Tag Archives: Joel Fuhrman

building a better nutrient density index

  • Nutrient dense foods can increase satiety by providing adequate nutrition and reduced cravings with less energy.
  • Some approaches to nutrient density focus on vitamins and minerals while others use a broader range of nutrients that include essential amino acids and essential fatty acids.
  • This article outlines a new system for prioritisation of foods that focuses on essential nutrients that are more difficult to obtain.

why nutrient density matters

Dr Joel Fuhrman has done some great work developing and testing his dietary approach based on high nutrient density foods.[1]

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Fuhrman’s research suggests that a high nutrient density approach (HND) to food selection leads to a range of benefits including improved:

  • blood sugar control,
  • weight loss,
  • blood pressure, and
  • blood markers.[2]

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People following a high nutrient density approach tend to feel more satiated with fewer calories and are able to skip meals more easily.[3]

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Harvard researcher Dr Christopher Gardner has also shown the benefits of a high fibre, nutrient dense dietary approach with his recent paper Weight loss on low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diets by insulin resistance status among overweight adults and adults with obesity: A randomized pilot trial.[4]

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In this study all participants were encouraged to eat nutrient dense, higher fibre, unprocessed foods.  While the participants who were insulin resistant benefited more from a low carbohydrate approach and insulin sensitive people benefited more from a low energy density / low fat approach, everyone lost weight and improved their blood markers without having to consciously count calories!

calories or nutrients?

It’s generally accepted that people will lose weight if they consume less calories, however the real challenge is managing appetite in the long term.

“Appetite is a dragon.  Losing weight is brutally tough.  Harder than particle physics.”

says RD Dikeman (pictured) who has made some great progress via tight blood glucose control (using the process outlined in the article how to use your blood glucose meter as a fuel gauge), avoidance of processed carbs and intermittent fasting.[5]

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Most people find that appetite and metabolism win out over willpower or conscious calorie counting in the long run.  Either we end up binging on the foods we were craving or our metabolism slows down to cope with the reduced energy intake.[6]

But what if satiety is influenced by the quantity of nutrients rather than the calories in our food?  Paul Jaminet in his Perfect Health Diet books says:

“A nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions is the key to minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake.”

But how do we know if we are getting the required nutrients in the right proportions?   Which foods will help us maximise our chance of achieving nutrient density while minimising energy?

The chart below (click for a larger image) shows the percentage of the recommended daily reference intake (DRI)[7] of the various nutrients that you would obtain if you ate a little bit of ALL of the 7000+ foods in the USDA foods database.

  • Without following any particular dietary approach it seems from this that it’s fairly easy to obtain the recommended amounts of most of the amino acids, iron, phosphorus, selenium, niacin and Vitamin B-12.
  • However, without paying attention to the nutrient density of your diet or supplementation you will have to consume well beyond 2000 calories to obtain the recommended daily intake of calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, vitamin E, vitamin D, pantothenic acid, choline and the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.

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Satiety is a complex and controversial topic.  There are many factors including, palatability, mouth feel, smell, protein, fibre, mood, insulin resistance etc etc etc.   Obtaining adequate nutrients may not be the only thing that influences appetite, but it just might be a significant piece of the complex puzzle.  As you will see below, nutrient dense foods are typically also unprocessed whole foods that you would be less likely to binge on than a packet of Pringles, pizza and a bottle of coke (i.e. ‘foods with no brakes‘).

The slide below from a presentation by Bruce Ames demonstrates that there might be some room for improvement in the nutrient density of most people’s diets.[8]

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This slide shows how many people are lacking in a range of key micro-nutrients.  Very few people are getting adequate omega-3 essential fatty acids.

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limitations of daily reference intake values

The daily recommended intake (DRI)[9] values are typically conservative.  You may do fine with much lower levels than the recommended intake levels.  The only way to really know if you are lacking in a particular nutrient would be to get blood tests to see if you are deficient in any nutrients.[10]

In lieu of regular blood testing of all the essential nutrients you can use the DRI values as a guide to understand if you are getting a ‘balanced diet’ with adequate amounts of the essential nutrients.  Some people use apps like cronometre to see if they are meeting their minimum levels of various nutrients, but how do you know which foods will give you the best chance of maximising your nutrition?

There are meal replacement shakes (e.g. Soylent, Optifast, Ambronite etc) that enable you to theoretically meet the DRI values with a minimum amount of calories.  However the safest approach is probably going to be to focus on nutrient dense unprocessed foods that contain all the essential nutrients that we know about as well as the other nutrients that we don’t yet know about.

Your metabolism may not have read the World Health Organisation’s research on the daily reference intake of the various nutrients however, if appetite is at least partially driven by obtaining adequate nutrition you can see why we are less likely to binge on nutrient dense whole foods.

The slide below from Bruce Ames shows the commonly accepted essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids that we require.

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how to calculate nutrient density

Calculation of nutrient density is far from a precise science.  Different people have taken different approaches and arrived at different food rankings.

Joel Fuhrman’s take on nutrient density uses vitamins and minerals with no consideration of amino acids or fatty acids.   Fuhrman’s ANDI index also includes phytosterols, glucosinolates, angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, aromatase inhibitors, resistant starch, resveratrol and Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) in the scoring.  These additional parameters are not available in the USDA food database and are not part of the generally accepted list of essential nutrients, so it’s hard to include them in a comprehensive analysis.[11]   The highest scoring foods with or without these additional parameters are similar (i.e. green leafy veggies) so I don’t think omitting these parameters will materially change the overall outcome.

Based on his analysis Fuhrman recommends a diet high in vegetables and fruit with a minimum of animal products and processed carbohydrates.  Fuhrman recommends eating animal products only occasionally, ideally fish to provide omega 3 fatty acids.  It’s not hard to see how restricting yourself to non-starchy veggies would help you to reduce your energy intake.

More recently Dr Mat Lalonde developed an alternative approach to analysing nutrient density which also includes essential amino acids and essential fatty acids.  With the inclusion of animal products this approach tends to prioritise high protein animal based foods.  Lalonde’s approach is based on nutrients per weight of food which may be useful for an athlete wanting to quickly refuel, however Fuhrman’s nutrietns per calorie may be more useful for someone wanting to lose weight.

The low carb community’s criticism of Fuhrman’s approach is that it is too high in carbohydrates and that it is unnecessarily biased towards plant based foods.   Meanwhile the vegan community’s criticism of Lalonde’s approach is that the higher protein and fat levels are unnecessary and even dangerous.[12]  They claim you can get adequate amounts without going out of your way to make it a priority.

As detailed in the optimal foods for different goals I previously had a go at developing a nutrient density ranking system that includes forty three (43) beneficial nutrients including vitamins and minerals as well as beneficial amino acids and fatty acids.   While this ‘belt and braces’ approach to nutrient density will ensure that you maximise the nutrient density of your food there is also a risk that it will prioritise nutrients that are easy to obtain at the expense of nutrients that are less common in our food system.

So which approach is optimal?  Vitamins and minerals only, all beneficial nutrients, or perhaps something else?  Which approach will enable you to obtain a nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions to minimise appetite and eliminate hunger with a minimal caloric intake.

comparison of approaches to nutrient density

The chart below (click for a larger image) compares the nutrients we obtain for the following approaches:

  • all foods,
  • top 500 foods prioritised using vitamins and minerals, and
  • top 500 foods prioritised using all 43 beneficial micro-nutrients.

