comparison of nutrients by food group

There are lots of claims about different dietary approaches.

  • Fruitarians advocate living on 30 bananas a day say you don’t need much else for health and athletic performance.[1]
  • Vegans say that in addition to high levels of vitamins and minerals, you can get all the protein and essential fatty acids you need from plant based foods.[2]
  • Zero Carbers who look like they’re doing great on purely animal foods and no plants and say they don’t need fibre and perhaps vitamins and minerals.[3]
  • Ketonians believe that you can’t go wrong with fat.[4]
  • Meanwhile the registered dieticians tell us that we shouldn’t eliminate whole food groups (like grains) or risk missing out on essential nutrients.[5]

As detailed in the Building a Better Nutrient Density Index article, we can quantitatively rank individual foods based on their nutrient density.  Eating nutrient dense foods will enable us to maximise satiety and avoid malnutrition and reduce the energy intake while avoiding malnutrition.

The Most Nutrient Dense Superfoods  article lists a wide range of whole foods from various food groups.   But could you thrive on a single food group?  And if you had to live on a single food food group, is there one that would be better than the others?

This article compares the the nutrients provided by the following food groups:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • cereals and grains
  • legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • grains and cereals
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • animal products
  • ketogenic[6]
  • must nutrient dense

All of the charts below show the vitamins, mineral, amino acids and essential fatty acids on the same scale for comparison.   I have also included a selection of the most nutrient foods as an example.

I’ve listed some pros and cons that came to mind for each category.  I’m sure you could come up with some of your own.

vegetables

image07

pros

  • It’s hard to eat too many vegetables as they typically have a low energy density and high nutrient density which will lead to increased satiety (adequate nutrients) and satiation (feeling full).
  • As well as vitamins and minerals, it appears that you could obtain adequate (but not excessive) protein from nutrient dense vegetables (i.e. you could get more than 100% of the DRI for the amino acids from vegetables only).
  • Vegans who consume exclusively plant foods tend to have a lower BMI and less diabetes. This makes sense as limiting yourself exclusively to low energy density plant based foods would help to prevent you overeating.

cons

  • A diet comprising of only vegetables may be lower in Vitamins E, D, choline, and pantothenic acid.
  • Vitamin V-12 is very low in plant based foods.  One of the common concerns when it comes to plant based diets is a lack of vitamin B-12 and vegans often require B-12 injections.[7]
  • There are negligible quantities for the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA in vegetables. If you were to eat only plant based foods it might be beneficial to supplement with essential fatty acids.[8]
  • Vegetables are not subsidised the way that grain based foods often are. They do not store and transport as well as more processed foods and hence can be more expensive.
  • Vegetables can require more preparation and cooking time than processed pre-packaged foods.

image19

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
celery 1.31 88% 1 17
Chinese cabbage 0.96 73% 1 17
rhubarb 0.83 91% 3 21
lettuce 0.73 83% 2 17
turnip greens 0.69 82% 2 37
asparagus 0.67 77% 2 27
broccoli 0.59 86% 4 42
winter squash 0.59 95% 6 39

fruit

image06

pros

  • Fruit provides solid levels of vitamins and minerals and has a lower energy density compared to grain based foods.
  • Fruits are can be more transportable compared to vegetables (e.g. easier to put in school lunches).

cons

  • Fruit tends to have the same nutritional gaps as vegetables (i.e. vitamin E, D, pantothenic acid, choline and essential fatty acids).
  • Some fruits have a higher energy density and amount of non-fibre carbohydrates compared to vegetables. This may be an issue if you are watching your blood glucose levels or your weight. Many fruits have a very high proportion of insulinogenic calories so may not be ideal for someone who is insulin resistant as it will raise their blood glucose levels.

image17

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
cherries 0.30 95% 10 54
orange 0.23 95% 10 55
grapes 0.18 97% 17 77
apples 0.18 97% 11 53
blueberries 0.14 98% 20 91
figs 0.12 96% 16 82
litchis 0.11 94% 15 73
mandarin oranges 0.10 94% 12 59
honeydew melon 0.08 96% 8 40
passion fruit 0.07 91% 13 109

grains and cereals

image10

pros

  • Grains are cheap compared to fruit and vegetables, largely due to production subsidies.[9]
  • Grain based foods can be processed (to remove the fibre and water) so they can be easily transported and stored for longer periods.
  • Grains provide some fibre, but less than vegetables.
  • Grains provide a provide a wide range of nutrients, but at much lower levels than the other food groups.

cons

  • The highest nutrient density grain based foods are typically unprocessed and rarely consumed.
  • The nutrient density of most breads and cereals are very poor, particularly after processing.
  • Grains have a high energy density, a high proportion of insulinogenic calories and a high amount of non-fibre carbohydrates. image04
food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
teff 0.31 91% 17 101
spelt 0.24 91% 23 135
quinoa 0.17 79% 19 120
millet 0.14 87% 22 118
brown rice 0.02 90% 22 111

legumes

image01

pros

  • Legumes provide a range of nutrients at a lower cost compared to vegetables.
  • The energy density of beans and legumes is moderate so they can provide more fuel if you can’t fit in any more veggies.
  • Legumes provide a solid level of protein, particularly for those not wanting to consume animal based foods.

