We often discuss what foods we should be eating based on macronutrient contents, such as protein, fat, and carbohydrate. We also discuss that potassium and sodium should be in a particular ratio, but we seldom if ever discuss foods in terms of their micronutrients.
The paper “Priority micronutrient density in foods” by Ty Beal and Flaminia Ortezi (see: DOI: https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-701840/v2) focuses on certain micronutrients and generated various graphs and tables, of which I include here a couple and explain what they mean and how to understand them. The nutrients they were looking at were iron, zinc, folate (B9), vitamin A, calcium, and cobalamin (B12).
What these scientists did was look at these micronutrients from the perspective of how many calories worth of a particular food you would have to consume to get 1/3rd or 1/6th of the RDA, which they named here as AR, meaning average requirements. Of course, this article is limited within those micronutrients of interest to them, so this paper doesn’t contain potassium or sodium or selenium, and others nutrients, for example. With all its limitation, I think it provides a great understanding of what foods to eat most and why, and it also points out if there is a fallacy in the plant-based climate saving plan.
A Serious Shortcoming of The Study:
They looked at total nutrients and not how much of that nutrient was bioavailable.
While, for example, dark green leafy vegetables are shown to contain high nutrient content, these same dark green leafy veggies are also amazingly high in antinutrients: oxalates, tannins, phytates and cyanogenic glycosides (see all about antinutrients here). There are many veggies, including some dark green leafy veggies, that are high in goitrogens (kills the thyroid), like kale, collard greens, and others, and phytoestrogen containing ones are spinach of the dark leafy veggies, but we know that other veggies, like soy, are famous for estrogen. Thus the tables below list vegetables and their nutrients but exclude the consideration that the nutrients may not be possible to absorb from these plants by humans. Therefore, the table isn’t reliable in looking at plant nutrients and compare with animal products head-on at all. Still, look at how impossible amounts are needed from plants to fill the nutrient need even assuming 100% bioavailability! Look mostly at the animal product comparison because you will find some surprises there as well!
I am copy-pasting a couple of figures from the article and explain how to read it since it’s not intuitive:
In the left graph you see the nutrients in Calories needed to be consumed from that particular food item to get 1/3rd or 1/6th of the AR, and on the right graph you see the same in grams of the food item. On the horizontal axis you see the number of calories must be consumed to get the particular nutrient in the food item listed on the left and the weight in grams on the right graph; the vertical axis shows the food name. The coloring: dark green is best (most nutrient dense), and the orange is the worse (least nutrient dense).
For example, to get as much vitamin A, B9, calcium, iron, and zinc from chicken as from liver, one must eat almost 74 times as much chicken as liver. From liver in 13 Calories, one can get as much of these nutrients as from 960 Calories of chicken or 2561 Calories from refined grains, such as white bread.
In weight it is almost 47 times as much chicken as liver (9 gr vs 420 gr) and 213 times as much from refined grain as liver (9 gr vs 1920 gr).
Chicken – Is It Worth Eating Other Than Liver?
You may also find it surprising that chicken is in orange color, meaning it is poor in nutrients! We can certainly eat chicken, just we must know that it has much less nutrients than if we ate the same amount from other meat types. Comparing chicken with beef, the differences are quite sobering: 213 kcal beef vs 960 kcal chicken, or the same in weight: 98 gr beef vs 420 gr chicken to get the same in nutrients!
I was also surprised to see pork being so weak in nutrients! From pork, per kcal, again comparing to liver, you need to eat almost 46 times as much in Calories (13 in liver vs 597 in pork) and in grams 27.5 times as much (9 vs 247).
Look through all the foods that are listed and see how surprising they are. Be sure to remember that the density of actual nutrients is not equivalent to the bioavailability of those nutrients in plants, but it is in animal products. As noted, plants contain a lot of antinutrients blocking absorption.
The next table shows a summary of each food on the left and each vitamin/mineral listed as very high, high, mod (moderate), or low, also color coded as in the graphs before. And while clearly this is study is incomplete in nutrients and isn’t measuring bioavailable nutrients from plants only total nutrients, we still get a very good understanding of where our nutrients lie.
How Do We Save the Planet?
It should be quite clear—I hope—that if we only have to eat 14 kcal of something to get as much nutrient as from another food where we need over 4000 kcal to get the same nutrients, we can most certainly see that the planet won’t be saved by people going plant-based. The planet could be saved if people ate animal based. It takes acres to grow 7 days’ worth of grains for 1 person to meet their nutritional need for the week, which is equivalent to 60 gr liver or ¾ kg (2 lbs) of beef muscle meat in that same time period, and which is a small fraction of a cow. It’s much more feasible to eat the animals than to grow acres + the amount of human waste products from the much fiber and almost zero human waste from eating animal based.
I will eat mostly beef, liver, oysters, dairy, and similar from now on. These have always been my preferred foods, and now I can see I had the right idea all along. Of course, we each can make our choice of what to eat but we shouldn’t ever be misinformed by those with financial interests. These nutrients are listed in the USDA database. The Dietary Guidelines should have considered the nutrient values of foods, but the committee responsible for doing so didn’t. They were picking and choosing based on financial interest. This doesn’t mean you need to follow the dietary guidelines! It means you need to follow what’s best for you, and which also helps the planet!
Comments are welcome, as always, and are moderated for appropriateness.