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We can see from this analysis that:

  • Following either approach to maximising nutrient density provides an immense improvement compared to the average of all of the foods in the USDA database.
  • The vitamins and minerals only approach does better in terms of most of the vitamins and minerals.
  • The most nutrient dense approach using forty three micro-nutrients does better when it comes to amino acids (protein), essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), vitamin B-12, zinc, selenium and niacin.
  • There is a lot of variability in the amounts of nutrients in terms of percentage of the DRI.

So if our goal is to avoid malnutrition with the minimum amount of calories, which approach is optimal?

Perhaps what we need, rather than amplifying all nutrients, is to prioritise the foods with the nutrients that are harder to obtain?

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removing the overachievers

The chart below shows the proportion of the population that consume less than the recommended amount of various essential nutrients.  From this it seems we should, as a minimum, prioritise vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

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Starting with the full list of forty-three beneficial nutrients I have progressively removed the ‘overachievers’ so we only prioritise the harder to obtain nutrients.  The nutrients that you could obtain more than 500% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) with 2000 calories have been removed from the system.

I have also removed the fatty acids that could be considered contentious in a minimalist food ranking system.  So rather than 43 nutrients we end up prioritising only the 27 hardest to obtain essential nutrients.

vitamins

  1. Choline
  2. Thiamine
  3. Riboflavin
  4. Niacin
  5. Pantothenic acid
  6. Vitamin A
  7. Vitamin B12
  8. Vitamin B6
  9. Vitamin C
  10. Vitamin D
  11. Vitamin E
  12. Vitamin K

minerals

  1. Calcium
  2. Copper
  3. Iron
  4. Magnesium
  5. Manganese
  6. Phosphorus
  7. Potassium
  8. Selenium
  9. Sodium
  10. Zinc

amino acids

  1. Cysteine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Phenylalanine
  6. Threonine
  7. Tryptophan
  8. Tyrosine
  9. Valine
  10. Methionine
  11. Histidine

fatty acids

  1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6 n-3)
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20:5 n-3)
  3. Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) (22:5 n-3)
  4. Alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 n-3)
  5. Arachidonic acid (20:4)
  6. Oleic acid (18:1)
  7. Lauric acid (12:0)
  8. Capric acid (10:0)
  9. Pentadecanoic acid (15:0)
  10. Margaric acid (17:0)

The chart below (click for larger image) shows the outcome of the moderated approach compared to the other approaches (i.e. all foods, vitamins and minerals only and all 43 nutrients).  A number of the nutrients that were lower using the “all nutrients” approach have improved (i.e. calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E and vitamin D).

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which one is best?

The moderated approach does pretty well across the board.  The problem  is that it’s hard to make sense of all this data to confirm which approach is optimal.  How do we simplify the decision process?

In engineering we often think in terms of reliability statistics.[13]

Let’s say Acme brand widget is really strong on average but highly variable.  If you buy a box of Acme widgets most of them will be strong, but you might get some low strength duds.  Acme of widget not reliable so we have to be conservative when it comes to the design assumptions.   In the design we might assume that a widget is only as strong as the average minus one or two standard deviations of the strength to make sure our design is conservative.

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However if we can decrease the variability by improving the manufacturing process and produce a box of widgets that are not quite as strong on average but less variable we can assume a lower factor of safety and assume more capacity in a design using that bolt.

Perhaps we can use a similar analysis approach when it comes to nutrient density.  What we ideally want is a diet that has high levels of all of the essential nutrients without any nutrient deficiencies that would require supplementation.

The chart below plots the average of all the nutrients as a proportion of the DRI (blue bars).  We can see that all three approaches to ranking nutrient density do better than the average of all foods in the USDA database, with the “43 micro-nutrients” approach scoring the best.  However we know from the chart above that this high score is largely due to very high amino acid scores for the “all 43 micro-nutrients” approach.

The vitamins and minerals only approach also does well, however we also know that this is due to the higher score in the vitamins and minerals with lower scores in some of the other nutrients such as the proteins and essential fatty acids.

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The orange bars in the plot represent the average minus 0.8 times the standard deviation of the nutrients as a percentage of the DRI requirement.  Using this approach to comparison it appears that the moderated nutrient density approach is better because we have less variability across the nutrients, with some lower highs and lots of higher lows compared to the other approaches.

What this means in practice is that the moderated approach will more reliably provide you with the essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids that you require without needing to supplement or overeat to provide the missing nutrients.   The moderated nutrient density approach seems to give us a better outcome in terms of nutrient density.

most nutrient dense foods

Listed below is a summary of the top 1000 foods prioritised by the moderated nutrient density system detailed above.

In addition to nutrient density score (note: 0 is average and a score of 2 means that a food is two standard deviations above the mean) I have also included a number of other parameters that may be of interest.

  • The percentage of insulinogenic calories and net carbs per 100g of food will be of interest for someone who aiming for a high fat therapeutic ketogenic diet.
  • The insulin load may be of interest for someone who is insulin resistant and wanting to consume a diet that their pancreas can keep up with.
  • Net carbs will be useful for someone doing standard carbohydrate counting.
  • The energy density (calories per 100g) will be of interest for someone looking to decrease the energy density of their diet for weight loss.

I have also shown the vitamin, mineral and protein plots for some of the highest ranking foods in each category to get a feel for the nutrition provided by each of these foods.

Choosing nutrient dense whole foods typically ensures that the other relevant parameters are favourable, though these other factors may be of interest depending on your situation.

Future articles will look at how we can fine tune our food selection to suit people who are insulin resistant and wanting to normalise their blood glucose levels or who are insulin sensitive and still looking to lose weight.  In the meantime you can check out these summary food lists that are based around these ideas:

vegetables

If you look down the nutrient density (ND) scores of all the foods you will see that the vegetables do really well compared to the other food groups.  If you were aiming to maximise nutrient density you could simply focus on eating as many vegetables as you could with perhaps some supplemental seafood for essential fatty acids. image09

Celery tops the list of nutrient dense dense foods because it has a lot of vitamins and minerals with very few calories.  The chart below from Nutrition Data shows that we would obtain 81% of our required vitamins and minerals from 1000 calories and 52% of the protein.   The is that we would need to eat 100 celery stalks to obtain that 1000 calories!  However you can see how in terms of nutrients per calorie celery is amazing and you wouldn’t go wrong trying to fill up on these high nutrient density low calorie density foods.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
celery 2.63 49% 1 2 17
rhubarb 1.46 57% 3 3 21
turnip greens 1.31 39% 1 4 37
lettuce 1.34 52% 2 2 17
winter squash 1.22 80% 7 8 39
broccoli 1.21 57% 4 6 42
asparagus 1.12 46% 2 3 27
Chinese cabbage 1.02 60% 1 2 16
summer squash 1.00 65% 2 3 19
okra 0.94 57% 4 5 37
bamboo shoots 0.90 52% 3 4 28
bell peppers 0.86 64% 6 7 43
artichokes 0.83 33% 3 4 54
cabbage 0.81 53% 3 4 30
kale 0.75 74% 8 10 56
parsnip 0.73 38% 7 7 76
seaweed (kelp) 0.74 43% 4 5 50
snap green beans 0.74 47% 4 5 40
peas 0.69 58% 5 7 51
radishes 0.70 50% 2 2 19
mushrooms 0.65 70% 2 5 30
sweet potato 0.51 82% 17 18 87
onions 0.52 77% 7 8 41
jalapeno peppers 0.52 54% 4 5 35
pinto beans 0.44 60% 16 21 142
sweet corn 0.43 47% 10 13 111
collards 0.44 46% 2 5 40
dill 0.42 30% 2 4 52
eggplant 0.39 67% 7 7 41
beets 0.34 44% 4 5 48
shallots 0.27 60% 46 56 377
mung beans 0.33 46% 1 3 26
thyme 0.27 21% 14 19 359
black pepper 0.24 36% 24 29 327
bay leaf 0.21 37% 34 38 406
chives 0.27 34% 1 3 37
mustard greens 0.27 45% 2 3 30
Brussels sprouts 0.24 54% 5 7 52
shiitake mushrooms 0.20 68% 51 59 349
paprika 0.19 17% 8 16 389

