Here at NutrientRich.com, we talk a lot about eating healthy; a diet of nutrient-rich or nutrient-dense foods abundant in micronutrients. These are the plant phytochemicals that are the defining, cornerstone-food factor that makes a nutrient-rich food “nutrient-rich,” health and longevity promoting.
With the early guidance of Joel Fuhrman MD. we also outlined The 3 Classes of Foods to help people understand the difference between a nutrient-rich food, a nutrient-poor food, and a nutrient barren food. The purpose was to eliminate the gray area around animal products and manufactured (processed and refined foods). These foods/stuff often identify as nutrient-rich foods because they are rich in a particular macronutrient (like protein ), and some micronutrients like zinc, iodine, and b12, but as a whole (not to be confused with “whole food”) they are micronutrient poor.
Your understanding of these definitions is essential if you are going to understand the rest of this article, so please go ahead and read them.
In this article, we want to help you gain an understanding of healthier diets that are indeed helping people make positive changes in the way they eat, as they move away from the Standard American diet, but that’s only the articles initial point.
What this article is really about, is this: For those who have grasped the essential nutritional principle of eating predominantly whole nutrient-rich foods, which will save you years, potentially decades of time and your health; as noted in a recent talk by Joel Fuhrman MD at the Science of Human Optimization conference in Hauppauge NY (where Joel Fuhrman was the keynote speaker); there is a difference between eating a diet of nutrient-rich foods and eating Nutritarian.
You’ll soon believe me when I tell you, the difference between eating a diet of nutrient-rich foods and eating a nutritarian diet is significant. It’s not because you are eating different foods but rather because of how and when you are eating them.
That distinction can mean the difference between being healthy and lean and being less-healthy because you are overweight; in part, from overeating nutrient-rich foods, which is easy to do. I say “in part” because the overweight condition and poor health are never caused by one aspect of lifestyle alone.
But before we get into that; here in part 1 of “The Difference Between Eating “Healthier”, a Diet of Nutrient Rich Foods and Eating Nutritarian,” let’s clarify some terms and make some key distinctions.
What is the difference between eating healthier, and a diet of predominantly nutrient-rich foods, which is the basis of but not the whole of what makes eating a “Nutritarian” diet — the healthiest and most successful way to eat?
First, let’s get a view of what it means to eat healthier:
Most of us are familiar with the terms Vegan, Vegetarian or Pescatarian, Flexitarian, etc., which (in order) are essentially about not eating any animal foods, not eating meat but allowing dairy or eggs, or only eating fish. Otherwise known as plant-based diets, with the exception of vegan diets, most of the above eating patterns are “based” on whole foods, mostly plants, and include a smaller amount of animal foods as their hallmark.
Depending on who you are taking guidance from, one plant-based diet can be more optimal than others. Some are just healthier but far from optimal. It all depends on the original principles. Is it just about not eating animal foods for ethical purposes, or is it about eating more whole, nutrient-rich foods for health reasons?
The answer to those questions will usually reveal two very different eating styles.
If you notice, all of these healthier and in some cases genuinely healthy dietary approaches minimize or eliminate animal foods to one degree or another, in one way or another. I mean you don’t see them limiting plant foods, it’s animal foods and refined foods that take the hit.
Why is this?
Well, animal foods are missing whole categories of nutrients, namely but not limited to the vast majority of micronutrients. They are considered “nutrient poor” for that reason, but also because they include substances that the body does not need from dietary sources, like saturated fat and cholesterol, not to mention added hormones… and the waste products these foods often contain; not on their surface, but deep inside the food, due to agrifactories with unnatural and unhygienic production. And that’s just a useful, but an incomplete summary of the negative attributes of eating a diet rich in animal foods for the person and the planet.
For why one would eat fish and eggs, while they too are “nutrient poor,” (see the definitions for what makes a nutrient-rich food “nutrient-rich”) over dairy, chicken, and beef; these foods are perceived as healthier than the later, and in many cases they are. But that does not make them optimally healthy to eat in ‘significant’ qualities, let alone as the basis for your diet.
Nutritional research reveals that consuming animal protein in significant quantities leads to acute and chronic disease causation, which is why in the Blue Zones — the worlds longest living cultures — people eat less than 10% and more like 5% of their calories from animal foods. John Robbins in his book “Healthy at 100” talks about this here. This explains why all the healthier eating patterns of many of the popular styles of eating, mainly those mentioned above, are primarily about reducing or eliminating animal products.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. As big, if not more of the culprit to poor health than eliminating or minimizing animal foods, are refined foods; foods that have their nutritional value (nutrients) stripped out in order to make convenient, long shelf-life foods that are easy to sell and distribute (no spoilages etc) and super addictive. Most plant-based diets emphasize eliminating or minimizing refined foods as well.
The wildly popular Paleo Diet, on the other hand, is also a healthier way to eat because of the elimination or minimization of refined foods as compared to the SAD Standard American Diet and because it can help you lose weight (particularly when taken to extremes); is not known for minimizing or eliminating animal products, but rather for helping people eliminate most of the junk and refined foods in their diet, in favor of minimally processed food.
While Paleo diets are a healthier diet when compared to the SAD, they are typically not plant-based. They are animal-based and in most cases, just a newer rendition of an Atkins (who popularized these style diets) style—high animal protein, high fat, low and controlled-carbohydrate diets, confusing foods that are rich in some nutrients, like Protein, at being “nutrient rich.” They don’t eliminate, let alone minimize animal foods. They promote them as the basis of the diet.
In Paleo style diets, by definition diets based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding beans, dairy or grain products and processed food; the actual translation of this eating style for many is more like a bodybuilders diet or a Keto diet designed to keep you in a state of ketosis, which is not a natural state.
The saving grace and what makes healthier Paleo Style diets (in whatever form they exist) somewhat sustainable is that they promote nutrient-rich foods too in addition to animal foods, and oils… — mainly vegetables, and berries. And like other dietary styles, they to promote minimally processed foods.
Note: We need to make the distinction between processed and refined foods. Processed food can be healthy, such as a smoothie… where none of the nutrients have been extracted but they are “mixed” or processed to create a new food format like turning a garbanzo bean into hummus. A refined food, on the other hand, extracts the nutrients from the original food and then mixes with refined foodstuffs (chemicals, etc) to make “Frankenfoods” that are essentially causing fast food genocide in our society.
So, as you can see, in the healthier eating patterns above (far from being fully fleshed out); it’s largely the minimizing, or elimination of animal foods and refined foods products that make these healthier diets “healthier.” And while there are lots of people who do well on these diets, depending on how they are constructed, which is true of any dietary approach; the restriction of animal foods and elimination of refined food products is not what best defines what makes a healthy diet “healthy.”
Now that we know what constitutes various healthier ways of eating, most of which are “half baked” in terms of an optimally healthy diet; let’s gain a better understanding of what it means to eat a diet of up to 90% or More Whole, Nutrient Rich Foods.
See Part 2. Eating a Diet of Whole Nutrient-Rich Foods >