My nutrition mentor Joel Fuhrman MD, has coined a new phrase for those people who focus their diet primarily around the “micro” nutrient rich foods that have all the phytochemicals in them – the “Nutritarian”.
Vegetarians are defined by what they shun meat. Vegans, who reject all food from animals, take it even further.
There are flexitarians, who eat a little bit of meat, and pescatarians, who skip meat but consume seafood. Raw foodists don’t believe in cooking.
And now come the nutritarians.
In this article in the Denver Post, it clear to see the new trend in eating is in full force as people realize that there is more too food than micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macro nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) that determine how healthy a food is.
What makes a food Nutrient Rich is not whether it can be said to be high in protein, or high in a particular nutrient like omega 3 fats… that’s a big mistake that people make. It understandable why they make this mistake because we are so conditioned; foods are often marketed to us by a nutrient that they are exceptionally high in.
For example, when you think chicken you think “protein”. When you think oranges, you think “Vitamin C”. When you think bananas you think “potassium”, when you think milk you think “calcium” etc. Yet, while there is truth in all this marketing, what defines a Nutrient Rich food is very different.
For example, a food like chicken may be rich in protein, but it also nutrient poor or missing whole categories of nutrients, like the phytochemicals that Dr Fuhrman is talking about when he defined the term “nutritarian”. Phytochemicals are the natural chemicals that exist in foods to nourish, and “protect” the cells. They have countless functions in the body and without them our bodies are prone to disease and cancer.
According to the article Nutrition Ambitions, Nutritarian Diet is Easy, Just Try to Eat a Rainbow, Jairam Vanamala, a professor in Colorado State University’s department of food science and human nutrition, says:
Since phytochemicals and color are linked, eating fruits and vegetables representing a wide range of colors provides a smorgasbord of phytochemicals.
Some mystery surrounds phytochemicals — researchers have discovered about 10,000 of them so far, and believe there are many more. And they haven’t yet figured out all of phytochemicals’ properties and benefits.
“Twentieth-century research focused on micronutrients and macronutrients,” says Vanamala. “Twenty- first-century research is going to be focused on phytonutrients.”
Nutritarians think diets bereft of phytochemicals contribute to disease and frailty.
Vanamala says eating foods rich in phytonutrients is a step on the path toward good health. The compounds could be important in the battle against chronic diseases like cancer.
“The message of consuming fruits and vegetables keeps coming through loud and clear. The benefits keep stacking up,” said Marisa Bunning, who also teaches food science and human nutrition at CSU. “They are low in calories, high in nutrients, no cholesterol, no trans fats.”
Leafy greens, in particular, boost health.
“Kale,” she said, “is such a rock star.”
Why haven’t you heard more about eating like a Nutritarian?
Well, first of all, the term “nutritarian” is very new, yet…
The ideas behind nutritarianism are age-old and persistent — all of us, and all of our parents and grandparents, and probably our relatives from the 14th century, have lived through our adolescent years being ordered to “eat your fruits and vegetables!”
The problem is, most of us don’t. We down pizza slices and chicken wings and bowls of Cheerios. We inhale platters of spaghetti, plates of chile-drenched breakfast burritos, and burger after hot dog after rib.
“What you eat matters,” said Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a New Jersey physician and author who coined the term nutritarian. “It influences the quality of your life. They are predicting children growing up now will have the worst health in human history. There is more mortality and morbidity caused by obesity and poor diets than there are people starving. Overnutrition has now overwhelmed malnutrition.”
Eating the nutritarian way, he said, “is not a religion. It’s not forced. It’s about improving the quality of people’s lives, a disease-free life. Everybody has a right to know this information.”
The information remains relatively obscure — you’re not going to find phytochemical concentrations on the back of a sack of flour — but Whole Foods is working to make it more mainstream.
How do starting eating like a Nutritarian?
You start eating Nutrient Rich foods like those that you are learning about here at Nutrient Rich.com, and follow DrFuhrman’s Aggregate Nutrient Density Index that you can now find at most Whole Foods Stores. I was at Whole Foods in West Orange NJ just this past week and there it was, the top ANDI scores in the store that show the Nutrient Richness of different foods.