fruit

The list of nutrient dense fruits is shorter than the vegetables due to the higher amount of calories and sugar in proportion to the amount of nutrients.

The plot below shows that we get 57% of the vitamins and minerals and 44% of our protein from 1000 calories of mandarin orange.

Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Oranges, raw, all commercial varieties - Google Chrome 16052016 54708 AM.bmp

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g
cherries 0.72 84% 10 11 54
orange 0.49 77% 10 11 55
apples 0.48 77% 10 10 53
grapes 0.45 80% 15 15 77
figs 0.37 81% 16 17 82
blueberries 0.32 72% 16 16 91
mandarin oranges 0.31 63% 9 9 59
honeydew melon 0.30 88% 8 9 40
passion fruit 0.24 54% 13 15 109
raisins 0.20 84% 68 70 336
litchis 0.20 80% 14 15 73
dates 0.17 72% 54 56 308

legumes

Legumes tend to have a higher energy density than the vegetables and thus may be useful if you need some more calories to support your activity and can’t fit in any more celery, lettuce and broccoli.

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The Nutrition Data plot below for lentils shows that 1000 calories will provide 58% of your vitamins and minerals and 86% of your protein.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
lima beans 0.56 71% 16 23 129
navy beans 0.47 55% 15 20 143
lentils 0.35 62% 12 18 118
hummus 0.26 32% 8 14 175
peanuts 0.17 18% 7 28 605

grains

The nutrient dense grains tend to be the least processed.  Unfortunately most grains are consumed in a highly processed form.

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The plot below shows that oats will give us minerals and a substantial amount of protein, but are not as high in the vitamins compared with a number of the other foods. image11

food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
oatmeal 0.77 58% 8 10 67
teff 0.70 54% 11 14 101
spelt 0.58 54% 14 18 135
rice noodles 0.54 87% 22 23 105
quinoa 0.45 55% 14 16 120
oat bran 0.35 57% 29 38 264
millet 0.34 76% 20 22 118
rye bread 0.30 64% 37 45 282
rice bran bread 0.25 54% 31 37 273
wheat bran bread 0.24 68% 37 44 257
oat bran muffins 0.23 48% 29 35 288

dairy and eggs

The nutrient density score for eggs and dairy is not as high as the vegetables, however the proportion of insulinogenic calories and net carbohydrates is lower which will mean that these foods have a minimal impact on blood glucose levels.

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The plot below shows that we would get half of our required vitamins and minerals and 136% of our protein requirements from 1000 calories of eggs (i.e. 14 eggs).

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
parmesan cheese 0.18 30% 3 31 411
goat cheese 0.17 22% 2 25 451
edam cheese 0.17 22% 1 20 356
gruyere cheese 0.17 21% 0 22 412
Swiss cheese 0.17 26% 5 25 379
egg yolk 0.17 19% 4 15 317
gouda cheese 0.17 23% 2 20 356
provolone 0.17 24% 2 21 350
blue cheese 0.16 20% 2 18 354
cheddar cheese 0.15 20% 1 20 403
limburger cheese 0.16 18% 0 15 327
camembert cheese 0.16 20% 0 15 299
Monterey 0.15 20% 1 19 373
muenster cheese 0.15 20% 1 18 368
Colby 0.15 20% 3 20 394
whole egg 0.16 29% 1 10 138

nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are more energy dense but lower in carbohydrates due to their higher fat content.  While nuts and seeds will help someone achieve more stable blood glucose levels it is common knowledge in low carb circles that you need to watch your intake of nuts, seeds and dairy if you’re trying to lose weight.

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food ND % insulinogenic net carbs/100g insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
coconut water 1.51 66% 3 3 20
sunflower seeds 0.18 20% 11 24 491
tahini 0.17 16% 13 26 633
pine nuts 0.16 11% 9 18 647
pecans 0.15 5% 4 9 762
pistachio nuts 0.16 23% 19 34 602

seafood

Omega 3 fatty acids are important but hard to get in the diet, so it’s worth going out of your way to ensure you are getting enough.

seafood-salad-5616x3744-shrimp-scallop-greens-738

The plot below shows that we can get more than half of our vitamins and minerals and 148% of our protein requirements from 1000 calories of sardines.

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food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
anchovy 0.34 42% 21 203
caviar 0.30 32% 22 276
tuna 0.30 50% 17 137
oyster 0.31 57% 14 98
rainbow trout 0.28 43% 17 162
mackerel 0.28 45% 17 149
swordfish 0.28 41% 17 165
lobster 0.30 69% 14 84
herring 0.26 34% 18 210
salmon 0.28 50% 15 122
whitefish 0.27 67% 17 102
octopus 0.26 69% 27 156
halibut 0.27 63% 16 105
Pollock 0.27 66% 17 105
sturgeon 0.26 47% 15 129
sardine 0.24 36% 18 202
shrimp 0.26 66% 19 113
crab 0.26 69% 13 78
snapper 0.25 64% 15 94
haddock 0.24 67% 18 110
mussel 0.22 61% 25 165
whiting 0.21 63% 17 109
crayfish 0.21 64% 12 78
abalone 0.21 76% 19 99
haddock 0.21 69% 15 85
clam 0.20 71% 24 135

animal products

When it comes to animal products the lower fat cuts tend to rank higher when it comes to nutrient density.

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Liver ranks the highest overall and the vitamin and minerals score as well as the protein score is substantial.

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food ND % insulinogenic insulin load  (g/100g) calories/100g
beef liver 0.46 58% 24 169
chicken liver 0.43 48% 20 165
ham 0.26 55% 20 146
pork 0.25 54% 21 154
veal (leg) 0.25 56% 25 174
emu 0.24 63% 25 159
beef 0.22 50% 25 197
chicken breast 0.22 56% 25 178
turkey breast 0.22 70% 22 127
bacon 0.18 23% 30 522
ground turkey 0.19 37% 19 203
ostrich 0.19 46% 19 168
veal (sirloin) 0.18 38% 19 195
pork 0.18 46% 21 182
chicken drumstick 0.17 36% 22 238
goose 0.17 37% 21 230
duck (meat only) 0.17 36% 17 195
beef steak 0.16 28% 21 305

should everybody eat just these nutrient dense foods?

