Now that we know what constitutes various healthier ways of eating, most of which are “half baked,” in one way or another, in terms of an optimally healthy diet; let’s gain a better understanding of what it means to eat a diet of whole “nutrient-rich” foods and ultimately up to 90% or more of these whole- nutrient-rich foods.
One of the simplest but most overlooked aspects of understanding what it means to eat a healthy diet is understanding what a nutrient-rich food is.
The general understanding of nutrient-rich food is that it’s of plant or animal origin, both of which contain essential nutrients. That is, many RD’s, (most of whom are well-educated and open-minded), the Beef and dairy board (who focus mostly on macronutrients, and a focus on select vitamins and minerals alone because animal foods only contain a limited number of micronutrients) and “food experts” (most of whom DO NOT more fully understand what’s known in nutritional science and are more weight-loss or muscle-building motivated), have a limited view and understanding of what a nutrient-rich food is. But in the context of what makes a healthy diet “health-promoting,” we have to consider both the macronutrients and the micronutrients, and, in particular, the phytochemicals. The later is what separates plant and animal foods.
As stated in Part I of this article series, it’s the micronutrients that are the cornerstone category of nutrients that define the difference between nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor foods. And animal foods, as Dr. Fuhrman states “while they do contain some useful micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, and iodine (in fish)…, there are over 100,000 biologically active chemicals found in plants that offer anti-cancer, anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, and wound healing effects.
Phytochemicals are the class of micronutrients that have a protective, hormesis effect on the body at the same time as the body getting nourished and this is a MAJOR key to health.
So, you can see if a class of food does not have that plethora of phytochemicals that are contained only in plant foods, they are not nearly as “nutrient-rich” as those foods, they are therefore not nearly as health-promoting and protective and it’s why they are considered nutrient poor. Animal foods, for example, chicken, do not have that array of phytochemicals, even they do contain a number of vitamins and minerals; pre-formed in animal foods, or from plant foods, which affect health in human beings, but that’s a debate for a different forum.
Now, while the phytochemical composition of food is the major difference between nutrient-rich food and nutrient-poor food, and nutrient-poor foods are rich in macro (protein and fat, non-refined and refined, plus refined carbohydrates) and micronutrients (as listed or linked to above) among other substances natural and not natural to those foods; as a supposed “whole food,” they are missing the lions share of whole categories of micronutrients. Such as, vitamins and minerals (as a food category, also referring to the form of those vitamins they do contain, such as a Vitamin A), and food factors, namely phytochemicals, which some may call unessential, but they are in fact “essential.” Also fiber and real food carbohydrate. As well, they contain substances the body does not need from food, which also subtract from the value of that food; which is why deductions are made on The Classes of Food, and they rank low on nutrient density charts such as the ANDI Scores.
How can food be promoting your health, while at the same time be a known carcinogen, clogging your arteries, promoting rapid growth and toxifying the body?
That’s the paradox of eating animal foods. They are at once promoted as healthy, but if you eat too much of them, (and that doesn’t need to be much) meaning, they occupy too much of a % of your diet, they hurt you.
According to Joel Fuhrman, It’s interesting to have theories and reasons to justify your desires to eat animal products, however– long-term trials show vegans (if supplemented properly) live longer, and animal products hasten death in proportion to the amount eaten.
It is true that zinc and iron are poorly absorbed from animal products and some need more iron and should have levels checked. I recommend vegans supplement with zinc.
Hardly anyone is saying what we are and that is –>
Design a vegan, or near 100%, diet of plants to be relatively high in plant protein, with a rich diversity of amino acids from a wide variety of plant foods, including beans, greens, seeds and nuts– and then supplement it intelligently with the nutrients that one would get if they ate animal products regularly.
Surprising and a bit frustrating that I am (almost) alone advocating this.
And if all of the above is true, then animal foods can’t really be considered nutrient-rich healthy foods. And that’s why they are not the basis of nutrient-rich healthy eating style. A half baked healthier diet maybe, but not a genuinely or optimally healthy way of eating that respect and protects you at every stage of the energy, health, and performance and longevity spectrum.
That said, you can include some animal foods into your diet and still be eating a nutrient-rich diet on a total dietary intake basis. If the way you eat is made up of up to 90% or more, whole (plant), nutrient-rich foods (leafy greens, green vegetables, colored vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds and intact whole grains are the predominant food choices then it’s likely (idiosyncratic differences withstanding) that you will be just fine if you include a small amount of animal and refined foods in your diet.
Don’t worry, once you are eating predominantly whole, nutrient-rich foods, your desire for animal and refined foods will dramatically lessen, as you will feel the impact like never before.
The key is you want the bulk of what you eat or all of what you eat to be health-promoting, and not resulting in negative health consequences.
You can usually get away with a small percentage of animal products and processed and refined foods in the diet, and still be eating a diet that is healthier than most people ever dream of. In other words, you can still eat some nutrient-poor foods and still be eating a nutrient-rich diet, on a total dietary intake basis.
Yet as that’s all stated, I’m sure there are plenty of people who will eat high percentages of animal and refined foods in their diet and still live to 80-90+ years old for a whole variety of reasons; and, still, many people won’t for that very reason. In addition, those that do will have all kinds of problems when they are alive.
At the end of the day, you are ultimately placing a bet when you buy into certain approaches to eating; so place your bet’s carefully based on at least a basic understanding of the nutritional science, the cornerstone principle of nutrition (nutrient density), the nutrient density of foods (in particular, the phytochemical density of a food) and common sense.
All of the above could be fleshed out a lot further, but those are the basics. To eat a nutrient-rich diet, you’ve got to understand what makes a nutrient-rich food “nutrient-rich.” And then, most of your diet should be made up of these foods. No matter what diet you eat, this must be true if it’s going to be optimally healthy.
Some just take that insight a lot farther than others, and that’s why eating ” whole foods, nutrient-rich,” is not a specific diet, it’s a quality standard that you can apply at the level you want. 90% or more is the rule of thumb.
So if you are eating up to 90% or More Whole Nutrient Rich Foods, are you eating healthy? Well, likely. But why, not 100% absolutely? The reason is that it’s how and when you eat these foods that will now make the difference between early success, and sustained success with this standard of eating. Bottom line, you can still gain weight eating healthy foods if you are not eating when you are truly hungry.
Enter eating like a Nutritarian or in the way we teach people living Performance Lifestyle’s; that’s Part III.