The Most Nutritious Foods

As many of you know by now, I try to consume the most nutritious foods possible. However, I’ve never listed exactly what foods provide the most nutrients per serving.

Advertisements claim that certain foods are important nutritionally. Markets assign numbered scores to various products. Most of these rating systems, such as NuVal and ANDI, are inaccurate for a number of reasons.

First, they look at nutrients that are not essential for life, and conversely, overlook nutrients that are necessary for life. Second, they draw from disproved nutritional norms, such as dietary cholesterol and saturated fat being “bad”. Thirdly, they are designed by agricultural companies or individuals with a bias.

Scientists, such as Loren Cordain and Mat Lalonde, have done extensive work in the last few decades to redesign nutrient rating systems. They set aside non-essential nutrients in food and focused purely on what the body must consume from outside sources.

The body cannot produce the following:

Fatty Acids: Omega 3 and Omega 6

Amino Acids: isoleucine; leucine; lysine; methionine; phenylalanine; threonine; tryptophan; valine; histidine

Vitamins: A; Bp (choline); B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6; B7 (biotin); B9 (folic acid); B12; C; D; E; K

Minerals: calcium; chloride; chromium; cobalt; copper; iodide; iron; magnesium; manganese; molybdenum; nickel; phosphorus; potassium; selenium; sodium; sulfur; zinc

These nutrients were plugged into the following formula to determine nutrient density:

(sum of essential nutrients per serving) ÷ (weight per serving)

I’d like to make a few points before posting Mat’s nutrient density list.

First, the database he drew from did not have complete data for certain nutrients.

The database did not differentiate between preformed vitamins and their final form. Vitamin A, “beta-carotene”, in sweet potatoes and carrots, must be converted to “retinol”, found in egg yolks and liver. Vitamin K1, found in green leafy vegetables, requires conversion to K2, found in grass-fed dairy.

There was no way to account for bioavailability of nutrients. Most grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain high levels of phytates which prevent absorption of nutrients and minerals.

Finally, and most importantly, the diet, age, and lifestyle of animals were not specified. Grass-fed beef, raised on open pastures, is much healthier than corn-fed beef, raised in stalls that restrict movement. Also, mature ducks having more nutritional value than baby ducks.

Taking this unavailable data into consideration, we can assume that most animal products would move up a few spots. This is because most plants have limited amino acids and fatty acids, and the vitamins found in vegetables must be converted or activated.

Without further ado, the ranking of nutrient density averages for the food groups:

1.) Organ Meats and Oils
2.) Herbs and Spices
3.) Nuts and Seeds
4.) Cacao
5.) Fish and Seafood
6.) Pork
7.) Beef
8.) Eggs & Dairy
9.) Vegetables (raw & unprepared)
10.) Lamb, Veal, and Wild Game
11.) Poultry
12.) Legumes
13.) Processed Meat
14.) Vegetables (cooked, canned, blanched, pickled)
15.) Plant Fats and Oils
16.) Fruit
17.) Animal Skin and Feet
18.) Grains and Pseudocereals (cooked)
19.) Refined and Processed Fats and Oils
20.) Grains (canned)
21.) Processed Fruit

Many people will be surprised by how low grains appear on the list. The nutrient value of raw grains would place them in the top 5. However, our bodies cannot digest raw grains. Taking nutrient loss during cooking and expansion of grains (1/4 cup raw rice = 1 cup cooked rice) into account, their value decreases dramatically.

I was quite surprised to see herbs, spices, and cacao near the top of the list. I always considered these foods to be enjoyable additions to a healthy diet, but not the most valuable sources of nutrients.

Two final notes regarding this list:

It is not a requirement to eat the most nutritious foods all the time. Certain nutrients, such as activated vitamin A (retinol) and selenium (abundant in Brazil nuts) are actually toxic in high doses.

Second, as previously mentioned, this rating system only looks at essential nutrients. Many vegetables contain antioxidants and fiber that can improve health, even though they are non-essential for life.

I would recommend consuming foods higher on this list and keeping your meals full of vegetables.
For Mat Lalonde’s complete presentation, follow this link to YouTube.

Matheiu Lalonde has a PhD in Organic Chemistry and a postdoctoral degree in Inorganic Chemistry from Harvard. He teaches, lectures, and is the Science Safety Officer at Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. I have to give him credit for the motivation behind, and information in, this post.

I hope this sets aside all confusion of what is best to eat.

Keep in mind that human-run studies can be flawed, correlations from epidemiological studies can be weak, and research can be conducted to prove a point, rather than discover the truth, but the actual make-up of foods cannot be disputed!

Two Interesting News Articles

Over the past week, I came across two news articles that I’d love to share with all of you.

The first article is from MSNBC.

This article reveals that billions of dollars’ worth of subsidies goes towards producing and distributing unhealthy food. The reason I want to share this is not solely to point towards archaic food subsidies as a major barrier to health…but to exemplify the conflicts of interests involved in allowing the USDA to dictate dietary guidelines.

The United States Department of Agriculture was created to sustain adequate food production for our country’s growing population…it now exists to ensure its agricultural endeavors remain profitable. As the USDA was able to invest more resources, they were also able to start dictating policy and recommending what Americans should and should not eat.

And guess what studies, research, and information dissemination they funded? Anything that even remotely suggested complex carbs and unsaturated fats are best for human consumption. And guess what the USDA produces best? Corn, dairy, soy, and wheat – all foods that are high in carbs, polyunsaturated fats, and low in protein.

And now, even though humans are consuming more of these foods than ever, the organizations are still searching for any means to increase sales and profits. Thus, they have started using subsidized foods to create a “value-added” product that they can market and package…and oh yes, genetically modifying foods to override hunger-signaling and light up the pleasure-centers of our brains!

The second article I found on NBC.com.

This article discusses how organic milk is more healthful than regular milk. Again, my motivation for sharing this article is not just to convey the direct message but rather to discuss the reasoning that they gloss over…the fact that cows are meant to eat grass!

They discuss organic milk as being optimal as if it’s the label organic that ensures a better nutritional profile. However, for milk to be labelled organic, the cows must consume grass for a certain number of months out of the year. This article does mention that grass-feeding, as opposed to grain-feeding, is what results in a better product…but why is it discussing organic milk rather than local, 100% grass-fed milk?

It also mentions that 2% or full-fat milk is preferable because of the healthy fat content. Again, I have to ask why the article is focused on organic versus conventional milk while local, raw milk will be grass-fed AND contain its natural fat profile, seeing as it is not manipulated or processed.

The answer is that organic milk is a marketable product that results in greater profits. The profits that federal agencies receive from small family farms are far less, or, at times, nonexistent.

These issues of subsidizing the corn, soy, and dairy industry, as well as the value of dairy in general, are both topics I’d like to discuss in greater depth down the road. However, I’ll wrap up here because sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I get emotional or frustrated with our current food and healthcare system.

The positive takeaway is that these issues are coming to light! The general public now has easy access to the concept of omega-3 vs omega-6 content in milk and the power of food production conglomerates. And remember the old adage: “Knowledge is power”!

So, let’s keep learning and hopefully, we can reverse our spiral of steadily declining health in the modern world.