As a general rule most people would do well eating from this list of nutrient dense whole foods.  Unprocessed nutrient dense foods would be a major improvement for most people.  There is however opportunity to further refine this for specific goals such as weight loss or diabetes.

In future articles we will look at how we can use the concepts of energy density and insulin load to further refine this list for people who are looking to lose weight and for people who have diabetes and need to control their blood glucose levels.  In the mean time you may be interested in these summary food lists:

 

references

[1] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[2] https://www.drfuhrman.com/members/m_library/OJPM20120300014_73341742.pdf

[3] https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/changing_perceptions_of_hunger.pdf

[4] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21331/full

[5] RD also happens to be a physicist and a chief scientist with defence contractor Lockheed Martin.  He is also an admin on the TYPE ONE GRIT facebook group for people with type 1 diabetes (his son has type 1 diabetes) and produces Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes University.

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Obesity-Code-Unlocking-Secrets-Weight/dp/1771641258

[7] https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVQmPVBjubw

[9] http://www.mydailyintake.net/nutrients/

[10] http://www.lifeextension.com/vitamins-supplements/blood-tests/nutrient-testing

[11] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[12] http://www.vegsource.com/articles/protein.danger.htm

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_(statistics)

nutrient dense superfoods for maintenance

These foods will help you maximise nutrient density and sustain it for the long term.

“A nourishing, balanced diet that provides all the required nutrients in the right proportions is the key to minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake.”

Paul Jaminet

2016-07-06 (11)

Simply focussing on nutrient density can leave you with low energy density foods that may be unnecessary if you are happy with your current bodyfat levels.  The foods listed below are ranked using nutrient density and insulin load to increase the fat content a little for weight maintenance.

The chart below shows that these foods still rank at #4 of the 13 approaches analsed in terms of nutrient density in spite of containing a little mor efat!

2016-10-16-4

This chart shows the nutrients provided by these foods compared to the average of all foods in the USDA database.

nutrient-dense-maintenance

These foods still have a fairly low energy density (#4 of 13)  but not as much as the more aggressive weight loss approach.  The addition of some nuts and dairy brings up the energy density which means it will be easier to maintain body weight and satiety, especially if you are active.

2016-10-20-1

For completeness I’ve also included the nutrient density score, percentage of insulinogenic calories, insulin load (per 100g), energy density (per 100g) and the multicriteria analysis score score (MCA) that combines all these factors.

vegetables and spices

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food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
broccoli 23 36% 3 22 2.62
zucchini 19 40% 2 17 2.17
coriander 17 30% 2 23 2.16
watercress 24 65% 2 11 2.13
endive 15 23% 1 17 2.12
spinach 20 49% 4 23 2.08
chicory greens 14 23% 2 23 2.03
basil 18 47% 3 23 1.93
beet greens 14 35% 2 22 1.77
asparagus 17 50% 3 22 1.75
escarole 11 24% 1 19 1.72
Chinese cabbage 17 54% 2 12 1.70
parsley 15 48% 5 36 1.64
lettuce 15 50% 2 15 1.60
alfalfa 9 19% 1 23 1.59
cauliflower 15 50% 4 25 1.58
chard 14 51% 3 19 1.53
okra 14 50% 3 22 1.51
summer squash 13 45% 2 19 1.49
paprika 9 27% 26 282 1.49
mustard greens 11 36% 3 27 1.45
chives 13 48% 4 30 1.43
portabella mushrooms 14 55% 5 29 1.42
banana pepper 10 36% 3 27 1.35
turnip greens 11 44% 4 29 1.34
arugula 11 45% 3 25 1.33
cloves 9 35% 35 274 1.31
sage 7 26% 26 315 1.29
dill 13 59% 8 43 1.28
brown mushrooms 16 73% 5 22 1.28
white mushroom 13 65% 5 22 1.19
red peppers 8 40% 3 31 1.17
curry powder 3 13% 14 325 1.17
dandelion greens 11 54% 7 45 1.16
shiitake mushroom 11 58% 7 39 1.14
celery 10 50% 3 18 1.13
collards 7 37% 4 33 1.12
cucumber 7 39% 1 12 1.09
pickles 7 39% 1 12 1.09
edamame 7 41% 13 121 1.00
radishes 7 43% 2 16 0.97
sauerkraut 6 39% 2 19 0.96
yeast extract spread 9 59% 27 185 0.93
spirulina 11 70% 6 26 0.90
jalapeno peppers 5 37% 3 27 0.89
eggplant 4 35% 3 25 0.88
cabbage 8 55% 4 23 0.87
Brussel sprouts 7 50% 6 42 0.86
thyme 4 34% 31 276 0.86
chayote 5 40% 3 24 0.83
seaweed (wakame) 12 79% 11 45 0.83

seafood

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food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
salmon 19 52% 20 156 1.98
fish roe 18 47% 18 143 1.94
trout 16 45% 18 168 1.82
caviar 13 33% 23 264 1.72
oyster 16 59% 14 102 1.57
anchovy 12 44% 22 210 1.46
sturgeon 13 49% 16 135 1.46
cisco 9 29% 13 177 1.42
crab 17 71% 14 83 1.39
mackerel 6 14% 10 305 1.39
halibut 15 66% 17 111 1.31
sardines 9 36% 16 185 1.26
flounder 13 57% 12 86 1.25
herring 8 36% 19 217 1.25
tuna 11 52% 23 184 1.23
sardine 9 37% 19 208 1.2
rockfish 13 66% 17 109 1.15
lobster 14 71% 15 89 1.15
shrimp 13 69% 19 119 1.12
pollock 13 69% 18 111 1.07
crayfish 12 67% 13 82 1.05
perch 10 62% 14 96 0.91
cod 11 71% 48 290 0.87
whiting 10 66% 18 116 0.86
haddock 10 71% 19 116 0.82

animal products

image09

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
lamb liver 19 48% 20 168 2.01
lamb kidney 19 52% 15 112 1.91
turkey liver 16 47% 21 189 1.72
veal liver 17 55% 26 192 1.71
beef liver 17 59% 25 175 1.63
chicken liver 14 50% 20 172 1.52
beef kidney 14 52% 20 157 1.48
beef brains 8 22% 8 151 1.42
lamb brains 6 27% 10 154 1.17
lamb heart 10 48% 19 161 1.15
ground turkey 6 30% 19 258 1.13
ham 12 59% 17 113 1.13
chicken liver pate 7 34% 17 201 1.12
turkey heart 9 47% 20 174 1.09
rib eye steak 8 41% 21 210 1.09
pork liver 11 59% 23 165 1.07
lean beef 11 61% 23 149 1.07
lamb chop 8 42% 25 234 1.06
roast beef 7 38% 21 219 1.06
roast pork 7 41% 20 199 1.05
beef heart 9 52% 23 179 1.04
chicken 10 60% 22 148 0.99
salami 2 18% 17 378 0.99
veal 11 65% 24 151 0.96
beef tongue 1 16% 11 284 0.95
turkey meat 8 52% 21 158 0.95
turkey drumstick 8 52% 21 158 0.95
pork chop 9 57% 23 172 0.94
T-bone steak 3 26% 19 294 0.94
ground pork 9 54% 25 185 0.94
lamb sweetbread 6 43% 15 144 0.92
pepperoni 0 13% 16 504 0.90
pork shoulder 9 56% 22 162 0.90
leg ham 8 56% 22 165 0.89

