02 March 2013

Nutrient Density

This presentation by Mathieu Lalonde, PhD gives an insight into the nutrient density of different food groups. The conclusion is very surprising:

From the most nutrient dense foods:
  1. Organ meats and oils
  2. Herbs and Spices
  3. Nuts and Seeds
  4. Legumes
  5. Fish and Seafood
  6. Pork
  7. Beef
  8. Cacao
  9. Lamb, Veal and Wild Game
  10. Poultry
  11. Plant Fats and Oils
  12. Animal Fats and Oils
  13. Processed meat
  14. Eggs and Dairy
  15. Refined and Processed Fats and Oils
  16. Animal Skin and Feet
  17. Grains and Pseudocereals (Cooked)
  18. Grains (Canned)
  19. Fruits
  20. Vegetables (Raw and Unprepared)
  21. Processed Fruits
  22. Vegetables (Cooked, Canned, Pickled)
  • Fiber was excluded from the nutrients counted in these foods as it is not considered an essential nutrient (The Fiber Myth).
  • Mathieu Lalonde mentions at the end, that bioavailability was not taken into account in this study. If it were, the organ meats and meats would rank even higher. For instance, the absorption of vitamin A is much easier from animal fat than the conversion of carotene into vitamin A from plant food. Same for iron, we absorb seven times more iron from animal food, than from plants. For this reason, vegetarians are at a higher risk of anemia, due to low iron levels in their bloodstream.
  • Legumes, nuts and seeds rank quite high on this list, they have plenty of nutrients. However, they also contain anti-nutrients (which can be lowered by fermentation, sprouting and cooking) causing mineral depletion in our bodies. 
  • Vegetable oils also contain important nutrients. However, their structure (polyunsaturated fatty acid) is not the ideal building block for our body. Dietary cholesterol, contrary to conventional wisdom, is a very important element in our diet.
  • Foods of animal origin contain all essential nutrients for our bodies, even vitamin C (in organ meats).

The shocking fact is that fruits and vegetables are at the very bottom of the list. Grains do not rank very high either. This means, that a diet based on grains, fruits and vegetables and maybe an occasional skinless chicken breast, might not be the ideal diet for human beings. However, this type of diet is recommended by health authorities around the world. But the fact is, that a diet low in fat and following the food pyramid guideline has led us to an epidemic of skeletal deformities, chronic diseases and obesity. Deficiencies are widespread among people living in the modern world. I quote Weston Price:
"It is important to emphasize in connection with the deformities of the face that other skeletal deficiencies or abnormalities result from the same disturbing factors. One of these is the narrowing of the entire body, with the tendency to increase in height. This is shown in many of the family groups of modernized primitives. The effect of this narrowing of the body, which in girls result in the boyish type of figure, due to the narrowing of the hips, introduces an entirely new and serious problem in the experience of our modern civilization when confronted with the problems of childbirth."
Many parents are proud when their children grow taller than they are, and in fact it can be a sign of better nutrition. However, if high stature is accompanied with the thinning of the bones and dental deformities (crooked teeth due to smaller jaws), then it is a sign of nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin A and D (fat soluble vitamins found in animal fat) so important for healthy skeletal development. 

India is a very good example of a diet low in fat. Today, hospitals are not able to keep up with the increasing number of diabetes and heart disease patients. This increase is mainly observed among the affluent classes, having a tendency to consume more of the "luxury" items such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most Indians are vegetarians, so instead of meat products, they consume legumes and rice, vegetables and fruits, and some sugar. This kind of diet is a high-carbohydrate diet associated with chronic diseases and obesity. In order to lose weight, they reduce the fat content of their diet to a minimum, guided by the "dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease" dogma. The result is usually more weight gain, and over time, the appearance of chronic diseases.

When I ask my Indian friends about the type of diet consumed by their grand-parents, I often get this answer: "You know, they eat a lot of ghee (butter fat) and drink full fat milk, and they are very thin. I don't understand." Well, if their diet contains fat and they are thin, and if my friends diet contains practically no fat but a lot of sugar and carbohydrates, and they end up overweight, it is reasonable to assume that fat might not be the cause of obesity. It is most probably sugar and refined carbohydrates. I extensively wrote about native populations replacing their traditional diets with sugar and carbohydrates, causing modern diseases. (See Diseases of Civilizations).

In the Indian culture, ghee is a very important nutrient, given especially to children and pregnant women to ensure good physical development. If ghee was such a bad food causing obesity, would mothers still give it regularly to their children, knowing that they might end up obese and diabetic? I don't think so.

Around the world, all traditional diets prized fatty foods of animal origin, consumed in liberal amounts. A few examples:

  • India: ghee and other full fat diary products.
  • Polynesia: shellfish
  • Switzerland: cheese and butter from pastured animal

These diets also contained plant foods such as legumes, whole grains (fermented), fruits and vegetables. But, two things are common in all traditional diets:
  1. The absence of sugar and refined carbohydrates
  2. The presence of dietary fat of animal origin (proportions depending on cultural factors and the availability of these foods)
I would like to emphasize that physical activity is also important for health. However, exercise alone is not a solution for long-term weight loss. People tend to gain weight after reducing physical activity. This did not happen with native populations consuming their traditional diets. For instance, old people did not get obese and diabetic with aging and a considerable reduction in physical activity.

Two quotes to end this post:
"For a modern disease to be related to an old-fashioned food [dietary fat] is one of the most ludicrous things I ever heard in my life." 
                                                                  - Dr Peter Cleave
"The fat from ham, pork or lamb is not only harmless but useful."
                                                                  - Wilhelm Ebstein

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