By Walter Sorochan Emeritus Professor San Diego State University
Posted October 10, 2021
Nutrient dense foods: The new way of thinking about food is nutrient density. Nutrient density is a concept pioneered by Dr. Joel Fuhrman to help his obese patients lose weight, and is simply the measurement vitamins, minerals, amino acids and calories in food. Some foods, like green vegetables have very high nutrient density measurements while processed foods have very low nutrient density measurements. Foods that are nutrient dense are associated with greater health, increased energy and weight loss.
Nutrient density means how many nutrients you get from a food, given the number of calories it contains. Nutrient density connects nutrients to calories. Nutrition experts focus on the number of calories that are linked to a 2000 calorie diet and not about the number of nutrients in the diet. Making matters worse, many weight loss experts use the adage" you need to lose 3500 calories to lose one pound of body fat;" overlooking the more important information about the number of nutrients one ingests and calories.
How do you know which foods to choose for a good meal? To answer this question, Dr. Fuhrman created the aggregate nutrient density index, or ANDI. The ANDI ranks many common foods on the basis of how many nutrients they deliver to your body for each calorie consumed. The ANDI score is based on portion sizes of foods eaten rather than calories. According to Fuhrman, you do not need to count calories in the ANDI system.
The ANDI table helps you visualize how nutrient dense green vegetables, fruits are nuts compare with one another. You also can compare vegetable foods with animal foods and become aware which foods give you the best nutrition for your dollar.
Foods are rated on a scale of 1-100 in the ANDI table. 100 is super good while 0 is terrible. With the ANDI score, Fuhrman points out that ANDI is a motivational tool that tells you the foods with the best nutrients and fewest calories. You do not need to do a tedious food or meal analysis. Select most nutritious or highest ANDI scores for a meal.
To see how well the foods you eat rate, take a look at this sample of ANDI scores and foods below: Fuhrman: Book: Eat For Life 2020, ANDI scores for foods pages 32-33.
The two tables on the left have the foods with the highest ANDI scores while the table on the right has the lowest scores. The light green and blue tables on the left are examples of foods to consider for a meal. The tables show the number of calories, fat and fiber for each food item.
The major issue in making wise and healthy food choices is controlling fatty foods, processed foods and sugar soft drinks and pastry. Scientists refer to this type of diet as the Standard American Diet [SAD] as exemplified in the white table on the right. Let's look at fats.
Fats: From the viewpoint of preventing high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, you need to cut down or eliminate red meat that has high fat content and high calories. A wiser choice would be turkey or chicken meat, roasted or boiled, that have fewer calories and fat.
Robinson and colleges Robinson: Choosing healthy fats 2021 have summarized the the danger of ingesting food rich in fats. Your body needs some fat for energy, to absorb vitamins, and to protect your heart and brain health:
“Bad” fats, such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, an increased risk of certain diseases, and so forth. But “good” fats such as unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fat, like cholesterol, play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
Your body synthesizes about 80% of the cholesterol that your body needs, the remaining 20% or more comes from the food you eat. Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance that your body needs to function properly. In and of itself, cholesterol isn’t bad. But when you get too much of the wrong kind, it can have a negative impact on your health. As with dietary fat, there are good and bad types of cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind. The key is to keep LDL levels low and HDL high, which may protect against heart disease and stroke. Conversely, high levels of LDL cholesterol can clog arteries and low LDL can be a marker for increased cardiovascular risk. Rather than the amount of cholesterol you eat, the biggest influence on your cholesterol levels is the type of fats you consume. So instead of counting cholesterol, it’s important to focus on replacing or eliminating bad fats with good fats."
Now, let's explore eating vegetables that can be high in calories. The table below displays the vitamin content and ANDI scores for 13 selected foods. Foods high in calories are avocados =218 cals, beans=254 cals and sunflower seeds=175 cals. By eating smaller portions of both and you lower your calorie intake. For example, eat just half an avocado.
Vitamin legend: C = vitamin C; thiam = thiamin; ribo = Riboflavin; niacin = Niacin; pant =Pantothenic acid; B6 =B6; folate =Folate; folic =Folic acid; choline = Choline; A =A; E =E; K =K; D =D; B12 =B12; IU = International Units. IU mass : gm=1 gram; mg= milligram or 1/1000 of gram; ug= microgram or 1/1,000,000 gram.
Avocado, beans and sunflower are high in good HDL fat.
Table 1, ANDI and vitamin values, illustrates vitamins in rich vegetables, fruits and nuts. Vegetables are also rich in minerals and amino acids, although these are not displayed.
The 13 foods were selected at random. You would need to select only four or five vegetables to get a balance of nutrient dense amount of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in one meal. Then add your choice of a fruit and nuts.
The plate below, "Best nutritious veggies," illustrates the best nutrient dense vegetables for a balanced meal:
These vegetables were selected, over others, for a meal for because these are ANDI high and because these foods are super rich in specific nutrients:
The top six veggies in the plate, above, should be first choice vegetables as these cumulatively provide a good balance of nutrients.. These can be rotated for other vegetables. For example:
Spinach for other green plants like, romaine lettuce, Kale
Broccoli for cauliflower
Carrots for dell peppers
Pinto beans for black beans
In spite of its high ANDI score, kale is not recommended. It has a high fiber amount. More important, kale has an insoluble carbon, raffinose, that passes through the GI tract where bacteria begin fermentation and convert raffinose into acids, gases and alcohols. If one eats too much kale, then one gets a real loose stool. Editors Men's Health: Side effect of kale 2015References:
Robinson Lawrence, Jeanne Segal, and Robert Segal, "Choosing healthy fats, Health Guide, August, 2021. Robinson: Choosing healthy fats 2021
Fuhrman Joel, Eat For Life, HarperOne, 2020.
1 Kunces Laura, "The science behind sugar cravings," Take 5 Daily, November 8, 2018. Accessed from: Kunces: Nutrient density 2016
2 Fuhrman Joel, "Nutrient Density," Dr. Fuhrman, May 19, 2016. Accessed from: Fuhrman:
3 Fuhrman (2017)
4 USDA, "Food Data Central," Accessed from: USDA: Food data
5 Nutrient Value.org. Accessed from: Nutient value software
6 Harvard University Chan School of Public Health, "Protein." The Nutrition Source. Accessed from: Harvard University
Reilly Christopher T., "Top 20 Foods High In Antioxidants," St. John's Health. Reilly: Antioxidant foods
Editors Men's Health, "Kale’s Gross Side Effect, and What You Can Do to Prevent It," Men's Health, July 7, 2015. Editors Men's Health: Side effect of kale 2015