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Monday, March 28, 2011

Thinking About Nutrient Density

Recently, I noticed that Whole Foods had put up several signs in the produce department about nutrient density. The concept peaked my interest, so I decided to learn more. Here is what I learned...

Some nutritional experts are suggesting that we pay less attention to dieting in terms of calorie restriction, fat content, etc. and instead choose foods based on nutrient density. For instance, green vegetables almost always have extremely high nutritional value and the lowest number of calories per pound, followed by fruits.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of "Eat to Live," points out that fresh produce almost always yields the most nutrition per calorie. He devised a scoring system for foods based on their nutrient density per calorie. You won't be surprised to hear that leafy greens like kale, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens and watercress all scored extremely high. Bok choy, spinach, brussel sprouts, radish, agugula and cabbage are close behind. Soda and white sugar have virtually no nutrients per calorie, as you would expect.

He says that if we eat foods that are nutrient dense, that is, with a high ratio of vitamins and minerals, we can eat as much as we want without ever gaining weight. In fact, most people will lose weight while eating as much as they wish. If we choose only nutrient-dense foods and eat to the point of feeling full, there will be no need to restrict the quantity of food we eat to maintain weight.

According to Dr. Fuhrman, the reason many people struggle with weight is because some of their food is calorie rich and nutrient poor, maybe even nutritionally negative. While we know that glazed donuts are high in calories and low in nutrients, we may not fully realize that the lack of nutrients will leave us hungry for more. So in a half hour or so, we want something else.

One reason it can be difficult to eat purely whole foods is because consumption of foods high in salt and other extremely stimulating flavor additives has conditioned our taste buds to desire these very intense flavors. Over time, pure whole foods no longer taste delicious and satisfying. We often feel they are dull. To overcome this perception, Fuhrman suggests we try a new food up to 15 times to allow our taste buds to adapt to it. It may take that long to notice the more subtle flavors in fresh vegetables. He argues that it is a form of addiction to processed foods and animal foods which prevents people from eating a nutrient-dense diet.

In a similar vein, Kevin Trudeau, of the Natural Cures series of books, says many packaged foods contain 'excitotoxins' or chemical additives that overstimulate our taste buds so that we desire more and more exciting flavors in food and we are less and less satisfied with ordinary unprocessed foods. These excitotoxins will not be listed as ingredients on the label. The manufacturers will hide them under broad categories such as 'flavors' or 'spices'. It is for this reason, that Trudeau advises his readers to only buy snack foods from health food stores since these products will have fewer additives and stimulants.

Nutrient dense eating pays dividends not only in weight loss but also in increased energy, alertness, resilience, allergic resistance, stronger immunity to colds, etc. The next time I find myself staring at the pastry case contemplating a treat to go with my beverage, I will take a moment to consider the nutrient density of the coffee cakes and brownies.

Hope you found this interesting and useful.


1 comment:

Jessica said...

So interesting Juliet. I shared this with my husband who is usually pretty skeptical but we both agree, more nutrient-dense foods and less processed and artificially flavored food! Thanks for sharing this.

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