cons

  • The nutrient density of legumes is low compared to other sources such as vegetables.
  • Legumes have higher levels of non-fibre carbohydrates and a higher proportion of insulinogenic calories which may be problematic if you are watching your blood glucose levels.
  • Some people can’t tolerate high levels of the lectin proteins in legumes.[10] [11]

image11

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
lima beans 0.22 92% 16 129
navy beans 0.16 86% 16 143
lentils 0.12 89% 12 118
hummus 0.08 46% 8 175
peanuts 0.03 24% 7 605
tofu 0.02 29% 2 112

nuts and seeds

image02

pros

  • Nuts are higher in what is typically considered to be ‘good fats’ (i.e. MUFA and PUFA).
  • Being higher in fat they are a good way for people with diabetes to get their calories without raising their blood glucose levels.

cons

  • Nuts and seeds provide a good range of vitamins and minerals but at lower levels per calorie than some of the other groups due to the higher energy density.
  • Nuts are calorie dense which may make weight loss more challenging.
  • Nuts have a relatively low nutrient density due to their high energy density.

image15

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g calories/100g
sunflower seeds 0.04 27% 20 491
tahini 0.03 22% 17 633
pistachio nuts 0.03 30% 19 602
pine nuts 0.03 14% 2 647
pecans 0.02 10% 5 762
pumpkin seeds 0.00 36% 48 777
macadamia nuts 0.00 9% 5 769
sesame seeds 0.00 26% 12 603
almonds 0.00 18% 7 652
cashew nuts 0.00 27% 30 609

eggs and dairy

image08

pros

  • Eggs have a solid protein profile, some EPA and DHA and a reasonable amount of vitamins and minerals.
  • Eggs and cheeses are typically lower in carbohydrates which is useful for people trying to normalise their blood glucose levels.
  • Dairy foods like cheese and cream are lower in non-fibre carbohydrates and have a low proportion of insulinogenic calories meaning that they won’t significantly raise your blood glucose levels.

cons

  • The energy density of cheese and some other dairy products is higher which makes it possible to overconsume. Lots of people do better with weight loss when they limit milk and cheese.
  • While the latest US dietary guidelines committee has stated that saturated fat is no longer a nutrient of concern,[12] many people are still concerned about their levels of saturated fat.
  • Milk, a commonly consumed dairy product, is not particularly nutrient dense and contains lactose which will raise blood glucose. Though full fat milk is better than low fat.
  • Many people find that they are allergic to eggs[13] or dairy[14].

image08

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs / 100g calories / 100g
egg yolk 0.19 19% 3.6 317
egg 0.20 29% 0.7 138
blue cheese 0.16 20% 2.3 354
parmesan cheese 0.16 30% 3.4 411
goat cheese 0.15 22% 2.2 451
edam cheese 0.15 22% 1.4 356
provolone 0.15 24% 2.1 350
gouda cheese 0.15 23% 2.2 356
mozzarella 0.15 51% 24 251

seafood

image14

pros

  • Seafood contains essential fatty acids EPA and DHA that are hard to obtain in the rest of the food system.
  • Seafood products have very high levels of protein and substantial levels of many vitamins and minerals.
  • Seafood has a low to moderate calorie density (i.e. lower than high fat cheese cheese but higher than vegetables).
  • Because seafood is so rich in essential fatty acids and amino acids we don’t actually need that much to cover our minimum requirements.

cons

  • Fish can be more expensive than other foods.
  • Many people are concerned about heavy metal toxicity and sustainability issues surrounding seafood.[15]

image21

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
oyster 0.12 57% 14 98
anchovy 0.11 42% 21 203
caviar 0.10 32% 22 276
swordfish 0.09 41% 17 165
tuna 0.09 50% 17 137
trout 0.08 43% 17 162
lobster 0.08 69% 14 84
salmon 0.08 50% 15 122
mackerel 0.08 45% 17 149

animal products

image11

pros

  • Animal products have an excellent amino acid profile as well as significant amounts of other vitamins and minerals.

cons

  • Animal products are lacking in a number of vitamins and minerals such as manganese, vitamin E, vitamin D, folate and vitamin K as well as essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
  • Similar to fish, many people have concerns in the areas of sustainability and environmental impact.

image09

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g/100g) calories / 100g
beef liver 0.39 58% 24 169
chicken liver 0.32 48% 20 165
ham 0.25 55% 20 146
salami 0.22 29% 12 166
bacon 0.17 23% 30 522
turkey heart 0.22 39% 13 130
pork 0.21 54% 21 154

most ketogenic

The ‘most ketogenic foods’ are the 500 foods with the lowest percentage of insulinogenic calories of the 7000 foods in the USDA foods database.

