Nutrient Density is a critical concept in devising and recommending dietary and nutritional advice to patients and to the public. Not merely vitamins and minerals, but adequate consumption of phytochemicals is essential for proper functioning of the immune system and to enable our body’s detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms that protect us from chronic diseases.
Nutritional science in the last twenty years has demonstrated that colorful plant foods contain a huge assortment of protective compounds, mostly of which still remain unnamed. Only by eating an assortment of nutrient-rich natural foods can we access these protective compounds and prevent the common diseases that afflict Americans. Our modern, low-nutrient eating style has led to an overweight population, the majority of whom develop diseases of nutritional ignorance, causing our medical costs to spiral out of control.
To guide people toward the most nutrient dense foods, I developed a scoring system called ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which ranks foods based on their ratio of nutrients to calories.
Because phytochemicals are largely unnamed and unmeasured, these rankings underestimate the healthful properties of colorful natural plant foods compared to processed foods and animal products. One thing we do know is that the foods that contain the highest amount of known nutrients are the same foods that contain the most unknown nutrients too. So even though these rankings may not consider the phytochemical number sufficiently they are still a reasonable measurement of their content.
Keep in mind that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, if we only ate foods with a high nutrient density score our diet would be too low in fat. So we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores (but preferably the healthier ones) to include in our high nutrient diet. Additionally, if a slim or highly physically active individual ate only the highest nutrient foods they would become so full from all of the fiber and nutrients that would keep them from meeting their caloric needs and they would eventually become too thin. This of course gives you a hint at the secret to permanent weight control – to eat the greatest quantity of the foods with the highest ANDI scores, and lesser amounts of foods with lower ANDI scores. For further information, read chapter 3 of Eat for Health, in which I discuss nutrient density and the importance of phytochemicals in detail.
To determine the scores above almost all vitamins and minerals were considered and added in. Nutrient Data from Nutritionist Pro software for an equal caloric amount of each food item was obtained. We included the following nutrients in the evaluation: Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of foods).
Nutrient quantities, which are normally in many different measurements (mg, mcg, IU) were converted to a percentage of their RDI so that a common value could be considered for each nutrient. Since there is currently no RDI for Carotenoids, Glucosinolates, or ORAC score, goals were established based on available research and current understanding of the benefits of these factors. (limited references below). The % RDI or Goal for each nutrient which the USDA publishes a value for was added together to give a total. All nutrients were weighted equally with a factor of one except for the foods ORAC score. The ORAC score was given a factor 2 (as if it were two nutrients) due to the importance of antioxidant phytonutrients so that a contribution from unnamed and unscored anti-oxidant phytochemicals were represented in the scoring. The sum of the food’s total nutrient value was then multiplied by a fraction to make the highest number equal 1000 so that all foods could be considered on a numerical scale of 1 to 1000.
1 Dr. Fuhrman’s nutrient density food rankings, scoring system, and point determinations of foods and it dietary application to individual medical needs is patented. The patent is held by Dr. Fuhrman and Kevin Leville of Eat Right America.
Nutritionist Pro [Nutrition Analysis Software] Versions 2.5, 3.1. Stafford TX . Axxya Systems. 2005,2006.
Higdon, Jane. Isothiocyanates. The Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Research Center. 9/20/2005.http://oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/isothio.
Wu, Xianli; Beecher, Gary; Holden, Joanne; Haytowitz, David; Gebhardt, Susan; Prior Ronald. 2004; Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 52. 4026-4037.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Caroteinoids, 2000. Food and Nutrition Board. Institute of Medicine. National Academy Press. Washington D.C. pp. 343-344.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. 2002. Food and Nutrition Board. Institute of Medicine. National Academy Press. Washington D.C. p. 423.
Mc Bride, Judy. 1999. Can Foods Forestall Aging? Agricultural Research. 47(2): 15-17.
Wu, Xianli; Beecher, Gary; Holden, Joanne; Haytowitz, David; Gebhardt, Susan; Prior, Ronald. 2004. Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States.
Prior, Ronald. Hoang, Ha. Gu, Liwei. Bacchiocca, Mara. Howard, Luke. Hanpsch-Woodill, Maureen. Huang, Dejuan.Ou, Boxin, Jacob, Robert. 2003. Assays for Hydrophilic and Lipophilic Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma and Other Biological and Food Samples.
Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Caroteinoids. 2000. Food and Nutrition Board. Institiute of Medicine. National Academy Press. Washington D.C. pp. 343-344. Prior, RL. 1999. Can Foods Forestall Aging?
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