I’ve always eaten what I liked, usually junk food, but for decades I’ve longed to eat healthier and lose weight. Now I have to eat healthy because of my heart. Eating healthy has always been a vague concept: avoid junk food, eat natural foods. What exactly are healthy foods? What are junk foods? Is there a scientific, quantitative way of judging foods?
I started studying Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a health guru I discovered on a PBS fund drive. I made the pledge and got a bunch of books and videos by Fuhrman. From Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live I read about his nutrition index which I’ve since discovered evolved into the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). Just look at this chart to get an idea how it works. It’s rather revealing in a simple obvious way.
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Is kale really a 1,000 times better than a glass of Coke? That’s not hard to believe, I would have thought it infinitely greater. But what about something healthier sounding? Is kale 50 times better than feta cheese? Or 20 times more nutritious than peanut butter? Only if you’re just counting micronutrients. But Dr. Fuhrman believes phytochemicals are the real key to health. His books and lectures are quite persuasive in convincing me that eating very nutritional foods can actual reverse my clogged arteries and reduce my cholesterol.
The trouble is, when I tried his starter diet it made me feel awful, and I hated eating the prescribed food. Fuhrman claims there’s a barrier to get through, and once on the other side I’d feel great. I’m going to try again, but this time I’m going to work my way into slowly. Fuhrman doesn’t want his converts to be pussies, but to bite the bullet and jump into eating healthy cold turkey. I’m having a problem with that. So I’m going to improve my diet by improving my numbers.
My point however, in writing this essay is to explore nutritional rating systems. The idea of food coming with a score is appealing, especially when the rating is based on quality rather than quantity, which is essentially what calories count. When I look at the above list and see that carrots are almost ten times more valuable than an apple it makes me wonder why an apple a day keeps the doctor away. The ANDI system is far from perfect though, which measures micronutrient density per calorie. Almonds get a rating of 28, yet I’m seeing all kinds of reports about how almonds are good for you. And why is a white potato equal to brown rice? See, they both have equal levels of micronutrients, but the ANDI system makes no claim about macronutrients, or energy producing values of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Low value ANDI foods can and do include valuable chemicals that our body needs but is not reflected in their numeric scale.
There’s another rating system that is more complex, that also rates processed foods, called the NuVal, that scores foods from 1-100. In this system broccoli scores a 100, avocadoes get an 89, but Pepperidge Farm Goldfish are 20. Iceberg lettuce gets a 82 and pineapple gets a 99. That doesn’t seem to jive with the ANDI system, but that’s because it’s counting other qualities including fiber. NuVal is used in over 1700 supermarkets to help shoppers compare all kinds of foods.
Fuhrman’s ANDI system is designed to recognize the healthful benefits of phytochemicals in whole foods. It’s more of a specialized system. NuVal is a comparison system to be used by all food manufactures for marketing purposes. Both have their value. For my purpose, I value the ANDI system more. I want to create my own menu of healthy foods to cook, and want to get away from eating prepackaged processed foods.
I can also look at the bigger picture of any food by looking at sites like NutritionData – see this page for kale, which give extensive data, including the amino acids in the protein breakdown.
I doubt I’ll ever need this level of detail information. Dr. Fuhrman claims if you eat a variety of high value fruits and vegetables from the ANDI system you’ll get everything you need. But I’m a vegetarian and need to worry about protein. I do think the ANDI system is a great scale to eat by, but not the only one.
JWH – 12/5/13