Prevailing food myths largely contribute to our overweight population and poor health for many. Lifestyle-related diseases are the most common causes of death, but according to a 2011 poll by Consumer Reports Health, 90 percent of Americans believe that they eat a healthy diet.1
Most Americans do not understand that whole plant foods are the best for our health – they are led to believe that processed foods labeled “low-fat” or “low-carb,” artificially sweetened beverages, pasta, grilled chicken, and olive oil make up a healthful diet.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is made up mostly of disease-causing foods, with 30 percent of calories from animal products and over 55 percent from processed foods.2 In addition, 43 percent of Americans polled reported that they drank at least one sugar-sweetened drink each day, 40 percent said that they eat ‘pretty much everything’ that they want, and 33 percent of overweight and obese individuals reported that they were at a healthy weight.1
This highlights the nutritional misinformation that abounds in our society. Americans have not yet grasped the concept of nutrient density and its importance for health and longevity.
The nutrient density in your body’s tissues is proportional to the nutrient density of your diet. Micronutrients fuel proper functioning of the immune system and enable the detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms that protect us from chronic diseases. I coined the term Nutritarian to define a diet style which provides a high ratio of micronutrients per calorie and a high level of phytochemicals and micronutrient variety.
H= N/C or Health = Nutrients/Calories. This simple equation defines how your health is related to the nutrient density of your diet. Adequate consumption of micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and many other phytochemicals – without excessive caloric intake, is the key to achieving excellent health.
To illustrate which foods have the highest nutrient-per-calorie density, I created the aggregate nutrient density index, or ANDI. It lets you quickly see which foods are the most health-promoting and nutrient dense.
The ANDI ranks the nutrient value of many common foods on the basis of how many nutrients they deliver to your body for each calorie consumed. Unlike food labels which list only a few nutrients, ANDI scores are based on thirty-four important nutritional parameters. Foods are ranked on a scale of 1-1000, with the most nutrient-dense cruciferous leafy green vegetables (such as kale, collards, and mustard greens) scoring 1000.
Not surprisingly, the foods that have a high ANDI score are straight from nature, primarily vegetables and fruits. In the last twenty years nutritional science has demonstrated that colorful plant foods contain a huge assortment of protective compounds.
Only by eating an assortment of these nutrient-rich natural foods can we access these protective compounds and prevent the common diseases that afflict Americans.
It is also important to achieve micronutrient diversity, not just a high level of a few isolated micronutrients. It is important to include a wide assortment of plant foods in your diet to obtain the full range of nutritional requirements. Include onions, seeds, mushrooms, berries, beans and tomatoes as well as raw greens in your diet. They all contribute to the numerator (top number) in the H=N/C equation.
For your good health, take a minute to evaluate the quality of your current diet and learn which foods you need to consume to improve it. Learn more about ANDI on my website: https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/194/andi
Dr. Fuhrman is a #1 New York Times best-selling author and a board certified family physician specializing in lifestyle and nutritional medicine. The Eat To Live Cookbook offers over 200 unique disease-fighting delicious recipes and his newest book, The End of Heart Disease, offers a detailed plan to prevent and reverse heart disease using a nutrient-dense, plant-rich eating style. Visit his informative website at DrFuhrman.com. Submit your questions and comments about this column directly to [email protected]