grains and cereals

image04

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
baker’s yeast 15 53% 16 105 1.52
wheat bran 10 38% 34 216 1.38
All Bran 13 56% 55 259 1.33

dairy and egg

image08

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
egg yolk 7 18% 12 275 1.47
whole egg 9 30% 10 143 1.40
Swiss cheese 5 22% 22 393 1.20
cheddar cheese 5 20% 20 410 1.18
cream 1 6% 5 340 1.14
butter 0 2% 3 718 1.11
sour cream 2 13% 6 198 1.09
cream cheese 2 11% 10 350 1.08
mozzarella 6 34% 26 304 1.04
parmesan cheese 4 34% 35 420 0.91
feta cheese 2 22% 15 264 0.86
limburger cheese 1 19% 15 327 0.83

legumes, nuts and seeds

image15

food ND % insulinogenic insulin load (g/100g) calories/100g MCA
peanut butter 2 17% 27 593 0.96
sunflower seeds 1 15% 22 546 0.92
tofu 5 34% 8 83 0.92
pumpkin seeds 1 19% 29 559 0.89
macadamia nuts -1 6% 12 718 0.87

other dietary approaches

The table below contains links to separate blog posts and printable .pdfs detailing optimal foods for a range of dietary approaches (sorted from most to least nutrient dense) that may be of interest depending on your situation and goals.   You can print them out to stick to your fridge or take on your next shopping expedition for some inspiration.

dietary approach printable .pdf
weight loss (insulin sensitive) download
autoimmune (nutrient dense) download
alkaline foods download
nutrient dense bulking download
nutrient dense (maintenance) download
weight loss (insulin resistant) download
autoimmune (diabetes friendly) download
zero carb download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis download
vegan (nutrient dense) download
vegan (diabetic friendly) download
therapeutic ketosis download
avoid download

If you’re not sure which approach is right for you and whether you are insulin resistant, this survey may help identify the optimal dietary approach for you.

image02

optimal foods for different goals

A number of attempts have been made to rank foods based on their nutrient density or some other measure.

Useful parameters that can be used to optimal foods for different goals include:

  • nutrient density / calorie,
  • nutrient density / cost,
  • nutrient density / weight,
  • fibre / calorie,
  • fibre / weight,
  • calorie / weight,
  • cost / calorie, and
  • percentage insulinogenic calories.

This article details a new system that combines these parameters to identify optimal foods for different goals such as:

  • weight loss,
  • diabetes and nutritional ketosis,
  • therapeutic ketosis, and
  • athletes and the metabolically healthy.

My hope is that all this number crunching will help take the some of the guess work and ambiguity out of nutrition.

If we agree that we should focus on nutrient dense foods that don’t overload our pancreas’s ability produce adequate insulin, then we can move closer to agreeing which foods are optimal for an individual’s individual needs.

If you want to skip the detail, the end result of is a number of simple lists of optimal foods for different goals that you can access via the links below. If you want more detail then read on.

goal blog cheat sheet detailed list
therapeutic ketosis visit download download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis visit download download
fat loss visit download download
athletes and metabolically healthy visit download download

Firstly let’s take a look at a number of approaches that have previously been used to rank and prioritise foods.

low carbohydrate diets

As popularized by Dr Robert Atkins, limiting carbohydrates is a simple way to prioritise foods to reduce insulin demand.

By restricting carbohydrates intake, a range of foods are excluded, particularly those that are highly processed and contain added sugars.

While a low carb approach will reduce the insulin load of our food, no specific consideration is given to nutrient density or food quality.

image001

Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)

In contrast to Akins’ approach, Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)[1] ranks foods based on micronutrients per calorie.[2]

I think there is an element of genius to Fuhrman’s nutrient density ranking system.  However when you look in the detail you find it is based on a select range of vitamins and minerals without any consideration of beneficial amino acids or fatty acids.

Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach has come under criticism for excluding a number of essential nutrients and placing extra emphasis on more fringe measures such as “oxygen radical absorbance capacity”.

image002

To determine the ANDI scores, an equal-calorie serving of each food was evaluated. The following nutrients were included in the evaluation: fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin K, phytosterols, glucosinolates, angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, aromatase inhibitors, resistant starch, resveratrol plus ORAC score.

While claiming to be “evidence driven”, without the inclusion of amino acids or fatty acids Fuhrman’s “nutritarian” approach ends up being heavily biased towards plant based foods.[3]   

Another issue with Furhman’s ANDI is that it can be skewed by a single nutrient present in very high quantities. For example, kale ranks at the top of Furhman’s list primarily due to its massive amount of Vitamin K.  Unfortunately, a mega dose of Vitamin K, which is a fat soluble vitamin, may have limited use by itself.  Rather than finding foods that are high in one nutrient it would be ideal to identify foods that were high in a broad range of nutrients.

Ranking foods in terms of nutrient density per calorie also tends to prioritise leafy veggies, which is great if you are trying to lose weight but not ideal if you’re an athlete trying to fuel up for an intense workout on kale and watercress.

While I think most people would benefit from consuming more green leafy vegetables, in the long term I think they will also benefit from foods with adequate protein protein and beneficial fatty acids.

In the short term someone who is obese has plenty of excess fatty acids and amino acids to spare so they will likely feel great as they are losing weight, however as their weight loss slows and they stop feasting off their own protein and fat the benefits of the a very low fat, very low protein approach may diminish.

NuVal

Professor Dr David Katz and an auspicious group of friends have developed the NuVal[4] food ranking system which uses the following sixteen positive ‘numerator nutrients’ to compare and rank common foods:

  • Fibre
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • total bioflavonoids
  • total carotenoids
  • Magnesium
  • Iron

image003

The sum of the ‘numerator nutrients’ is divided by the sum of the ‘denominator nutrients’ listed below to calculate a score of between one and one hundred:

  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • sodium
  • sugar
  • cholesterol

image004

The NuVal system also considers the following ‘additional entries’:

  • protein quality
  • fat quality
  • glycemic load
  • energy density

It’s interesting to note the foods to which it gives a score of 100 including:

  • non-fat skim milk,
  • sweet potato,
  • tomatoes,
  • beans,
  • bananas,
  • blueberries,
  • mango, and
  • wheat bran.

While the stated goal of the NuVal system is to combat diabetes, the food insulin index[5] shows that many of these foods will be problematic for a diabetic trying to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Some of the more puzzling scores thrown up by the system include:

  • shrimp – 40
  • lobster – 60
  • coconut – 24
  • chicken – 57
  • beef – 46

Other concerns with the NuVal system include:

  • Because it biases heavily against saturated fat, some diabetic friendly foods like beef and coconut are further down the list.
  • The number of foods analysed is fairly limited.
  • Only sixteen vitamins and minerals are included in the analysis.
  • Dietary cholesterol is penalised by the NuVal system although dietary cholesterol does not necessarily lead to cholesterol in the blood or heart disease.
  • The NuVal algorithm has been calibrated to fit the views of the panel of experts, hence it is likely that it will simply reinforce previously held views.
  • Considering added sugar and the glycemic index are a good start, however I think using the food insulin index would be more useful as it is a better measure of the actual amount of glucose being metabolised.

Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet Roadmap

Dave Asprey has developed the Bulletproof Diet Infographic[6] which is a simple ranking of foods to avoid, and preference based on both nutritional density and toxins.

image006

While I think Asprey’s ranking system is excellent, the downside is that it features only a select range of foods and does not explain why each of the foods has been given a particular ranking, although there is a good discussion of the toxins and various other considerations in his Bulletproof Diet Book.[7]

Asprey’s list also doesn’t differentiate between what would be most appropriate for someone with diabetes versus an athlete, or someone aiming for therapeutic ketosis or wanting to lose weight.

Soylent

Another noteworthy foray into the realm of optimising nutrition is Rob Reinhardt’s Soylent.[8]

Reinhardt set out to produce a manufactured food that ticked off all of the micronutrient Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) values, while reducing the cost and the hassle of food preparation.

While Reinhardt notes that his creation would be healthier than the ramen noodles that he was living on before creating Soylent[9], there are a number of downsides to this food replacement which is basically a protein shake on steroids.

Using manufactured foods leaves you exposed to not getting all of the non-essential micronutrients or even the beneficial nutrients that haven’t made it to the current list.  Eating real whole foods seems to be a safer option to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Mat Lalonde’s nutrient density

After reviewing the various options available and finding them lacking, Dr Mathieu Lalonde developed an excellent ranking of foods based on nutrient density per weight of food using the USDA food database.[11]

Lalonde also included a broader range of nutrients than Fuhrman or Katz by also considering beneficial amino acids and fatty acids.

This analysis identified organ meats as one of the more nutritious foods, followed by herbs and spices, nuts and seeds.

image008

In this video of his AHS2012 presentation Lalonde noted that people wanting to lose weight may wish to prioritise in terms of nutrient density per calorie, however he chose to analyse nutrient density in terms of weight as that might be more relevant for athletes (Lalonde is a CrossFit athlete as well as a biochemist). [12]

After watching this video and hearing about his quantitative approach to nutrient density I was left excited, yet a little unsatisfied, wondering what the ranking might look like in terms of nutrient density / calories.

fibre per calorie

One of the more interesting concepts in the area of nutrition recently is that what you eat could affect your gut bacteria.

Typical daily fibre intake is around 17g for those of us in western civilisation compared to the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 25 to 30g per day.[17]

It is said that African hunter gatherer children obtain more than 150g of fibre per day from eating unprocessed foods in their natural state[18], and before the invention of fire and cooking our ancestors were eating more than 100g of fibre per day.[19]

Fibre is not digestible by the human gut and hence it does not provide energy or cause a rise in blood sugar or insulin.  Fibre in our food neutralises the insulinogenic effect of carbohydrate.[20]

If we rank for fibre per calorie we end up with a few spices such as cinnamon, curry powder, or cocoa at the top of the list along with veggies such as turnip, artichoke, sauerkraut, and cauliflower.

  1. cinnamon
  2. turnip greens
  3. artichoke
  4. curry powder
  5. sauerkraut
  6. cauliflower
  7. raspberries
  8. lettuce
  9. blackberries
  10. lemon peel

Again, this list is interesting, but not something you can live by.  Somehow we need to combine all these approaches to arrive at a more useful list that balances all of these considerations.

what are the “essential nutrients”?

So after reviewing these ranking systems I thought it would be interesting to design my own that would build on these previous approaches as well as considering the insulin response to food to make it more useful for people with diabetes.

The obvious starting point is to agree on the nutrients that should be included.  Listed below are the commonly accepted list of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.[21]

vitamins

  1. Choline
  2. Thiamine
  3. Riboflavin
  4. Niacin
  5. Pantothenic acid
  6. Vitamin A
  7. Vitamin B12
  8. Vitamin B6
  9. Vitamin C
  10. Vitamin D
  11. Vitamin E
  12. Vitamin K

minerals

  1. Calcium
  2. Copper
  3. Iron
  4. Magnesium
  5. Manganese
  6. Phosphorus
  7. Potassium
  8. Selenium
  9. Sodium
  10. Zinc

amino acids

  1. Cysteine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Phenylalanine
  6. Threonine
  7. Tryptophan
  8. Tyrosine
  9. Valine
  10. Methionine
  11. Histidine

fatty acids

The list of essential and conditionally essential fatty acids is shorter than the other lists and is largely made up of omega 3 fats that the human body cannot manufacture in sufficient quantities. We need to go out of our way to incorporate these into our diet.

  1. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6 n-3)
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20:5 n-3)
  3. Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) (22:5 n-3)
  4. Alpha-linolenic acid (18:3 n-3)

Given that a large part of my focus is to create a system that prioritises diabetic-friendly foods, I thought it would be good to give some more detailed consideration to other ‘good fats’, given that fat typically comprises more than half of the calories for someone following a reduced carbohydrate approach.  Listed below are the additional fatty acids that research shows to be beneficial.

  1. Arachidonic acid (20:4)
  2. Oleic acid (18:1)
  3. Lauric acid (12:0)
  4. Capric acid (10:0)
  5. Pentadecanoic acid (15:0)
  6. Margaric acid (17:0)

You can read more on the reason for inclusion of these additional good fats the Good Fats, Bad Fats article.

nutrient density score

Building on Joel Fuhrman and Matt Lalonde’s nutrient density approach, the nutrient score score is a relative score calculated by comparing the amount of a particular nutrient in each food against all of the foods.

For example, if a particular food has an average amount of Vitamin C compared to the 8,000 other foods in the database it will get a score of zero because it is zero standard deviations from the mean.  If it has a large amount of a certain nutrient then it will receive a high score.

If the amount that a particular nutrient is two standard deviations from the mean then it will get a score of two for that nutrient.  If however it is five standard deviations from the mean it gets a maximum score of three in order to avoid prioritising foods that have massive amounts of one single nutrient versus foods that have solid amounts of a range of essential nutrients.

image011

One example of where this limitation comes into play is kale, which has a massive amount of Vitamin K versus spinach which has a high amount of Vitamin K but also has a range of other nutrients.  Because of the upper limit on the score for a single nutrient the system gives a higher priority to spinach, which has a more well-rounded nutrient profile rather than simply being an overachiever in one or two nutrients.

image013

The nutrient score for a food is the sum of the individual nutrient scores across the forty three nutrients.  The higher the score the more nutritious that food is in comparison to the other foods in the database.

Weighting one nutrient as more important than another could be useful for an individual with a particular goal or health condition (e.g. DHA for someone battling brain cancer).  However I have chosen to keep ‘clean’ to avoid arguments about bias with equal weighting given to each nutrient.[22]  This system will simply highlight foods that have a wide range and a high quantities of nutrients.

weighted multi criteria analyses

Ranking foods by an individual parameter is interesting, however it doesn’t produce a balanced list of foods that you can live by.  Where things start to get interesting is when we combine the different parameters using a multi criteria analysis to suit different goals.

As an engineer I often use a multi criteria analysis (MCA) to analyse a lot of data.  A numerical MCA is a useful way to make sense of a large amount of data and shortlist from a wide range of options.

 

The available parameters from the USDA foods spreadsheet are:

  • nutrient density / calorie,
  • nutrient density / weight,
  • fibre / calorie,
  • fibre / weight,
  • calorie / weight, and
  • percentage insulinogenic calories.

