What Foods Are Best to Eat?

Screen capture from google with search word “nutrients”

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:

From: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-701840/v2

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.

from: https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-701840/v2

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.  

Conclusion:

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.

Angela

About Angela A Stanton, Ph.D.

Angela A Stanton, PhD, is a Neuroeconomist focusing on chronic pain--migraine in particular--physiology, electrolyte homeostasis, nutrition, and genetics. She lives in Southern California. Her current research is focused on migraine cause, prevention, and treatment without the use of medicine. As a forever migraineur from childhood, her discovery was helped by experimenting on herself. She found the cause of migraine to be at the ionic level, associated with disruption of the electrolyte homeostasis, resulting from genetic variations of all voltage dependent channels, gates, and pumps (chanelopathy) that modulate electrolyte mineral density and voltage in the brain. In addition, insulin and glucose transporters, and several other variants, such as MTHFR variants of B vitamin methylation process and many others are different in the case of a migraineur from the general population. Migraineurs are glucose sensitive (carbohydrate intolerant) and should avoid eating carbs as much as possible. She is working on her hypothesis that migraine is a metabolic disease. As a result of the success of the first edition of her book and her helping over 5000 migraineurs successfully prevent their migraines world wide, all ages and both genders, and all types of migraines, she published the 2nd (extended) edition of her migraine book "Fighting The Migraine Epidemic: Complete Guide: How To Treat & Prevent Migraines Without Medications". The 2nd edition is the “holy grail” of migraine cause, development, and prevention, incorporating all there is to know. It includes a long section for medical and research professionals. The book is full of academic citations (over 800) to authenticate the statements she makes to make it easy to follow up by those interested and to spark further research interest. It is a "Complete Guide", published on September 29, 2017. Dr. Stanton received her BSc at UCLA in Mathematics, MBA at UCR, MS in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University, PhD in Economics with dissertation in neuroscience (culminating in Neuroeconomics) at Claremont Graduate University, fMRI certification at Harvard University Medical School at the Martinos Center for Neuroimaging for experimenting with neurotransmitters on human volunteers, certification in LCHF/ketogenic diet from NN (Nutrition Network), certification in physiology (UPEN via Coursea), Nutrition (Harvard Shool of Public Health) and functional medicine studies. Dr. Stanton is an avid sports fan, currently power weight lifting and kickboxing. For relaxation (yeah.. about a half minute each day), she paints and photographs and loves to spend time with her family of husband of 45 years, 2 sons and their wives, and 2 granddaughters. Follow her on Twitter at: @MigraineBook, LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angelaastantonphd/ and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DrAngelaAStanton/
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6 Responses to What Foods Are Best to Eat?

  1. GVR says:

    I think my message dissapeared, so i will write a new one.

    I am harmed severely by Paroxetine 10mg, took it 7 months. (31yo male). After that i did a taper and a reinstatement because of withdrawal. I felt severely poisoned and toxic after reinstatement. Since then i have severe neuropathy full body, mostly in the legs, can’t walk anymore from it. horrible painful/burning skin. All signs of SFN.

    Now is the question can an SSRI do real tissue/small nerve fiber damage or only ‘sensory signal disruption’ to the brain?
    What do you think Angela?
    I will have the outcome in 3 months (skin punch biopsy)

    I hope i can heal somewhat in the future because it’s unbearable. Neurologists say the damage=damage. Can’t heal.. But i have the feeling they want me to take Gabapentin. I won’t, never. I rather suffer than touch another toxin.

    I really don’t know where to go anymore.
    For now i will try the darkgreen foods from the Scheme.

    Greetings from The Netherlands Angela.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GVR, thanks for your comment. I have all your comments, they didn’t disappear, only needed approval, so I just post up your last one.

      I am very sorry that you had to take an SSRI! It can always cause trouble and tapering off is hard and takes a long time. In terms of neuropathy: I suppose it is possible though it is not typical to have only one symptom and nothing else. The general guidelines suggest that you need to have significantly more symptoms, at least three of the following list:
      –Agitation or restlessness
      –Confusion
      –Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
      –Dilated pupils
      –Loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles
      –Muscle rigidity
      –Heavy sweating
      –Diarrhea
      –Headache
      –Shivering
      –Goose bumps
      –High fever
      –Seizures
      –Irregular heartbeat
      –Unconsciousness

      Note that neuropathy is not on the list. This doesn’t mean you don’t have serotonin syndrome, but the symptoms are much more likely to be pointing toward insulin resistance, which is an introductory level type 2 diabetes. Most people aren’t diagnosed with diabetes until they are really sick, because the early symptoms are common to many other conditions: autoimmune diseases, weight gain, and indeed, massive neuropathy!

      in fact, I was never diagnosed with diabetes or even insulin resistance, yet I had such severe neuropathy for at least 15 years that I could not walk bare foot without severe pain. It was very interesting to discover that my neuropathy completely reversed once I changed my diet to a very low carbohydrate one! Diabetes harms the blood vessels, starting with the tiniest capillaries. It can cause loss of vision, neuropathy, kidney damage, thyroid problem, reproductive organ problems, all autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc. You name a modern non-contagious and non-genetic disease, and it will have been caused by type 2 diabetes that is undiagnosed.

