Health = nutrients / calories.
I stole this equation from Dr Fuhrman, but the concept has been around for a while. The idea is, that for optimal health we should be eating foods that contain the highest micronutrients per calorie. (Sometimes this is also referred to as avoiding foods with “empty calories”). For example, it’s afternoon tea time at a conference. There are plates of cookies and bowls of fruit. I toss up between a small cookie (it has just come out of the oven and the chocolate chips are oozing out of the top), or I could have an apple and a banana. Both options are around 140 calories. The cookie option perhaps offers a bit of a short lived afternoon boost but little in the way of anything good for me, and really, will I stop at one? The apple and banana, however will fill me up (I’m unlikely going to reach for a third piece of fruit), and provide me fiber, vitamins and minerals as well as some afternoon sweetness.
Whilst we barely need an equation to tell us that what we intuitively know. That a Coke will give us 142 calories, but not much in the way of nutrition. That the average bag of chips, at about 500 calories, doesn’t even nutritionally compare to the equivalent calories in baked sweet potatoes (if we could eat five baked sweet potatoes in one meal). That at Subway a 6″ veggie sub (230 calories) is a vastly healthier option than one of their single chocolate chip cookies of a similar energy intake (220 calories). The problem is, when we’re choosing food we often don’t think about it in the terms of what nutritionally it can give us. Often this means we’re either over eating pizzas, bread and margarine, pasta, cheese and crackers, cookies and muffins that provide large amounts of energy (calories) to the body, but little in the way of micronutrients. Or we’re under eating, trying to limit our calorie intake, but hungry from lack of nourishment due to poor choices. Low nutrient eating leaves us craving for more food. It makes us want to eat more frequently and over eat when we do.
If we concentrate on eating foods with high nutritional value for its calories we can eat a lot of really good tasting food, whilst incidentally reducing the amount of total calories (because we’re full of good stuff) and at the same time reducing our sodium, trans fats and chemicals in our diets leading to overall much better health (and weight loss if you’re currently consuming a typically western diet). It’s a very simple and sensible way to think about food.
Dr Fuhrman, the guy that invented the equation at the top of this post, gave foods a nutrient density score (0-100) by analysing the ratio of nutrients to calories. The higher the nutrient score, the better. What a surprise! (sarcasm) Vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds rate the highest.
I’m yet to see a healthy eating formula that’s perfect. And this one isn’t either. Clearly, we can’t live on kale and collard greens alone. Dr Furhman also agrees that we do need some fats, carbohydrates and proteins in our diet. More so if we’re active. Vitamin D, B12 and omega 3 fatty acids are also essential to our diets and are not taken into account here, however focussing on choosing nutritionally dense food will naturally lead to a higher nutritional diet, full of fiber, low in sodium, trans fats, processed foods, chemicals, calories and glycemic load. Sounds good to me.
Dr Fuhrman Eat To Live is a NY Times best seller.