The table below shows the weightings given to each criteria refined to create a shortlist of foods to suit different goals.

goal

ND / cal

ND / weight fibre / cal fibre / weight calories / weight

insulinogenic (%)

fat loss

40%

5% 5% 5% 25%

20%

athlete

5%

30% 10% 5% 5%

45%

diabetes & nutritional ketosis

5%

20% 10% 5% 10%

50%

therapeutic ketosis

5%

20% 5% 5% 0%

65%

  • Someone aiming for therapeutic ketosis will want to minimise their insulin load while maximising nutrition in the context of a very high fat diet.
  • Someone with diabetes or trying to achieve nutritional ketosis will also want to minimise their insulin load, however they should also look to maximise nutrient density and obtain adequate fibre.
  • Someone who has control of their blood glucose levels but is still trying to achieve fat loss will likely benefit from a diet with a reduced calorie density while still maximising fibre and nutrition.
  • An athlete’s primary priority will be to maximise nutrients without as much concern for calorie density or insulin load.

reality check

I have refined these weightings used in the MCA by reviewing the top 500 foods (of the 8000 foods in the USDA foods database) for each scenario.

goal

fibre (g) 

weight (g)  % protein % net carbs % insulinogenic

% fat

fat loss

45

1614 29% 13% 33%

31%

athlete

25

436 26% 12% 31%

56%

diabetes & nutritional ketosis

25

413 30% 4% 21%

58%

therapeutic ketosis

13

357 14% 3% 14%

80%

average all foods

26

899 26% 38% 52%

31%

It’s interesting to see that the net carbohydrates ends up being relatively low for all scenarios when we maximise nutrient density.  It appears that starchy carbs (e.g. grains and sugars) have a relatively low nutrient density compared to other available foods.

image015

The big differentiator across the approaches is calorie density.  If someone has stabilised their blood glucose and insulin levels then the next step in the journey may be to decrease calorie density to naturally manage food intake.  The fat loss approach is slightly more insulinogenic however practically it will be difficult to fit in all the food.

the results

While this process is somewhat convoluted the end result is a fairly simple list of foods that are ideal for different goals.  I have included a shortlist of the highest ranking foods on the blog here along with ‘cheat sheets’ that you can print and stick to your fridge or compile your food lists from.

It’s been great to see many people benefit from focusing these shortlists.  If you’re inquisitive and like to ‘peek under the hood’ I have also included links to a more detailed list that shows the basis of the rankings for each food.

goal blog cheat sheet detailed list
therapeutic ketosis visit download download
diabetes and nutritional ketosis visit download download
fat loss visit download download
athletes and metabolically healthy visit download download

references

[1] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[2] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[3] http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/eat-to-live-by-joel-fuhrman/

[4] https://www.nuval.com/

[5] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/the-insulin-index/

[6] http://www.bulletproofexec.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bulletproof-Diet-Infographic-Vector.pdf

[7] http://www.amazon.com/The-Bulletproof-Diet-Reclaim-Upgrade/dp/162336518X

[8] https://www.soylent.com/

[9] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/12/the-end-of-food

[10] http://robrhinehart.com/?p=424

[11] http://ketopia.com/nutrient-density-sticking-to-the-essentials-mathieu-lalonde-ahs12/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwbY12qZcF4

[13] http://solvingnutrition.com/engineering-the-cheapest-and-healthiest-diet-on-a-budget/

[14] http://blog.paleohacks.com/ultimate-guide-paleo-diet-budget/

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvfTV57iPUY

[16] http://perfecthealthdiet.com/

[17] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/dietary-fibre

[18] http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4067184.htm

[19] http://www.gregdavis.ca/share/paleo-articles/academic/The%20Ancestral%20Human%20Diet%20by%20S.%20Boyd%20Eaton.pdf

[20] https://optimisingnutrition.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/what-about-fibre-net-carbs-or-total-carbs/

[21] http://ketopia.com/nutrient-density-sticking-to-the-essentials-mathieu-lalonde-ahs12/

[22] http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/eat-to-live-by-joel-fuhrman/

your personalised food ranking system

  • A number of attempts have been made to develop food rankings.
  • We can combine the concept of insulin load with nutrient density to help us make optimal food choices based on our goals, situation and budget.
  • This article looks at other ways to prioritise our our food choices quantitatively to design a food ranking to suit your situation, goals and budget.

Mat Lalonde’s nutrient density

Dr Mat Lalonde developed a ranking of foods based on nutrient density in terms of nutrients per gram using the USDA food database. [1]  This analysis identified organ meats as one of the more nutritious foods, with vegetables coming in second.  Fruits and grains landed much further down the list.

Lalonde noted that people wanting to lose weight may wish to prioritise in terms nutrient density per calorie, however he had chosen to analyse nutrient density in terms of weight as that might be more relevant for athletes (Lalonde is a CrossFit athlete as well as a biochemist). [2]

I was left excited, yet a little unsatisfied, wondering what the ranking might look like in terms of calories, or maybe some other measure.

Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)

Joel Fuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) ranks foods based on micronutrients per calorie [3] but excludes a number of essential vitamins and minerals while placing extra emphasis on the oxygen radical absorbance capacity.

This approach heavily biases plant foods and seems to ignore the nutritional benefits of animal foods. [4]  Kale ranks at the top of the list, largely due to its massive amount of vitamin K.

Unfortunately a massive dose of vitamin K isn’t much use to us in the context of a low fat given that vitamin K (along with vitamin D and E) is a fat soluble vitamin.  It’s also not much use having a food that ranks off the chart in one nutrient but it’s that good in a number of other areas.   Vitamin K is important but you can only absorb so much in one day.

Another criticism that has been levelled at ANDI is that simply using nutrition per calorie prioritises very low calorie density foods that may not be viable for anyone doing a significant amount of activity.

Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Diet

Dave Asprey developed the Bulletproof Diet Infographic [5] which is a simple ranking of foods to avoid and preference based on both nutritional density and toxins.

The downside of this is that it shows only a select range of foods and doesn’t explain why each of the foods has the ranking that is has been given (though there is a good discussion of the toxins and various issues in his book [6]).

Most people would be happy with this visual list of foods to preference and avoid, and I recommend you check it out, however I wanted to see the numbers to understand why one food ranked above another.

nutrient density per dollar

I also came across a food ranking system in terms of nutrient density per dollar.  Dale Cumore of the blog Solving Nutrition [7] had created a ranking based on nutrient density per dollar cost of that food to arrive at the cheapest way to get nutrition for around 1000 foods that he could find cost data for.

Dale included a link to his  spreadsheet on his blog (in which he has mimicked Lalonde’s analysis [8]) for people to have a play with.  So I downloaded it to see what I could do with it. [9]     After dropping out the fortified products, we get the following list of foods based ranked on nutrient density per dollar.

  • bagels
  • French rolls
  • croissants
  • muffins
  • lentils
  • tortillas
  • rice
  • parsley
  • beef liver
  • spaghetti
  • Chinese cabbage (Bok Choy)
  • sunflower seeds
  • White bread
  • chicken liver
  • peanut butter
  • skim milk
  • peanuts
  • chives
  • whole eggs
  • brown rice
  • sweet potato
  • cabbage
  • orange juice

Grains are actually a cost effective way to get nutrients, however not necessarily the most healthy.    People believe that most if not all grains should be avoided. [10]  My ten year old daughter knows that if she eats bread she will end up tired, with a stomach ache and dark circles around her eyes.  However if  cost is your number one priority you might find this list useful.

cost per calorie

Cost will always be a consideration to some degree.  Some people may not have the finances to buy grass fed organic while others will have the means to invest in food as preventative medicine.  Listed below are the cheapest foods in terms of cost per calorie.  Again, grains (including white rice), candy and sugar rank up there with some of the cheapest ways to get calories. [11]

While it’s true that grass fed beef, salmon and organic vegetables can be more expensive than boxed cereals and sugar, it’s also worth noting that obtaining significant proportion of your calories from fats such as coconut oil and butter can actually be very cost effective on a per calorie basis.