      So my recommendation to you, if I were you, I would not take any skin test but change my diet. That’s all. I have reversed all my ailments within a few short years of starting a low carbs diet initially, then moving to the ketogenic diet (very low carbs) for a couple of years, then carnivore (all animal products) for about 6 months, and since then I have settled for a mixed way of eating with fasting 20-22 hours each day, and eating 2 meals, one of which is either low carbs or keto, and a dinner that is carnivore. It’s an amazing life to live completely pain and medicine free! Try it!

      Like

  2. Larry J Rausch says:

    The pork comparison was surprising. The pork diet compares closely to the commercial chicken diet. If the chicken and pork diets were closer to the forage-based diet of cattle, would the available nutrient density increase?

    Also, could the available nutrient density of beef increase if the beef diet was grass-finished? Would the density of lamb and mutton compare favorably to beef since both are ruminants?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Larry for your great questions! In some ways I think you are right: if we didn’t tinker so much with our pigs (giving them medication so they don’t get so fat) and fed them the foods they would traditionally eat (including truffles), they would likely increase in nutritional value, but not fully.

      Part of the reason why both chicken ((poultry, in general), pork and also fresh fish are categorized into lower nutrient content is because what they naturally eat and what they naturally are has less nutrients. For example, both poultry and fish contain little or no heme iron for us–albeit I used to eat chicken blood when I was a child and it was a common food in Europe at the time, not sure now. So there was plenty of blood, but in our modern way of life, it is not considered to be “red meat” at all. Same with fish. So these fall off the “best” because of the lack of iron but also because of the particular nutrients this study was after: vitamin A, folate, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc.

      The study has various tables in it, looking at the nutrients based on various things, including on how many Calories it takes to get certain nutrients, and note also that they are looking at 1/3rd RDA so not even full RDA. And we know that the full RDA is just sufficient for survival and not ideal. So there are many shortcoming in this study in addition to the ones I listed in the article itself. And so can we make pork and chicken healthier? Not likely based on this, since each animal or bird has its own nutrient requirements for its survival, which may not line up with the human need for survival.

      An additional factor is the protein quality–not too much was discussed in the academic article on this at all. I noted in my article that plants, for example, have very low bioavailability of their nutrients, including protein. So while you can see dark green leafy veggies up on top for high nutritional quality, it actually ignores that while they do have those nutrients in them, they aren’t available to humans. It takes a ruminant to get those nutrients out of them.

      And additionally, protein quality varies between animal types as well, because their amino acid composition differs. Beef has the most beneficial amino acid mix and hence they are considered to be the richest in most nutrients for us–though they listed goat as better but only in the nutrients I listed above that they looked for. Poultry amino acids tend to be more glucogenic and so they initiate a larger insulin spike than beef, for example. Especially chicken breast is nearly like eating a slice of cake… so there are huge differences in amino acids. They listed bivalves and small dried fish as the top in the human diet and that’s because these are “nose to tail” whole creatures we eat, including their organs, which contain most of the vitamins they were looking at. But bivalves, such as oysters, clam, mussels, and similar, are also very high in glucose–full body glycogen. A plate of 6 raw oysters, depending on size, can contain as much glucose as a slice of cake.

      And lastly, how nutritious a particular food is also dependent on the type of fat they have. And here I need to come to pork because pig’s fat, lard, contains more monounsaturated fat (MONO), that is like olive oil, than saturated fat, and also contains more polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) than other animals, like beef. I don’t know the fat composition of chicken, but I assume it has more PUFA and MONO as well than beef. And while MONO is highly prized in olive oil on salads, it is very bad in cooking because of the low smoke point. PUFA is even worse. Hence, in terms of fat content, nothing beats beef and lamb.

      And since we cannot change the characteristics of these animals, I am thinking that beef will always remain the top animal as a result. It is also the biggest, so fewer kills lead to more food. I think that is also a benefit. In terms of mutton and lamb, ruminant animals include cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo and deer, so they have multiple stomachs, just like cows. I am not sure why they differ in quality–perhaps it differs what type of vegetation they prefer to eat. But other than that, I see no difference in their nutritional content with respect to humans. And I think they are just as nutritious as beef, only less well known and liked perhaps. Not sure.

      Great questions!
      Angela

      Like

  3. Paul D. Butler says:

    Good article and accurate analysis…….thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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