (surprise, surprise) are the Leafy Green Vegetables, with kale and collard greens being at the very top (score of 1000). Spinach is a little lower with a score of 739 and then when you drop into the next group of Solid Green Vegetables. Foods like cabbage, broccoli, and asparagus have scores of 420, 376, and 234, respectively. That doesn't mean that they aren't healthy - -they are! It just shows you how incredibly nutritious and essential those leafy greens are! The other high nutrient, non-starchy, non-green Vegetables (all vegetables that aren't green and that aren't potatoes or corn, which are more like a grain to your body)

Off to be a mom for a bit -- will finish up later. Until then, here's a video of Dr. Furhman explaining Nutrient Density.

Wow! I just watched the whole video and I love the info he gives. He's so knowledgeable about nutrition -- it's wonderful to learn from him. I hesitated before to write his whole ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) list, but since he shows it there on YouTube, I'll go ahead and list it here on my next post (so you don't have to push "pause" to read the whole thing). That way you can get a good picture of which foods are the most vital to eat for your health and see how useless so many other foods that we usually base our diet on are for good health. It becomes evident that eating high nutrient, healthful foods like green vegetables, berries, and seeds and less animal products, sugar, white flour, processed oil, and processed foods is truly the key to excellent health and well-being.


  1. HI Renee,
    I too went to BYU-- in the early 80's.
    I have slowly started the eat to live diet. I do fairly well, but still have somethings to overcome..just because I work all the time(medicine) and have a hard time making sure there are things to take each morning, for sometimes over 10 hours, that's 2 meals.

    I thought I 'd share this recipe I found, kinda fits, kinda doesn't..but has kept me sane..

    Pineapple fire sauce
    large can ( 16+4 oz) \, crushed in own juice
    -1/4 tsp dried crushed red chilies
    1/2 tsp oregano
    4 T worcheshire sauce
    2 Tblsp lemon juice
    puree or leave as is, depending on tase
    cook to boil
    add( mix before adding )
    2 tblsp cornstarch
    2 tblsp cold water... add in small amounts till you get applesauce consitency
    I like this in a sandwich..
    1/2 tortilla, w/ bean spread
    and the pineapple sauce and then cranberry sauce made w/ aguave nectar.
    hope you enjoy this.. it can be spicy

  2. Thanks for that post, Renee. Some very helpful ideas here. I'm trying to incorporate some kind of weight-gain nutritional diet that has lots of vegetation. Haven't gone to a nutritionist about it yet. What can help me gain while still being healthy and not too much saturated fat? Where do protein drinks fall into this, and which, if any, could be beneficial overall?

  3. Thanks for the recipe Janei!

    Rusty -- Protein drinks are like supplements -- made by man and always inferior to the nutrients you can get in real foods. If you want to get the most nutrients plus be able to gain weight, it's pretty simple. Just increase your grains, nuts, and seeds. All are nutritionally superior to protein drinks and will have a greater absorption rate of protein (and all other nutrients)into your body. Also, even if you're lifting weights, you don't need to up your percentage of protein like so many believe to build muscle. I wrote about this a bit on my protein post a few months back.

    I really need to figure out how to group my posts by subject instead of just by date. Do you know how to do that?