by Growing Needs | Dec 19, 2022 | Food & Nutrition, Lifestyle & Wellness, Wellness
Which foods pack a greater nutritional punch than others?
In the world of healthy eating, calories may seem like a bad word. It makes us grow fat and is bad for health. This however, is only half of the story. In fact, our bodies need calories on a daily basis to produce the energy we need to live, breathe and move. Hence a suitable amount of calorie consumption is part and parcel of a healthy eating plan. The problem as such, does not lie in consuming calories per se, but in consuming more calories than our bodies really need to get going. Not consuming any calories at all is actually bad for health.
Since our bodies need calories and we have to consume them anyway, it makes great sense to make the calories count. As Dr Leslie Tay of “I eat, I shoot, I blog” fame puts it: “Don’t waste your calories on yucky foods!”. If you are going to consume calories anyway, you might as well do it with something that is yummy. This common sense can also be applied to food nutrition. For the same number of calorie count, are there foods that pack a greater nutritional punch than others?
This is where the concept of Nutritionally Dense Foods come in.
Nutritionally dense foods are foods that contain a greater variety and amount of beneficial nutrients per calorie count than other comparable options. Diets with a higher proportion of nutritionally dense foods are better for health as the nutrient density in our body’s tissues is proportional to the nutrient density of our diet. Micronutrients fuel proper functioning of the immune system and enable the detoxification and cellular repair mechanisms that protect us from chronic diseases.
In order to identify these nutritionally dense food options more easily, Dr Fuhrman came up with the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. This index ranks foods on a scale of 1-1000, with the most nutrient-dense cruciferous leafy green vegetables scoring 1000.
The nutrients included in the evaluation are: fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin K, phytosterols, glucosinolates, angiogenesis inhibitors, organosulfides, aromatase inhibitors, resistant starch, resveratrol plus ORAC score. ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a measure of the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of a food.
To ensure that we are in the pink of health, a healthy diet would need to include both calories as well as a variety of nutrients. While nutritionally dense foods themselves do contain a certain amount of calories, foods that are highly dense in nutrients tend to have a very low calorie count. It will take a great amount of them to provide the daily calories that we need, making it impractical to base our daily diet on foods that score high on the ANDI index alone. On the other hand, foods with high calorie counts are often low on nutritional value and a diet based largely on these foods leads to increased health risks.
A saner diet plan would be to follow the “half-quarter-quarter” (1/2 wholegrains, 1/4 proteins & others, 1/4 vegetables & fruits) approach in our earlier article on healthy eating, while filling the plate with as many nutritionally dense food options we find available. This way, we will ensure that we are packing in more beneficial nutrients into each gram of calories we are consuming each day.
To help our readers in this endeavor, Growing Needs Sg will be periodically posting articles focusing on food options that score high on the ANDI Index. Stay tuned and look out for them in our upcoming articles!
Growing Needs grew out of our own encounters with caring for our aging parents and reflecting on the Growing Needs that we ourselves would face as we advance in years. We hope to build a community that will learn, share and contribute towards caring for the growing needs of our loved ones.