  • pumpernickel rolls
  • croissants
  • bagels
  • canola oil
  • French rolls
  • margarine
  • what muffins
  • coconut oil
  • granulated sugar
  • rice
  • brown sugar
  • mayonnaise
  • doughnuts
  • tortillas
  • cake mix
  • peanut butter
  • cranberry juice
  • spaghetti
  • sausage
  • corn starch

nutrient density per calorie

Nutrient density per calorie is a useful measurement for someone wanting to lose weight while maximising nutrition.   One line of health and weight loss thinking says that once the body obtains adequate nutrients it will stop searching for food and overeating will be minimised. [12]  Using this approach vegetables shoot to the top of the list with things like spinach, liver, seafood oysters, kale and broccoli rank really well.

  • spinach
  • chicken liver
  • beef liver
  • beet greens
  • veal liver
  • pork liver
  • duck liver
  • goose liver
  • turnip greens
  • mustard greens
  • parsley
  • chard
  • oyster
  • coriander
  • dandelion greens
  • basil
  • caviar
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • All bran
  • collards

fibre per calorie

One of the more exciting concepts in the diet space recently is the concept that what you eat could possibly change your gut bacteria for better or worse.

While this area is still in its infancy the thinking is that lean people have a higher bacteriodes : fermicutes ratio and that this can be influenced by eating more fibre and taking prebiotics.

Typical daily fibre intake is around 17g for those of us in western civilisation. It is said that African hunter gatherer children obtain more than 150g of fibre per day from eating unprocessed foods in their natural state [13] and before the invention of fire and cooking our ancestors were eating more than 100g of fibre per day. [14]

Fibre in carbohydrate-containing foods neutralises the insulinogenic effect of the carbohydrate.  Fibre is not digestible by the human gut and hence it does not provide energy or cause a rise in blood sugar or insulin.

The typical western recommendation is to get at least 30g of fibre per day to improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  Most people don’t achieve these levels even when eating “healthy whole grains”, largely due to the high level of processing in most popular foods.

It’s also worth noting that it’s better to lightly steam your veggies rather than cooking them until they’re soft so that the fibre remains intact.

Ironically the number one recommended source for fibre is from “healthy whole grains”.  While whole grains will be marginally better than processed grains such as white bread, they also have a high glycemic load and will be much more insulinogenic than other options such as non-starchy vegetables.  The end result of eating the whole grains is increased blood sugars and cholesterol, which is exactly what “healthy whole grains” was meant to help us avoid!

If we rank for fibre per calorie we end up with a few spices such a cinnamon, curry powder, or cocoa at the top of the list along with vegies such as turnip, artichoke, sauerkraut, cauliflower.  All Bran features in the list but only because it has been fortified with extra fibre.

  • cinnamon
  • turnip greens
  • artichoke
  • curry powder
  • sauerkraut
  • cauliflower
  • raspberries
  • lettuce
  • blackberries
  • lemon peel
  • All Bran (w/ added extra fibre)
  • oregano
  • wheat bran
  • eggplant
  • basil

practical application

These lists of foods ranked based on one measurement or another are interesting, however they are not particularly useful by themselves.  If we went by Lalonde’s system we’d be eating bacon and organ meats all the time.  If we went by the ANDI system we’d be living off kale.  And if we just looked at the proportion of insulinogenic calories we would be living off butter, cream and oils.

But it gets interesting though when you can combine the various measurements to highlight foods to suit your individual goals.

In my previous articles on diets for weight loss, blood sugar management and athletes I provide a list of optimal foods for using different weightings for the following:

  • nutrient density per calorie,
  • fibre per calorie,
  • nutrient density per dollar,
  • nutrient density per 100g,
  • proportion of insulinogenic calories,
  • calories per 100g, and
  • cost per calorie.

Listed below are the weightings that I’ve devised for each situation.

I’ve also developed a suite of ‘cheat sheets’ to highlight optimal food choices to suit your goals, whether they be weight loss,  normalising weight loss or or athletic performance.

Why not print one out and stick it to your fridge as a helpful reminder or use them for some inspiration for your next shopping expedition?

In the next article we’ll look at how we can use this style of analysis to identify diabetic friendly, ketogenic, nutrient dense meals.

weighting for blood sugar control and ketosis

ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 5% 5% 10% 50% 10% 5%
weighting for weight loss
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 10% 10% 5% 20% 30% 10%
weighting for athletes and metabolically healthy
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
15% 10% 10% 30% 20% 5% 10%
weighting for theraputic ketosis
ND / calorie fibre / calorie ND / 100g ND / weight insulinogenic (%) calorie / 100g $ / calorie
5% 5% 5% 5% 70% 5% 5%

references

[1] http://ketopia.com/nutrient-density-sticking-to-the-essentials-mathieu-lalonde-ahs12/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwbY12qZcF4

[3] http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/andi-guide

[4] http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/eat-to-live-by-joel-fuhrman/

[5] http://www.bulletproofexec.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Bulletproof-Diet-Infographic-Vector.pdf

[6] http://www.amazon.com/The-Bulletproof-Diet-Reclaim-Upgrade/dp/162336518X

[7] http://blog.paleohacks.com/ultimate-guide-paleo-diet-budget/

[8] The analysis considers the relative amount of calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, panto acid, vitamin B6, choline, vitamin B12, Vitamin A, vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K across more than 1000 foods.  No weighting of these vitamins based on a view of their relative importance, though this refinement could be made to the analysis for a specific need.  This unweighted approach however highlights foods that have a broad spectrum of nutrients at significant levels.

[9] The statistical analysis in the spreadsheet downloaded compares the value of a nutrient in each food to the average of the full database of foods and gives it a score based on the number of standard deviations from the mean.  I also modified the spreadsheet such that a score for one nutrient could not be greater than three (i.e. three standard deviations from the mean).   Just because Kale has an inordinate amount of Vitamin K doesn’t mean that it ranks at the top of the list on the basis of just one nutrient.

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvfTV57iPUY

[11] If you wanted to view this cynically you could say that the fact that grains and sugars have the lowest cost per calorie enables food manufacturers to place the largest mark up on these foods when reselling them in cardboard boxes in the supermarket.  It’s harder to put a bar code on generic vegetables and meat products that are already relatively expensive.

[12] See discussion in chapter 17 Nutrient Hunger in Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet where he notes that a nourishing, balanced diet that provides all nutrients in the right proportions is the key to eliminating hunger an minimising appetite and eliminating hunger at minimal caloric intake is a key to weight loss.  

[13] http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4067184.htm

[14] http://www.gregdavis.ca/share/paleo-articles/academic/The%20Ancestral%20Human%20Diet%20by%20S.%20Boyd%20Eaton.pdf