image00

pros

  • If someone is insulin resistant, replacing processed non-fibre carbohydrates with fat will help to reduce insulin and blood glucose levels.
  • The ketogenic approach has relatively high levels of essential fatty acids. While the nutritional value of fat is a contentious issue, many fatty acids have substantial positive nutritional value.[16]
  • People who are insulin resistant will benefit by reducing the insulin load of their diet.

cons

  • The nutrient density of a therapeutic ketogenic approach is relatively poor. Someone looking to manage insulin resistance and diabetes should maximise nutrient density as much as possible while still maintaining excellent blood glucose levels.
  • A high fat / low insulin load diet is typically satiating,[17] however it is possible to overdo energy dense foods to the point that you won’t lose weight.
food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g / 100g) calories / 100g
sunflower seeds 0.21 20% 24 491
peanuts 0.20 18% 28 605
tahini 0.19 16% 26 633
pine nuts 0.18 11% 18 647
pecans 0.16 5% 9 762
egg yolk 0.19 19% 15 317
macadamia nuts 0.14 5% 9 769
chorizo 0.14 17% 19 448
olives 0.18 15% 3 90
pepperoni 0.14 14% 17 487
sesame seeds 0.13 18% 27 603
camembert cheese 0.14 20% 15 299

most nutrient dense

The chart below shows the comparison of all 7000 foods in the USDA database compared to the top 10% of the foods available prioritised by targeting the harder to obtain nutrients.

2016-09-13-3

macronutrients split of all food groups

Just for interest, the table below shows the comparison of the macronutrients of the various food groups as well as the fibre and energy density.

food group % insulinogenic protein (%) fat (%) net carbs (%) fibre (g/200cal) weight

 (g/2000 cal)

vegetables 60 18 11 48 107 2213
fruit 81 4 5 78 52 2142
cereals and grains 82 10 9 75 29 553
eggs and dairy 45 24 41 29 2 920
fish 55 70 26 4 0 155
animal products 46 62 37 1 0 1112
legumes 58 28 24 39 34 1141
nuts and seeds 36 11 58 28 16 382
most ketogenic 10 11 79 3 9 404
moderated nutrient density 54 22 20 39 64 928

comparison of the nutrient density by food groups

The chart below the average nutrient density of all the different food groups in terms of amount of nutrients provided versus the daily recommended intake.  If we just look in terms of average nutrient density (blue bars), fish does pretty well, followed by animal products and then vegetables.

However, what we really want is high levels of nutrient density across the board, not just a large amount of a few nutrients.  For example, fish and animal products have very high levels of protein but lower levels of vitamins and minerals.  By comparison, vegetables have higher levels of vitamins and minerals and do OK when it comes to amino acids.  What we want is for the quantity of nutrients to be high and the variability across the nutrients to be low.

The orange bars show the average nutrient density minus 0.8 times the standard deviation in the nutrient density.  When we look at it this way the vegetables do the best of the food groups because they provide a good range of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

image19

However, in the end though it’s the most nutrient dense foods that win out because they provide high levels of a broad selection of all the nutrients.  So, rather than focusing on a particular food group, if you’re interested in maximising nutrient density, the optimal approach appears to be to focus on the most nutrient dense foods across all of the food groups.

 

references

[1] http://www.30bananasaday.com/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n20uGGNoVdo

[3] https://zerocarbzen.com/

[4] http://ketotalk.com/2016/04/17-too-much-fat-higher-vs-lower-ketones-cortisol-testosterone-on-keto/

[5] http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/fad-diets/

[6] The most ketogenic foods are the top 500 foods with the lowest proportion of insulinogenic calories.

[7] http://chriskresser.com/why-you-should-think-twice-about-vegetarian-and-vegan-diets/

[8] http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-omega-3-supplements-2/

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_subsidy

[10] https://authoritynutrition.com/dietary-lectins/

[11] http://www.marksdailyapple.com/lectins/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eu7DQa4bw

[13] http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/egg-allergy

[14] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/milk-allergy/basics/symptoms/con-20032147

[15] https://jasonprall.com/blog/mercury-myth-fish-tale-epic-proportion/

[16] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/10/11/good-fats-bad-fats/

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175736

One thought on “comparison of nutrients by food group”

  1. Again, tremendous work.

    To be fair: “Many people have concerns in the areas of sustainability and environmental impact with regard to” grain, which is usually grown in a monoculture with the intensive use of herbicides and pesticides. Can’t put that point on fish without putting it on grain.

    Your chart says .5 times standard deviation but your prose says .8 times sd.

    You had told me that you don’t include the bioavailability of nutrients in different foods because you couldn’t find good data on it. You must, however, put caveats on your listings that certain nutrients (easily found information) are less bioavailable in certain foods (e.g. iron in spinach vs meat) and that there are antinutrients in certain foods/plants.

    Another issue that comes up is that eating certain foods increases one’s need for certain nutrients, e.g. eating grains increases the need for vitamin C.

    As you can probably tell, I’m not sold on the “value” of many vegetables.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s