Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness

Which Foods Have the Most Nutritional Bang for the Buck?

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Andrea Bertoli    July 31, 2015

Nutrient density is a measure that shows which foods have the highest nutritional value in relation to caloric weight. The measurement can help you decide which foods have the most bang for your buck.

Popularized by Dr. Fuhrman, a renowned doctor, author, and researcher, the aggregate nutrient density index is a method to help us find foods with the highest density of nutrition. The calculation for nutrient density looks like this:

H = N/C (Health = Nutrients / Calories)

ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating a range of factors for each food, such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidant capacity and calculated against the amount of calories. This breaks down into individual numerical rating for foods, with the highest score being 1,000, and the lowest being 1. Find your favorite foods on the list below and see how they rate.

nutritional_density

Some of the foods on the list might not surprise you at all: of course leafy greens like kale and collards are at the top of the list with a perfect score. These supergreen wonder-veggies are full of calcium, vitamin C and fiber, along with a host of other nutrients that make them well-worth the calories. But some others on the list might be shocking: bananas, walnuts and apples are often thought of as super healthful, yet rate super low on the list at 30, 30 and 53 points respectively.

Does this mean we should only eat leafy greens and skip the rest of the foods on the list? No. Diversity is important in our diets, and we should be looking at a range of nutrients when we choose foods.

If you want to try building a diet around nutrient density, hightlight the foods that score high on the list, and eat the low-scoring foods in moderation. Include more leafy greens and other high-ranking foods like carrots, mushrooms, berries, peppers and asparagus into your diet.

As you include a wider variety of high-ranking fruits and vegetables, you will naturally eat fewer lower-ranking foods like white bread, animal foods, and processed, refined foods for an overall more wholesome diet. Here’s why Dr. Fuhrman thinks nutrient density is so important for our current health situation:

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is made up mostly of disease-causing foods, with 30% of calories from animal products and over 55 % from processed foods. In addition, 43% of Americans polled reported that they drank at least one sugar-sweetened drink each day, 40% said that they eat ‘pretty much everything’ that they want, and 33% of overweight and obese individuals reported that they were at a healthy weight. Lifestyle-related diseases are the most common causes of death, but according to a 2011 poll by Consumer Reports Health, 90% Americans believe that they eat a healthy diet. [emphasis mine]

Confusion about health and nutrition is commonplace, and with good reason. Many doctors know little about nutrition, and food companies are constantly misleading consumers with health buzzwords of dubious legitimacy. Having a scale with which we can measure the true nutrient value of foods can help us choose better-for-us foods, and increase the overall nutritional value of our meals.

Interestingly, nutrient dense foods also stack up when it comes to monetary value, too. Dr. Greger explains that, “while junk food may be 4 times cheaper than vegetables, there’s 20 times less nutrition. For meat, we’d be spending 3 times more to get 16 times less.” While it might make financial sense in the short term to choose cheaper foods, their lower overall nutritional value means we’d need to eat much more to meet our nutritional needs. Choosing foods that are higher on the list makes better budgetary sense in the long term, since you will be getting more of the good stuff (fiber, antioxidants, minerals) and less of the bad stuff (cholesterol, fats), which can help create a lifetime of health.

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