Doctor Fuhrman wasn’t the first to bring nutrient density under the limelight. However, it was him who promoted this concept amongst growing concerns that our nation is suffering from an epidemic: the obesity one.
What is nutrient density? A very short nutrient density definition will tell you that food is analyzed in terms of nutrients and calories. With nutrient density, the emphasis falls on the former. It thus follows that this coined term refers to nutrients in relation to the caloric intake.
The United States government and health agencies started promoting nutrient density as a measure of healthful food. While this is a step forward and will help you find a great balance between nutrient-packed foods and energy-dense foods, it is important that everyone understands exactly what this means.
What is Nutrient Density?
If we were to define nutrient density, the easiest way to do so is by the power of example. Nutrient density refers to foods that provide you the most nutrients for the least amount of calories. This means that including as many nutrient-packed foods in your diet will keep your body healthy as you have a natural intake of all the necessary micronutrients and phytochemicals. On the other hand, you will keep the caloric intake to a minimum.
Nutrient density vs. energy density
In addition to nutrient density, there is another scale, called energy density. Reversely, energy density refers to foods that have a high number of calories in relation to the number of nutrients. Nonetheless, these two scales or systems to label foods best work together. What matters most is that you are aware of the choices you make when it comes to your diet.
Eating healthy is based on choosing precisely those foods which contain minerals, fiber and vitamins and other valuable nutrients. What you put on your plate makes a great difference as far as your wellness and health are concerned.
High nutrient density foods vs. low nutrient density foods
Which are the foods that will provide the highest nutrients intake? According to several systems designed to measure nutrient density, these foods are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, beans and peas, nuts and seeds.
All these delicious foods contain much-needed nutrients. Nevertheless, the proportions vary. This is why we talk about high nutrient density foods and low nutrient density foods. Meats and sea food are low nutrient-dense foods for instance. Here are a few superfoods that happen also to be nutrient-packed while keeping calories at a low level.
This leafy green features among the top foods in the nutrient density chart. Rightfully so as spinach is packed with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, folate, manganese. Prepare a one-cup raw spinach salad and you can check half of the daily value for vitamin A off the list. Spinach strengthens your immune system, improves your sight and protects your reproductive system.
A delicious cup of broccoli accounts for the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, vitamin K in addition to providing vitamin A, chromium, folate, potassium, fiber, copper, and riboflavin.
These nutrient-dense greens often get a bad rap. Nonetheless, if you look at their nutrient profile, you’ll see that Brussels sprouts are packed with vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese.
On top of being delicious, a cup of strawberries per day ensures the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. Count fiber, potassium, copper, magnesium, iodine and folate on the nutrient list and you’ve got yourself a delicious cup of nutrient-packed snacks. Cover in dark chocolate (over 75% cocoa content) to enjoy both nutrient-packed foods at once.
Potatoes aren’t the best-known foods for a high nutrient intake. However, sweet potatoes are a different story. Beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, calcium, zinc, vitamin E, riboflavin, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, thiamin, folate, are all packed in this brightly colored veggie.
When in season, tomatoes are some of the best high nutrient density foods. The fruits contain lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, copper, potassium, folic acid, biotin, lutein, and beta-carotene. They go great in summery salads, in home-made tomatoes sauce and many other delicious recipes.
The list could continue for pages. Thankfully, if you want to know exactly how foods rank according to high nutrient density or low nutrient density scores, all you have to do is check with some of the nutrient density systems.
The aggregate nutrient density index (ANDI)
Doctor Joel Fuhrman proposed one of the most well-known systems to measure nutrient density – the ANDI score. Other such systems include the ReViVer Score or NuVal, recently adopted by many grocery chains in the U.S.
Calories vs Micronutrients
However, doctor Fuhrman nutrient density scores or the ANDI system have gained their popularity. This is thanks to the fact that it steers public attention to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. Based on this, doctor Fuhrman’s high nutrient density diet recommends micronutrients over calories.
Calories are derived from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Each of these has negative effects on our health, particularly when consumed in large quantities. Thus, nutrient density is promoted as the rule of thumb of nutritional science and healthy diets. A high intake of foods that are packed with micronutrients but have a low proportion of calories is synonymous with a healthy diet and a healthy body weight.
How to Calculate Nutrient Density?
Against this background, the ANDI score designed by Doctor Fuhrman answers the question: how to calculate nutrient density? The science behind these dietary recommendations stipulates that our health depends on the nutrient intake in proportion to caloric intake (H=N/C).
Thus, the ANDI score ranks foods according to how many nutrients these deliver for each of the calories consumed. A healthy dietary style should include the highest nutrient density foods. Doing so doesn’t only help you to maintain a healthy body weight, but also to maintain general health. Vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals are key to protecting the immune system, promoting good metabolic functions and cellular repair, as well as detoxification. When we consume high-nutrient density foods, the craving for empty-calorie foods becomes limited.
Check out the ANDI score for your favorite foods and snacks. It will certainly help with designing a better and healthier diet based on nutrient-rich foods. The higher the score according to the ANDI, the greater the nutritional value of food is. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the foods that rank best on the ANDI scale are fruits and vegetables. With summer just around the corner, the naturally-sourced food choice will become richer and more colorful. Take advantage of the season and consume as much of these superfoods as possible.
The ANDI isn’t the only system designed to measure nutrient density. Several others focus on nutrient density, albeit in different ways. However, each system promotes, in fact, a healthy diet that is poor in saturated fats, harmful added sugars, and iodine. The main goal of each of these systems is to raise awareness on the multiple benefits of high nutrient density foods as well as the negative effects of processed foods or those foods known as empty-calorie foods.
Each of these systems may have its weaknesses and strengths. However, we should remember that the goal is to create individualized diets based on nutritious and healthy foods. Use the ANDI or other scales to compare similar items and gain a deeper understanding of each of the food’s values.
Terms such as high nutrient density or low nutrient density are relative. In the end, it’s your taste and preference that dictates the choice. Nutrient density simply helps you to compare two items and understand that one food may offer more nutrients for the same amount of calories or even fewer calories than another food.
For instance, one glass of soda has the same calories as one glass of orange juice. Between the two, the orange juice is obviously more nutrient-packed. However, a glass of tomato juice has the same nutrient density as a glass of orange juice for almost half the calories. Both the orange juice and the tomato juice are healthy choices. Nonetheless, you may prefer one over the other.
Nutrient density is a simple tool that helps us make healthy dietary choices. Looking at nutrient density is one of the best ways to maximize or minimize the caloric intake in relation to nutrients.